This post is the thirty-fourth part of a ramble-rant about the software business. The current posts in this series are:
- Goodwill, Negative and Positive
- Visions, Quests, Missions
- Right, Wrong, and Style
- Follow Me
- Balance, Part 1
- Balance, Part 2
- Definition of a Great Team
- The 15-Minute Meeting
- Metaproblems: Drama
- The Right Question
- Software is Organic, Part 1
- Metaproblem: Terror
- I Don't Work On My Car
- A Turning Point
- Human Doings
- Everything Changes
- Getting It Right The First Time
- One-Time Boosts
- Perfection vs. Precision
- Software is Organic, Part 2
- Business Losses and "I Don't Know"
- T-SQL Tuesday: Personality Clashes, Style Collisions, and Differences of Opinion
- Human Resources Sucks
- The Integrity Challenge
- Sounds Good...
- Timing is Everything
- Do You Have a Job...
Conviction has several meanings according to the dictionary. There's the legal sense whereby someone is convicted of a crime. There's the sense of convinced of an error or trying to convince someone else of an error. And there's a strong belief. this post is not about the first definition of conviction. This post is about the second and third definitions.
Convinced of Error
There's a saying: perception is reality. There's another saying: Repeat a lie long enough an people will believe it. Occasionally the two truths represented in these sayings overlap. When it does, bad things happen.
It's one thing for good people to disagree. It's a completely different thing when groupthink kicks in and the conversation degenerates into a repetition of slogans. Repeating slogans is also, well, childish. For some, it's as close to an admission of failure as you're going to get. One side has lost the debate, realize their position is indefensible, and devolved the conversation to schoolyard tactics.
A Strong Belief
Conviction can also represent a strong belief. As I write this, I'm watching the movie Iron Man. Interestingly enough, it's at the scene where Tony Stark says "I know in my heart it's the right thing to do."
That's this kind of conviction.
If anything, conviction (in the strong-belief sense) is about as anti-groupthink as it can be. It's isolating. There's risk and uncertainty. In the end, you'll either be despised as mad or heralded as visionary - there's little middle ground.
In 1854, Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden (<-- free for your Kindle!). One quote was "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation." Some folks living lives of quiet desperation hold strong convictions but choose not to act upon them for one reason or another.
Others choose to act out of proportion - over-acting on their conviction.
The key is balance, but balance is sometimes hard. "When, Andy?" I'm glad you asked! Balance is difficult when you hold a conviction and are in the minority. It's normal, when balancing this scenario, to question and sometimes doubt. You think you're right (obviously), but are you sure?
Holding a minority conviction requires courage. Courage does not mean the absence of fear - it means acting on conviction in the face of fear. If it was easy anyone could do it.
It's not easy.
There's a verse in the Old Testament of the Bible that sums up conviction pretty well: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged..." Joshua 1:9