The Problem With Too Much Conviction

I’m a Product Manager. Part of my job is to make product and business decisions. Every month I come up with a gameplan, a list of things we should do. I present them to my team and explain the rationale behind them.

Over the years I’ve faced many a situations where I don’t have a very strong reason behind doing something that I’m recommending. This is a big problem. Here’s why: if I simply say, “Even though I’m suggesting this, I don’t have a strong reason,” others will hear, “Basically, what I’m trying to say is I don’t know what I’m doing.” Needless to say, this won’t help my career.

I also don’t have the option to not come up with a plan, especially when I don’t have any good ideas. A business has to work, a startup has to grow, engineers have to build, and a product needs release. “What do you mean you don’t have a plan?! Planing is your bread and butter.”

Even though I’m giving a work example, I’m sure you can relate to this in umpteen trivial scenarios as well. Why do I like certain YouTubers and dislike others? Why am I watching a particular movie? Why did I decide to cook dinner instead of going out on a weekend?

There’s usually no strong reason behind every tiny decision we make everyday. When someone asks why about something, we try to think of the most plausible-sounding answer that doesn’t raise eyebrows.

I try to do something similar at meetings as well. I come up with a plan and think of plausible-sounding reasons to justify why I think this will work. Even if there isn’t a tonne of logic in coming up with an idea (it might be just “gut feeling” or “hunch” or “intuition”), we need logic to discuss ideas with other human beings. That’s why post-idea rationalisation is important.

I felt like a fraud for a long time. Am I duping my teammates who trust me to make the right decisions? Am I not good enough at my job? I see all these confident faces who know what they are doing and here I am, concocting reasons to justify something I don’t even believe in. Turns out, it isn’t really like that.

You have a lot of conviction when you are either personally attached to something or you have a lot of experience to know what you should be doing. But this isn’t always possible.

There are times when you may not know for sure if this is the right decision. There are times when you don’t know anything about something, and you’re still asked to do something about it. These kinds of situations are in fact more common than others.

What do you do? You do the best you can. You don’t need surety. You don’t need confidence. You don’t need conviction. You need a plan. Not a good plan. Just a plan. Something to work with.

Your plan might break in the face of arguments and that’s okay. It’ll get the ball rolling, and that’s important. If it’s broken, it can be fixed. If it has flaws, it can be improved. Having an okay plan can help you come up with a better plan.

If you think about it, it’s in fact better not to have too much conviction. Otherwise you would be married to your idea and turn a blind eye to all counter arguments. Lack of strong conviction opens you up to others’ points of views instead.

Bottom line is this: it’s important to know what to do, confident or not. It’s important to act, conviction or not. What kills you at the end is rarely action but lack of it. Have a bias towards action. Always! Get started. You’ll figure out the rest on the way.

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