Conviction v. Intellect

Many investment ideas are promoted with great conviction but lack intellect. In other cases the intellect struggles to build conviction. This Saturday afternoon I finished writing a thesis for an investment idea. As I put away my laptop and went to shower, I got to thinking, ‘do I think first and then gain conviction? Or do I begin with a conviction and then later do my thinking?’ –I seemed possessed by this recurring struggle. I had to write, so I could see my thoughts more plainly.

I have been described as an enterprising philosopher. Mikel likes to say my philosopher personality desires a perpetually endowed professorship in which I can read, do research, test ideas and otherwise sit in my lounger. Fortunately this chap’s elbow pads are carried out into the harsh reality of enterprise. The enterpriser within me simplifies things. He says to the old chap, “What good is knowledge if it is not acted upon?” The philosopher concedes.

Last week a different friend and colleague said, ‘I’ve been so impressed with your consistency. I look at you from every angle and you’re the same.’ This might have been the greatest compliment I could have received. But, I must confess. There is a struggle within me. I must get these two aligned.

Conviction is a firmly held belief. This is the sort of faith that penetrates your bones and motivates you to hold fast when others try to push you around. You may sacrifice and even die for these beliefs. The term is used in religion right beside the word ‘faith.’ In the field of law, the word is used to describe the end state of a judgement passed. A person is convicted (firmly held belief) of guilt. In business and investing, a firmly held belief is established before, during or after action. The entrepreneur must establish his or her judgement of value to sustain themselves until the idea becomes reality (or their hearts are broken.) Or, in some cases, pursuit begins first, results are measured and conviction grows.

Intellect refers to the ability of the mind to come to correct conclusions about what is true or false, and about how to solve problems.* An intellectual person has great faculty of mind. They form coherent thoughts, theories and proofs. They hold knowledge ready and organized. A scientist has his or her proofs. They also hold fast to doubt until a theorem becomes law. However, the mad professor becomes unmoored from reality with the slippage of just a few key elements.

Is intellect in opposition to conviction? What is their proper ordering? There are some things able to be proven true. There are other things we are only able to say “likely.” Then you have the interactions of the laws and principles of the world and the likelihood of environmental changes. How best does one establish conviction? When should action begin? Experience requires an enterprising fool to initiate. When is it wise to be a fool?

Lear and the fool

In Shakespeare’s King Lear the fool speaks truth to the tormented old man. The use of a silly fool to speak truth to the audience is a proven method Shakespeare uses often. We see this in modern story telling, too. Why does the method survive? I believe it is because there is an element of truth. Sometimes the simpleton is the wiser. Saying a thing plainly is effective.

How does the mad man know which way to be? My simple conviction? Only the prideful become mad. It is always wiser to humble yourself, concede to the fool within, and restrain the pride.

But ‘always’ is a strong word. Is that really what I practice? Is that really what I believe? I don’t think so.

My reality is that I oscillate. I transfigure. I morph. I am once the king, and next the fool. I am silly and then mad. I am sure and then unsure. And then vice versa. I seek counsel, but then form conviction all my own. Other times, I am utterly convinced and then affronted with truth. Am I a madman or am I normal?

Only a madman would not inspect himself in a storm. Be careful as you walk.