The Stockdale Paradox

In Love and Waris still in my personal library, well worn from many readings, so when Jim Collins introduced his readers to The Stockdale Paradox in Good to Great,I paid particular attention.

In a nutshell, The Stockdale Paradox is this:

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

If there was ever a touchstone for the challenges our world faces today, this is it.

Jim Stockdale’s advice? Deal with it.

Stop complaining, start thinking and act.

Prevailing is not something that happens in the script of a two hour movie. It’s an iterative process, full of steps forward and backward, dead ends and rabbit holes. It’s the day-to-day energy you invest to survive and thrive, no matter what. In the end, Jim Stockdale did prevail and he felt that his seven years as a POW were the defining years of his life, “something, in retrospect, I would not change”.

Viktor Frankl discovered something similar while immersed in the horror of the Holocaust during the Second World War. In his seminal work “Man’s Search For Meaning” he says, “Most men in a concentration camp believed that the real opportunities of life had passed. Yet, in reality, there was an opportunity and a challenge. One could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate, as did a majority of the prisoners.”

How many vegitators do you know?

Something that both Frankl and The Stockdale Paradox share is faith that daily contributions would ultimately lead to a productive objective. As C. S. Lewis puts it, “The virtue by which we hold to our reasoned ideas, despite moods to the contrary.”

So what does all of this stuff mean to us? And how can we use The Stockdale Paradox to your advantage.

Whatever your current situation… Deal with it!

The greatest opportunities lie in the darkest moments.

What data do you need to analyze where you are now with the cold unbiased eye of a consultant? If you left your body and looked at your world as a witness, what opportunities do you see? And how can you engage to maximize them? Who can you collaborate with to find win-win scenarios for both sides? How do you assess your fitness to survive and thrive in this uncomfortable current reality? What strengths do you bring? What skills do you need to develop? Who can be your teachers? Who can travel with you and add value along the way?

How we answer these questions give us a clear and realistic, if painful, picture of your current reality and will help you begin to develop game plans to grow.

And don’t give up. History is littered with stories of how “the race is not always to the swift, nor the strong, but to those who persevere.”

As Emerson wrote, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”

So get up and start the race anew.

Keep The Stockdale Paradox in mind as you face the week’s challenges. Be aware of the power of perseverance. As Bill Feather says, “Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others let go.”

Deal with your current reality. Keep the faith that you will prevail. And you will.

Hang in there!