Don’t Be An Optimist

The “Stockdale Paradox”

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Jim Collins talks about the “Stockdale Paradox” in his books. It’s a fitting paradigm right now.

The “Stockdale Paradox” is based on Admiral Stockdale who was a prisoner of war in the “Hanoi Hilton” for over eight years. When Collins had the gift of interviewing him, he prepared for the meeting by reading the Admiral’s book “In Love and War.”

He described a feeling of depression washing over him as he read the book. Stockdale was the highest-ranking officer in the POW camp, and they would come for him at any time to torture him. Collins was struck by how bleak it was given the endless nature of it. They did not know when or if they would get out.

Collins recalled feeling despair as he was reading it and noting that he knew the end of the story, what must it have been like to live through it? How did he deal with it when living through it without knowing the end of the story? When Collins interviewed the Admiral, he asked him how he did it. Admiral Stockdale replied, “I never wavered in my faith, not only that I would get out, but that I would turn it into the defining event of my life, that in retrospect, I would not trade.”

Collins recaps that this impressive statement led him to ask “who didn’t make it out as strong as you?” and he replied “oh, that’s easy, it’s the optimists…they would say we’ll be out by Christmas…and it would come and go and we’d still be in prison…another would come and go, and we’d still be in prison. They didn’t do well because they died of a broken heart.”

The lesson? You need two things:

  1. You need unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end; and
  2. You need the discipline to confront the brutal facts, as they actually are right now.

The world is in a “Stockdale” period right now, how are you doing?

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