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Monday, 16 May 2016 00:00

Confidence versus Reality - The Stockdale Paradox

The Stockdale Paradox is named after Admiral James Stockdale, who was the highest ranking American officer held prisoner during the Vietnam War. In his 8 years as a POW in the 'Hanoi Hilton', he was tortured and beaten over 20 times, and never had any reason to believe he would leave alive, or see his family again.

 

The Stockdale Paradox is named after Admiral James Stockdale, who was the highest ranking American officer held prisoner during the Vietnam War. In his 8 years as a POW in the 'Hanoi Hilton', he was tortured and beaten over 20 times, and never had any reason to believe he would leave alive, or see his family again. In a conversation with Jim Collins for his book, Good to Great, Stockdale says, "I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which in retrospect, I would not trade."

When Collins asked him who didn't make it out, Stockdale said something surprising. "Oh, that's easy. The optimists. They were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, We're going to be out by Easter. And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart."

The Stockdale Paradox is this: While he had absolute faith that things would work out, Stockdale was also never in denial as to the hell he was experiencing. He accepted the reality of his situation, and also did everything he could do to lift morale and prolong the lives of his fellow prisoners. He created an elaborate tapping code prisoners could use to communicate with each other, and smuggled intelligence information into letters he wrote his wife. What the optimists failed to do was confront their current state reality, instead blindly hoping their difficulties would just disappear.

In Stockdale's words, "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 fact of your current reality, whatever they might be."

Read 1972 times Last modified on Wednesday, 01 June 2016 18:51


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