Friday, January 5, 2007

finding the stockdale paradox

i’ve been reading the book good to great by jim collins and i have to admit that at first i thought it would be incredibly stale. i’ve tried reading it before and i got bored before i finished the first chapter. but this time i’ve really gotten into it. i think the subject of what makes or breaks a business is fascinating. there is one chapter where the author talks about what he calls the “stockdale paradox.” i’ve heard of this before, but i didn’t know that it came from this book. the stockdale paradox refers to admiral jim stockdale who was a p.o.w. during vietnam for eight years. during that time, he didn’t know whether he would be killed before the war ended or if he would ever see his family again. after reading stockdale’s book, in love and war, collins asked him how he handled being a p.o.w. for eight years and how he survived. stockdale replied, “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 asked who didn’t make it out of the prison camps, he had an interesting answer: the optimists. meaning, the ones who counted on being set free by a certain date; which would come and go, and then they would say another date, which would also come and go, and so on until they ended up dying of a broken heart. stockdale said that the most important lesson he learned is that, “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.” this principle came to be known as the stockdale paradox – that in any situation in life you can have faith that you will prevail in the end and at the same time accept reality, however brutal it might be.
i thought this was a really interesting point of view. it has always seemed to me that you can either live in faith or struggle with reality, but not both at the same time. i guess that’s why they call it a paradox. the last few weeks have been full of intense introspection for me. the brutal facts of my current reality have seemed overwhelming – the last seven days have seemed especially difficult due to a few unexpected things that occured. but I like the idea of staying positive without expecting any particular outcome. i think what stockdale is saying is that faith and expectation are two very different things - in his case, it was the difference between life and death.
i’m so glad that i’m reading this book now – given my professional and personal goals this year, it could not have come at a better time. i love stuff like that – when things seem to fall into place at the perfect time. i live for that, and i have never been disappointed. things always seem to fall into place when they are right - although sometimes at the last minute. i know it's a clich
é, but there really is a silver lining to every cloud. post nubilus phoebus (after clouds, sun).

more words of wisdom:

You cannot step in the same river twice

You can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep

If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one

The obstacle is the path

Losing an illusion makes you wiser than finding a truth

You can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into

We become aware of the void as we fill it

Never order pizza when you want chinese


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