Stockdale Paradox

While my last post was about me being an optimist, I am also very pragmatic.  Some may think that you can only be one or the other and not both, however, it is actually not uncommon and there is a popular concept for this paradox, it is the “Stockdale Paradox.”

“You must never confuse unwavering 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.”

Admiral James Stockdale

Stockdale, said these famous words after having endured seven years as a POW in Vietnam and being asked by Jim Collins, for his book “Good to Great,” how he managed to stay alive during all that time.  Of course, I’ve never had to endure anything remotely as difficult as Stockdale and hopefully most of us never do, but his wise words are some which can be applied to every aspect of our lives. 

While we have to be positive and believe that things will work out in the end, it is not just a matter of having faith that things will just fix themselves or are going to happen because we wish them to.  Having the “discipline to control …your current reality” is very often realizing that you are in a position in which things can very possibly go badly.  If we accept this, we can keep our hope alive even when we experience failure and possibly take the appropriate actions to mitigate that risk. 

My pragmatic optimism often comes out when I have to give my family and friends my honest opinions, which can sometimes be a harsh reality check, but are necessary to hear because blind optimism can be detrimental.  I’ve also learned from my mentor to apply this same thought process to scenarios at work.  For example, when we are in a time crunch or we want to implement a new feature, while it is good to have confidence in our team and trust that they will do a great job it is important to account for all the things that could go wrong and be ready to work extra hours or say no to things that are just “nice to have” but could potentially derail the project.

Don’t mistake pragmatism for negativity though, there is a huge difference between them, pragmatism is essential to success while negativity will sabotage it!

2 thoughts on “Stockdale Paradox

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