Stockdale Paradox

If you don’t know what the term Stockdale Paradox means, you must.

When you can “maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be,” you are embracing what Jim Collins calls the Stockdale Paradox. [source: Good to Great by Jim Collins]

Collins writes about a conversation he had with Admiral Stockdale, as Stockdale remembered back to his time as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton.  Stockdale told Collins,

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, “Who didn’t make it out?” Stockdale replied:

Oh, that’s easy.  The optimists. ..Oh, 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. .. .That is a very important lesson.  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 brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

How does this apply to you, someone trying to drive change?

Simple. Ask yourself: Have I  ever given up on a change I wanted or needed because I played the optimist and allowed myself to break my heart, my will to drive change?

Sadly, I’ve had people quit driving change because of the simplest of defeats:

  • They were let down when a top manager, who has never delivered on a promise of support, fails again to support them.  (And they thought this time would be different. Nope.)
  • They thought the change would be complete well before the summer was over and now it’s late into the fall.
  • They tried and failed to change something in the past and refuse to try again.
  • They think driving change should be more happiness and less frustration (often it isn’t), or
  • They think others (name the group) should help more and complain less. (They rarely will.)

You have not been defeated by some outside enemy when you quit, when you allow yourself to break, or when  you refuse to face the Stockdale Paradox, accept it and persevere;  you have defeated yourself.

Know the Stockdale Paradox.

Seek out and face the brutal facts.

But, keep the faith that someday you will achieve the change you are driving.

You will never prevail unless you believe you will.

Why not believe?

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It’s the journey

I’m typically an impatient person. But tell me a good story about an incredible (or even a mildly interesting) journey and I will sit in rapt attention. For example, I never get bored reading, watching or listening to anything about Lewis and Clark’s journey to the Pacific ocean.

I think my fascination with any journey is why I love driving change.

I once thought (and my naive’ reading of many business books led me to believe) that change is a near instantaneous process of: Boss reads a book Monday,  implements changes on people Tuesday, is showered with praise from now cheerful people Wednesday, gets big promotion to corporate headquarters Thursday and is celebrated at farewell party Friday.

Turns out, it doesn’t usually work that way.

When I was slogging through a partially successful (and terribly slow) implementation of Theory of Constraints or failing at my first Guiding Coalition attempt, I didn’t realize that I was on a journey.

Now that I’m older and wiser, and know how to drive change (versus drive people to change), I enjoy the journey and–surprisingly enough–I drive a whole lot faster toward my destination.

Plus, now when I hit a snag, a pothole or a tree, I don’t get discouraged.

Those things happen on a journey.

So I pick myself, look around for what or who I’ve still got with me and–most importantly–keep going.

[How do I do this?  I can’t quickly explain, so I’ll borrow some pictures. Think Jim Collins’ flywheel and Stockdale Paradox mixed with Stephen Covey’s  Be Proactive and Circle of Influence.]

I won’t say today that I’ve really reached the destination of my journey.

I’m not quite ready to yell with Clark, “Ocean in view!”

But…if I tilt my head and take a deep breath, I can smell the scent of salt water a little ways off; and now and then I’ve seen a few gulls fly overhead.  So, I keep driving.

If you love a good journey, consider driving change.

If you love a good journey story, keep checking this blog.  I have a few good journey stories to share.

If you’ve got a journey story you want to tell, let me know. I’ll consider posts from guest bloggers.

Keep driving your change, maybe that ocean is closer than you think.

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