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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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The Stockdale Paradox

Comments (12)

Read the following phrase and think about whether or not you practice it.

You must retain faith that you can prevail to greatness in the end, while retaining the discipline to confront the brutal facts of your current reality.

This is known as The Stockdale Paradox and was publicized by Jim Collins several years ago in his book Good to Great.  I stumbled upon it again in Collins’ monograph titled Good to Great and the Social Sectors.  When paired with one of my favorite Atlas Shrugged quotes – “Nobody stays here by faking reality in any manner whatever” – it’s a powerful thought.

I see so many people avoid confronting reality, especially in difficult situations.  The more difficult the situation, the more important it is to confront reality.  It’s especially dangerous for an entrepreneur or a leader to avoid confronting reality, since his reality often translates into everyone else’s reality. 

Whenever I’ve been in tough spots or facing impending doom, I start by confronting reality and then work to figure out what I want to accomplish in the context of my current reality.  While failure is occasionally inevitable – or I simply can’t overcome the barrier of whatever reality I am faced with (and subsequently have to chose a new path) – I’ve found that fear and uncertainty evaporates when you confront reality.

While Stockdale never became our vice president, he taught us a powerful lesson.

  • http://www,forbesontech.typepad.com Jim Forbes

    Vice Admiral James Stockdale was a student of the Stoics. he taught classes on stoic philsophy to his fellow inmates while he was a POW.
    He passed away a down here near San Diego and is buried at the Point Loma national cemetery.

    Best,
    Jim Forbes

  • http://www,forbesontech.typepad.com Jim Forbes

    Vice Admiral James Stockdale was a student of the Stoics. he taught classes on stoic philsophy to his fellow inmates while he was a POW.
    He passed away a down here near San Diego and is buried at the Point Loma national cemetery.

    Best,
    Jim Forbes

  • Dave Jilk

    I really like this one. Both sides are critical… keep your head too much in the grind, and you start to wonder whether you’ll make it … too much overconfidence and you ignore important realities/details. I think I’d prefer if it said “confidence” rather than faith, since confidence is justified optimism while faith is, by definition, unjustified.

    BTW your Stockdale link doesn’t work – needs to be proper case.

  • http://www,forbesontech.typepad.com Jim Forbes

    Vice Admiral James Stockdale was a student of the Stoics. he taught classes on stoic philsophy to his fellow inmates while he was a POW.
    He passed away a down here near San Diego and is buried at the Point Loma national cemetery.

    Best,
    Jim Forbes

  • http://www.gina.alaska.edu/ Tom Heinrichs

    If you go back in time past Stockdale-the-business-paradigm and Stockdale-the-VP-candidate, you’ll find Jim Stockdale, war hero and Medal of Honor winner. One of my favorite books of all time is one he co-wrote with his wife Sybil, In Love and War, about his experiences as a prisoner of war and her monumental efforts on the home front to secure better treatment for POWs held in Vietnam. This is a book like Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning that can be turned to in times of personal distress to find perspective. Their courage and perseverance while held under brutal, spirit-breaking circumstances is almost beyond belief.

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