In these challenging times we need some inspiration and most importantly, perspective.

I don’t think the wisdom of the following story can be bettered:

Vice admiral Jim Stockdale was the highest-ranking US POW in the Vietnam war. In 1965 he went on a mission from a carrier to boost the morale of naval aviators who had lost confidence in a certain aircraft suffering high losses and got promptly shot down!

They didn’t release him until 1973 and during his period of internment he was very badly tortured but didn’t break.

In his seminal business book “Good to Great,” Prof Jim Collins of Harvard wrote about a conversation he had with Stockdale regarding his strategy for coping during his long years in captivity. 

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 then asked who didn’t make it out of Vietnam, 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.” 

Stockdale then added:

This 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 most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be”. 

In his book “Good to Great” Collins identified a number of companies that he classified as ‘Great’. This group of companies had hugely outperformed the market consistently for decades. Collins and a large team then spent years researching these companies to find out if they had anything in common and they did.  

One of the characteristics was that they had all had to face and overcome some really difficult times – when they had to confront and overcome the brutal facts. He described this particular trait in his book as the Stockdale Paradox.

You’re not getting home for Christmas. Deal with it!

Later today we will be identifying some brutal facts that we need to address and will provide links to some tools to help you.

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