Brad Feld

Back to Blog

The Stockdale Paradox

Aug 05, 2006

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.