James Stockdale was a US Navy vice admiral and aviator that was awarded the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War, during which time he was a prisoner of war for over seven years. He endured unimaginable torture and constantly battled their attempts to use him for propaganda. In Jim Collins book, Good to Great, Collins writes about a conversation he had with Stockdale regarding his coping strategy during his period in the Vietnamese POW camp.
“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 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.”
The free market creates the ultimate competition for any business that dare play the game. It is a game of gladiators, with many new businesses never seeing their 1 year anniversary. Every possible force battles against you. Therefore, any business that wants to survive and experience sustained greatness, must practice the Stockdale Paradox. Never lose faith that you will prevail in the end, while having the discipline to confront the brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.