Startups and the Stockdale Paradox

Joe Krause has a story from Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great” and a message:

…on the one hand it was about unswerving faith that one will ultimately prevail while on the other hand its about banishing all false hopes? As usual, the guy who lived it says it best: 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.

Holding those two seemingly contradictory notions in his head simultaneously was the key to Stockdale surviving, even thriving, in his experience. And, I believe, it is a perfect summary of the mindset youve got to have in starting a company.

You have to believe that your vision will come to pass. Youve got to do everything you can to make it happen. But, you can never let your belief and faith cloud your confrontation with reality.

In the front of each notebook I write in, the first thing I put on the inside cover is face reality. I write it to remind myself that many startups fail because they dont take a true accounting of the facts of the market (usually because theyre never as good as you want them to be and it sucks to look them in the face). Most startups are long on faith and short on reality.

Entrepreneurs are wired for optimism. But, in Stockdales story, it was the optimists who died. Dont forget to balance optimism with fact and belief with reality. If that can get someone through 8 years of being a prisoner of war, it certainly can get anyone through a (trivially compared) startup.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.