more summer reading: hedgehogs and the stockdale paradox

i just finished the second of three books for NELI (I’m pretty sure we only have to read two of three, but I’m really enjoying the reading), Jim Collins’ From Good to Great. It’s a fantastic book, though it’s hard to look at some of the eleven “great” companies he highlights without snickering — luminaries such as Fannie Mae and Circuit City alone are enough to make anyone think that things really were drastically different eleven years ago when the book was published.

One of the amazing things about Collins is that he’s demonstrating exactly what makes a great leader — the hallmark of every one of these great companies — as you make your way through the book. He’s clearly got a team of researchers helping him with the book, and I’m pretty sure he namechecked every single one of them over the course of the nine chapters. You could tell they were in it together, and his leadership wouldn’t have been possible without their contribution.

But there was something much bigger that made me stop and think. Between all the talk about hedgehogs and BAHGs, there was a profile of Admiral Stockdale, who I had only ever known as a Vice Presidential candidate in 1992 and that was surely something that did his legacy no favors. 

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 may be.

The man was not only a Vietnam POW, but was the highest-ranking US military officer there, and he so inspired his fellow prisoners that they would tap out “We love you” in the Morse Code-like communications system they developed. He never lost faith, but also was never optimistic about the situation. What an amazing lesson in balance.

The Stockdale Paradox, this balance between faith in the endgame and brutal pragmatism, is a great lesson for anyone who thinks their situation is unchangable, unwinnable, and otherwise stuck in good but not great.

One thought on “more summer reading: hedgehogs and the stockdale paradox

  1. jallenv

    GtG is a bschool classic. And yes, Collins credits his research team at Stanford in the book somewhere.As for the companies, it’s true. But keep in mind that a lot of those leaders who took the companies to such great heights have left, culture eroded, things changed. And that’s what opens up opportunities for more companies to strive to be great.

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