Every Startup Founder needs to Understand the Stockdale Paradox

If you have never read Jim Collins’ Good to Great book, then I strongly recommend it!  In fact, I believe it is one of the best business books ever written, and I’m not alone.  One of my many takeaways from this book is “Stockdale Paradox.”

This topic requires a little background to fully understand. Admiral Stockdale’s jet was shot down during the Vietnam War. He experienced years of torture in a POW camp, but he never gave up. When asked how he survived this brutality for so long, he stated that he never stopped believing that he would eventually make it home to see his family.

So, he was an optimist? No. In fact, he stated that optimists were the ones who ultimately gave up hope. The optimists would believe that they’d be home before Christmas. Then Easter. Then by the summer, and so on. After each disappointment, they lost a little more hope until they ultimately had none left.

Admiral Stockdale never let himself believe that he’d be home by Christmas or Easter or whenever. He just knew that he’d eventually make it home.  Admiral Stockdale stated, “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.” He never gave up faith while fully understanding and accepting just how difficult his situation was.

As you bid on an RFP, do everything in your power to build the best proposal. However, you must also fully understand and accept that your probability of being awarded the contract is very low. You cannot let losing proposal efforts diminish your confidence. Learn from each losing bid effort and apply those lessons on future bids.

During my career, I have led bid efforts that have won well over a Billion dollars in Federal Government contracts. As a small business owner, my small businesses have been awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts. Except for my re-competed contracts where my company was the incumbent, I never bid on an RFP that I expected to win. Yet, I knew that if I continued to submit competitive proposals that I was guaranteed to find success at some point. I never knew which proposal effort would surprise me and give me the game-changing contract that would propel my company to new heights. I simply had to keep trying.  Government Contracting is a numbers game.  If you stay in the game long enough, you will win…big.  It’s just math.