Inspect What You Expect: The Power of the Stockdale Paradox When Planning Your Law Firm’s Future

Business Stockdale Paradox Planning

Once you’ve gathered and analyzed the key metrics for your firm, it’s time to inspect what you expect – and this is where the Stockdale Paradox comes into play. Named after admiral Jim Stockdale, the Stockdale Paradox says that, “You must have faith that you will win in the end, no matter the circumstances, and at the same time, you must accept the reality of your situation, whatever it might be.”

In other words, when you look at the data you’ve collected, you need to be honest with yourself AND optimistic.

If your firm isn’t where you need it to be, recognize that you can get to where you want to go. You can take control of the situation and achieve your goals. As Jeff Goldblum’s character in the original Jurassic Park once said Nature finds a way; likewise, you and your firm will find a way.

At the same time, take an honest look at your situation. Don’t lie to yourself for fear of discomfort or short-term embarrassment, because self-deception will only come back to defeat you in the end.

So, how can you live this paradox? Sure, the first half is relatively easy since it’s all about optimism. Simply choose to believe that everything will turn out for the best and that there’s a reason why things are going the way they are. Easy peasy, right?

Wrong. By itself, optimism can be dangerous. As Yvon Chouinard said, “There’s no difference between a pessimist who says, ‘Oh, it’s hopeless, so don’t bother doing anything,’ and an optimist who says, ‘Don’t bother doing anything, since it’s all going to turn out fine anyway.’ Either way, nothing happens.”

To really make strides in your firm, you must embrace the second half of the Paradox. Combine your optimism with a willingness to take action and brutal honesty. Of course, nobody likes to admit they’re broke, fat or running a doomed law firm, but admitting these truths is critical if you want to improve and grow. It might seem like you’re taking 10 steps backward, but think of it like a slingshot: you must go back to fly forward.

Richard James

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