I was asked to present at two different real estate investor and landlord groups in Indianapolis this July. “What should I present?”, I asked. “Whatever you’d like as it relates to Landlording, since that’s this month’s focus.”
Then that splendid lady named Serendipity peeked around the corner. She lifted up the red jacketed book I was in the middle of re-reading for the fifth time. She handed it to me.
So I began my presentation to the crowd of 70+ attendees.
The Powerpoint slides were unlike anything this gathering of people had seen before at these meetings. Not the typical “Top 20 ways to market your rentals”, not the “Best ways to find hard money lenders”. Instead, they contained sections from an interview between a researcher and an old man. Long sections of text. Multiple slides. Violating every Best Practice for giving a speech and controlling an audience’s attention span. Yet, I didn’t care–it was the ONLY way to preserve the integrity of the investing lesson for the evening.
Here’s what shocked even me: Not a single person was checking email, fiddling with Facebook, or doing anything else but reading the lengthy interchange between the author and the old man. It worked. And the discussion amongst the crowd was deeper than I could have imagined.
This was some of the the text I presented to the crowd:
The researcher: “Here I am sitting in my warm and comfortable office, looking out over the beautiful Stanford campus on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I’m getting depressed reading this, and I know the end of the story! I know that he gets out, reunites with his family, becomes a national hero, and gets to spend the later years of his life studying philosophy on this same beautiful campus.
If it feels depressing for me, how on earth did he deal with it when he was actually there and did not know the end of the story?”
The old man’s answers: “I never lost faith in the end of the story,” he said, when I asked him.
“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.”
I didn’t say anything for many minutes, and we continued the slow walk toward the faculty club, Stockdale limping and arc- swinging his stiff leg that had never fully recovered from repeated torture.
Finally, after about a hundred meters of silence, I asked, “Who didn’t make it out? “Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists.”
The researcher again: “The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused, given what he’d said a hundred meters earlier.
The old man again: “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.”
Another long pause, and more walking.
Then he turned to me and said. “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 researcher: ….But as we unraveled the research evidence, I kept coming back to it in my own mind.
Our good-to-great companies embraced the Stockdale Paradox.
It didn’t matter how bleak the situation or how stultifying their mediocrity, they all maintained unwavering faith that they would not just survive, but prevail as a great company.
And yet, at the same time, they became relentlessly disciplined at confronting the most brutal facts of their current reality.”
The old man: Admiral James Stockdale, Medal of Honor Recipient.
The researcher: Jim Collins, author of Good To Great.