Learning from the real James Bond

Life lessons from challenging times

James Bond Stockdale (1923-2005) was by any stretch of the imagination, a remarkable man.  In his own words, he described how at one moment, he was “on the top,” the admired commander of over 1000 men and over 100 pilots fighting in the Vietnam War, “confident” and “self-satisfied,” a man who thought he had “found every key to success.”

All that changed on 9 September 1965 when he was shot down and in a matter of minutes became “an object of contempt” and a “criminal” in the eyes of the North Vietnamese. He recounted in his autobiography how in such short time, your place in life “can be changed from that of a dignified and competent gentleman of culture to that of a panic-stricken, sobbing, self-lothing wreck…

050706-N-0000X-005 U.S. Navy File Photo: Formal portrait of Rear Adm. James B. Stockdale in dress white uniform. He is one of the most highly decorated officers in the history of the Nay, wearing twenty six personal combat decorations, including two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Distinguished Service Medals, two Purple Hearts, and four Silver Star medals in addition to the Medal of Honor. Later he obtained the rank of Vice Admiral, and is the only three star Admiral in the history of the Navy to wear both aviator wings and the Medal of Honor. U.S. Navy photo (RELEASED)

He handled and survived the challenges of being a prisoner during the peak of the Vietnam War. That included 4 years in solitary confinement. He was tortured over 20 times during his 8 year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973. After one extended round of torture he become so depressed he attempted suicide by his wrists with a  shard of broken glass. He lived out the war without any prisoner’s rights, no set release date and no certainty as to whether he would even see his family again.

But after his eventual release he became the first three-star officer in the history of the navy to wear both aviator wings and the Congressional Medal of Honour. From 1981 to 1993 he was a professor at the Hoover Institute of Stanford University. In 1992 he stood as vice president candidate in the presidential election. (For more on his life see Could This Be The Real James Bond?)

Stockdale was able to survive and even eventually thrive from his terrible experience by drawing on Stoic philosophy. (See What Was The Real James Bond Thinking?)

The main focus of Stoic philosophy is developing personal control, reducing vulnerability and living by a set of time-honoured standards that promote dignity, even under the harshest of conditions. To develop personal control it is vital to distinguish that which is within your control from that which is beyond it. Quoting Stockdale:

Podcast #010 Stephen R. Covey

Paying tribute to and celebrating his legacy to the world

Stephen Richards Covey (24 October 1932 – 16 July 2012) was an American educator, author, business man and keynote speaker. His most popular book was “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” that sold 25 million copies and was translated into 28 languages. His Covey Leadership Centre has 3/4 of  Fortune 500 companies as clients.

The 5 minute video below gives a small glimpse of his wisdom, personality and genuine warmth: ›‹›

On this podcast I have the privilege of interviewing Stephen Hutchins Covey the 4th grandchild of this remarkable man’s 52 grandchildren.

I was introduced to Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits book in 1995. I was immediately gripped by its depth and breadth of wisdom and insight. it has had a profound influence on my own thinking, life and choices to this day.

Do join us as we pay tribute to and celebrate the legacy of a truly remarkable man who has positively inspired and influenced literally millions of people around the world. If you have not heard of him before then we we hope this can be of great encouragement to you in your own life journey.

We discuss:

  • His impact on our own lives
  • The essence and message of the Seven Habits book
  • How the opening paragraph of page 309 powerfully influenced me personally.
  • Insights into the man himself behind the public persona.
  • Something of the legacy he has left to the world

Here is how The Economist magazine of 21 July 2012 remembered him at the end of a full page article about his life:

Work second, family first
“Perhaps Mr Covey’s most appealing principle was that people should balance life and work. A father of nine and grandfather of fifty-two, he reserved one distraction-free weekday evening to bond with his family. He wrote a book on “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families,” which urged them to set mission statements and hold regular meetings to discuss progress. Really.
He hated the idea of retirement, He worked until the end, which came after he fell off his bicycle at the age of 79. He was writing several books, including one on how to reduce crime, which will be published posthumously. He will be remembered as a man who as, Schumpter once put it:
Tried to rescue the notion of ‘character’ from both the simple minded purveyors of self-help (who  imply that you can change your character as easily as your underpants) and the social service establishment (which ignores questions of character by blaming everything on ‘the system’).
He died peacefully, surrounded by his family.”

The Covey Leadership Centre is now a part of the Franklin Covey organisation. Details of that can be found here.

Stephen Hutchins Covey works with the SMCOV organisation whose details are here.

Please do feel free to add your own thoughts, comments and reflections.


25 Years of Marriage

Counting my blessings!

Today marks 25 years since Sally and I committed ourselves to a lifetime of marriage together. The years have certainly flown by! In that time (as you can see!) I have lost even more hair, gone grey, put on weight and given up my contact lenses.  However, I remain grateful for God’s goodness to me in the soulmate and life partner He has blessed me with.



So with that in mind here is a public tribute to God’s goodness to me and the rich blessing He has provided me with in Sally. Here are 12 things, among many others, that I deeply appreciate about Sally after 25 years marriage. They are ways I have found her more and more beautiful:

Podcast #009 Mindset

A discussion with Simon Prince about the World Class Leader Programme

On this podcast we have the privilege of interviewing Simon Prince about the subject of mindset . Simon is a director of MDN Fusion based in New Delhi, India.

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MDN Fusion is a global leadership development and assessment consultancy that seeks to develop people to their full potential through a combination of coaching and training.
They have offices in the UK and India.

Do join us on this podcast as we discuss:

  • Why technical education is not enough to grow as a fully developed leader.
  • What mindset is and why it is so essential in a complex and challenging world.
  • 3 ways people naturally react to challenges.
  • 3 alternative ways that the highly successful think.

For more details on MDN Fusion and the World Class Leader Programme see here.

You may also find of interest the following posts related to the podcast:

What do we mean by education?

Do you still believe your old school report?

Do schools kill creativity? (Along with a fascinating  TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson, an advisor to governments on education about the limitations of much formalised learning).

For more details on the Stockdale Paradox that is discussed on the podcast see Could This Be The Real James Bond?

Should Living In A VUCA world matter to you?

Lessons On Life From Steve Jobs

A video on the life of Nick Vujicic

The power of the human brain  at What Is The Most Complex Object In The Universe?

For more on the importance of character see What Are The Ingredients For Lasting Success In Your Life And Career? Part 1 and Part 2

Do feel free to add your thoughts and comments about mindset.

What was the real James Bond thinking?

Exploring lessons to assist your thinking in challenging times

James Bond Stockdale was the highest ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the peak of the Vietnam War.

050706-N-0000X-004 Navy File Photo - President of the U.S. Naval War College, Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale, USN. U.S. Navy photo (RELEASED)

His life reminds me of the James Bond of fiction, but has much more meaningful lessons to teach. (For more on that see Could This Be The Real James Bond?)

What were the thought processes of someone who spent almost 8 years in prison, including 4 years in solitary confinement and was tortured over 20 times? He lived out the war without any prisoner’s rights, no set release date and no certainty as to whether he would even see his family again.

How was he able to not just survive, but actually grow through such terrible circumstances? Stockdale wrote about this in his book, “A Vietnam Experience: 10 Years of Reflection.”

In 1960, at the age of 37, as a high ranking naval officer Stockdale was called to enrol in a master’s degree programme in International Relations at Stanford University. While there he also took a philosophy course called “The Philosophy of Good and Evil”. For this he was required to read classic works by authors such as Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Koestler and Dostoevsky.

On the last day of the course his  professor gave him a gift. It was a manual for the combat officer called Enchiridion by the first century Greek philosopher Epictetus. Never heard of it? Nor have I and nor had Stockdale at the time.

He was  initially puzzled as to why he should be given such a book and how the teachings of a classical stoic philosopher could apply to him as a fighter pilot. However, he chose to trust the wisdom of his professor and kept a copy of the manual by his bedside at each of his duty stations and on every ship he sailed.

He immersed himself into what he read and set about putting into practice its messages about the importance of character. He studied subjects that included discipline, self-control, endurance and perseverance, virtue and moral character, courage, toughness tempered by compassion, pursuit of one’s goals, attempts to be the very best, and dignity in the face of deprivation and suffering.

It was on 9 September 1965 Stockdale’s plane was shot down over Vietnam and all his learning was put to the test.

Podcast #008 Bahrisons

Chronicle of a Bookshop

In the Khan Market area of Delhi is a thriving and busy bookshop called Bahrisons. It has been running since 1953 and is now based in the most expensive retail location in India (and in the top 30 for the world). But it has certainly not always been like that.

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On this podcast I have the privilege of interviewing Anuj Bahari (pictured above) about his father Balraj Bahari Malhotra and the story behind the bookshop. Its a story that goes all the way back to the partition of India in 1947. It’s also a story about the importance of relationships of trust, entrepreneurship and calculated risk taking.

Do join us as we discuss the story behind the bookshop and life lessons in handling the challenges of starting and maintaining a business in a city that has evolved and changed dramatically over the last 70 years.

The following is a quote from the book, “Bahrisons: Chronicle of a Bookshop” by Anuj Bahri and Debbie Smith that traces Balraj Bahri’s journey. Writing about 1947 and the partition of India:

“Within 24 hours the fate of millions had altered and there was no way back. Friends, those we thought of as brothers, life long neighbours refused to look us in the eyes and ask us to stay and live together as we had always done.

I was not a bookseller then, just a young man of 19 who had thoughts of doing something a little different with my life, if only in a small way. I wanted to try something other than working the land or going into service, the traditional occupations of my family in the past. An engineer perhaps or a school teacher, but the owner of a successful bookshop in an alien city – not in my wildest dreams.”

The story reminds me of a quote from Thoreau that describes in a mysterious way how Providence can work in someone’s life:

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will pass an invisible boundary; new universal and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; and he will live within the licence of a higher order of beings.”

You may also find of interest:

Podcast #005 Delhi. Capital: A Portrait of 21st century Delhi

Do you work to live or live to work?

7 Lessons from a passport.

4 simple questions to ask yourself to develop confidence.

Could this be the real James Bond?

All through my life I have often been on the look out for heroes. I remember as a child first being drawn to Superman. Later on at the age of about 8 I went to the cinema with my Dad to watch the actor Sean Connery play James Bond. Subsequent Bond movies have continued to make him out to be a hero worth admiring. bond1

But growing up I found it harder and harder to identify with Bond. He was way too athletic, had the emotional sensitivity of a bull in a china shop and treated women in a way that as a growing teenage male made me feel a combination of envious, embarrassed and guilty. But Bond’s one redeeming timeless feature is his ability to overcome obstacles and challenges in amazing and incredible ways. The only problem is you have to keep reminding yourself it is all fiction!

That’s why learning about the real James Bond has been so much more enriching and meaningful. Who am I referring to?

James Bond Stockdale (1923-2005). You may never have heard of him, but his life and experiences have so much more meaningful to teach than the Bond of fiction. Here is a short synopsis of his life:

Should living in a VUCA world matter to you?

What Drucker, Dylan and a writer from 935 BC say

It has its roots in military terminology, but is being increasingly used to describe the complex and challenging world that we live in. Largely due to the exponential increase in the technological advances of the microchip, we are living through perviously unimaginable levels of change and disruption.


Here is how Peter Drucker, one of the greatest management teachers of the 20th century put it:

“We are in one of those great historical periods that occur every 200-300 years when people do not understand the world anymore and the past is not sufficient to explain the future.”

Bob Dylan has put it musically with his 1964 song, “The Times They Are A Changin”. (Interestingly around the same time Henry Moore made his prediction about the exponential growth of the microchip). Here is the first verse of that song:

Come gather around people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth saving
Then you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changing….

(If you want to listen to the whole song see here.)

For a long time though it may not have felt like that. Particularly in the case of  those in power and have been relatively well off, the world has been comparatively safe and predictable. That has often been the case for those of us in the affluent West.

The acronym VUCA describes the world as….

Podcast #007 Religion

The Problem with Religious Thinking

Religious thinking. What exactly is it? Is it something we need more of or less of in our world? It often comes as a surprise when I say that I struggle with religious thinking. A clue is in the bell-shaped curve below:



Do come and join the podcast discussion with my co-host Andrew Horton and I as we discuss:

  • What do we exactly mean by religious thinking?
  • The problem that this creates
  • some semi-humourous examples that illustrate this.
  • religious thinking and mental health
  • The alternative to religious thinking
  • The implications for how we should then live.

If you would like to explore this subject further please also see the following blog posts:

Why I struggle with religion

What is so good about Good Friday?

Is this the best news you have ever heard?

4 personal implications of the resurrection.

Do add your comments, thoughts and ideas on this provocative subject.

3 more life lessons on turning 50

In other words I'm not quite finished yet!

Thank you for your messages, texts, calls and kind words this last week as I turned 50. I was truly blown away by them. Armed with that encouragement I feel inspired to add a few more life lessons!
Screen Shot 2015-07-25 at 11.24.37So please bear with one further indulgence this week. I am continuing to reflect on the implications of turning 50 with the hope that it may help some as well as at least provide some guidance away from mistakes I have made.

While there is a world of difference between 50 years of experience and 1 year of experience repeated 50 times, these are lessons I am continually having to remind myself of (to at least avoid another year of bad experience repeating itself up to 50 times!)
So here goes: