Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.
— Maya Angelou
So you want to make a meaningful or radical difference in your company? To do so, you have to tackle something that makes a 10x type of improvement. I have had the good fortune of being part of several of these types of changes. It shouldn’t surprise you that such projects are: a) not easy to find and b) not easy to orchestrate. Even once you identify a candidate for a revolutionary improvement, the necessary execution path will rarely be obvious – if it was, it would presumably already have been done.
When I think back to each success (and reflect on various failures), the key ingredient present or lacking was courage. The old phrase “With great power comes great responsibility” could be modified to say “To achieve great improvement requires great courage”.
To make such a change, you need to figure out a way to achieve it and – more daunting – create a plan, get buy-in and encourage (normally) a large number of people to make sustained effort to achieve it. On the way, there will be many setbacks, which will give the faint-of-heart pause (including you perhaps). An insane level of courage is required for you to persist through this from start to finish, especially when you have to embolden many others whose faith wanes at times (or for some, all the time).
One of the main hazards is that the courage to persist down the right path and the foolish stubbornness to stick to a disastrous plan are virtually indistinguishable, in the same way that bravery is often indistinguishable from stupidity. How do you know which path you are on?
To be honest, I’m not sure what to tell you on this one. What I do know is that it’s not based on how many people agree with you. It’s also not based on how much evidence you have that your current approach is working – you can always change your approach . It does need to be based on having confidence (based on evidence) that the overall objective is achievable. It gets a little scary when you don’t have that – this is where you cross the line between bravery and naïve faith (or stupidity).
Let me give you a real-life example. I was brought into a new team where the project was preceding very slowly relative to market expectations. The only solution was to massively increase the level of automation in a process that required a lot of human intervention. However, I was told that such automation was impossible by a lot of people deeply familiar with the work.
Instead of taking their word for it, I did a very Engineer-like thing. I took examples of the electronic files home and tried to do the tricky aspects of the automation myself, just enough to convince myself that it was possible. Knowing this kept my faith up in times when no one else believed it could be done and – later – when it took longer than expected. There were dozens of times that it would have been a lot easier and less stressful to give up, but I didn’t and my faith infected others and, eventually, the majority of the team were believers .
The automation once deemed “impossible” did get completed – the result was a massive improvement in the delivery of the finished product (several times 10x). None of it would have happened with a lot of hard work and perseverance from the team. And none of that would have happened without good, old-fashioned courage.
This post is based on or excerpted from the upcoming book “De-Engineering the Corporation” by Darryl Ricker
 One of my favorite quotes is this: “Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” Tony Robbins. A lot of people make fun of Tony, but I once bought his cassette tape series on a late-night infomercial and it was actually very helpful.
 I’m not sure I agree with the adage “If you can believe, you can achieve”, but I do agree with this: “If you don’t believe, you won’t achieve”.