The Courage to Stop

Food For Thought, Leadership, Learning

“If you were ten times bolder than you feel, what would you do in the next year?”

My question was met with energy, curiosity and nervousness by the members of the board I was working with on creating their organization’s next strategic direction. They began generating some ideas. Some of them were pretty audacious, but as they continued to talk they became smaller – and more familiar. As the conversation unfolded, the usual thing happened. They began surfacing constraints, limitations, barriers. Their courage to step out into unknown territory began to get a bit wobbly. It takes courage to risk doing new things, to chance failure or disappointment, to test the limits. The conversation turned to their appetite for innovation and how much courage they were willing to muster. What they uncovered was a willingness to grow despite the risk of the unknown.

Then things got hard.

“What are the things that are working really well right now that you need to stop doing to make room for the new stuff?”


They understood the concept, to be sure. In theory, we get that when you buy something new, something old should come out of the closet. But in practice, it turns out that stopping might be scarier than starting. We went around and around about different “sacred cows”, always stopping short of the commitment to stop offering the legacy programs, letting go of old ideas, planning the retirement party for the well-attended annual event. The energy in the room got a little more tense.

One of the things at play is that our human brains are designed to work harder to prevent loss than to pursue gain. It takes courage to go after new things, to create and learn and launch. But what about the courage to stop? We don’t talk about that one much and it turns out, it’s often a bigger kind of courage.

What (idea, habit, product, program, etc) would take courage for you to let go of?

What would you have room to create if you did it?

Just some food for thought.