Philanthropist, investor, and technology pioneer Jean Case brings to life the five Be Fearless principles common to the people and organizations that change the world.
This book is a call to action for those seeking to live extraordinary lives and bring about transformational change.
When National Geographic Chairman Jean Case set out to investigate the core qualities of great change makers, past and present, from inventors to revolutionaries, she found five surprising traits all had in common. They weren’t wealth, privilege, or even genius. It was that all of these exceptional men and women chose to make a “big bet,” take bold risks, learn from their failures, reach beyond their bubbles, and let urgency conquer fear.
Throughout Be Fearless, Jean vividly illustrates these principles through storytelling—from her own transformational life experiences, to Jane Goodall’s remarkable breakthroughs in understanding and protecting chimpanzees, to celebrity chef José Andrés’ decision to be a “first responder” and take his kitchen to the sites of devastating hurricanes to feed the hungry, to Bryan Stevenson’s ambitious efforts to end incarceration inequities, and more. She shares new insights to stories you might think you know—like AirBnB’s tale of starting from scratch to transform the hospitality industry, to John F. Kennedy’s history-making moonshot—and gems from changemakers you’ve never heard of.
Weaving together storytelling, practical tips and inspiration, Be Fearless will teach you how to put the five fearless principles to work so that they too can spark the sorts of remarkable breakthroughs that change the world.
Be Fearless INTRODUCTION FINDING FEARLESS This book is a call to action for those who seek to live extraordinary lives. Maybe that’s you.
If you think that only a rare genius, an exceptionally privileged individual, or a massively funded organization can launch a breakthrough product or bring a world-changing movement to life, I’ll introduce you in these pages to the fearless people from all walks of life who have made the unimaginable possible. You might be dazzled by their achievements, and it’s easy to assume they possessed extraordinary abilities or advantages that set them apart from ordinary strivers. But I have news for you. Their single common trait was this: they were all passionate about making the world better. They seized an opportunity and kept at it in spite of daunting barriers, frequent failures, and loud objections—and they succeeded. Today we look at them, our most iconic creators, and wonder how the world ever existed without their contributions. But, as you will see here, many of their stories provide inspiration and helpful hints on how we can all make a greater impact in every aspect of our lives, and serve as beacons of fearlessness for others.
Today’s global challenges—poverty, civil unrest, political stalemates, economic divisions, climate change—play out daily against the backdrop of our living rooms. But if these problems seem too big and complex—easier to ignore than to even attempt to solve—know that there has never been a better time to engage. An explosion of technological innovation is transforming the way we live. And if we’re going to keep up with the rapid pace of change, we need to rethink the old ways of doing things.
My husband, Steve, and I started the Case Foundation in 1997 with a fearless mission: to invest in people and ideas that can change the world. This means we’re always investigating and experimenting to find the best ideas out there, the best leaders, the best models for innovation. A few years ago, we engaged a team of experts to determine the “secret sauce” that propelled those rare leaders, organizations, and movements to success. They discovered five principles that are consistently present when transformational breakthroughs take place. To spark this sort of change, you must:
1. Make a Big Bet. So many people and organizations are naturally cautious. They look at what seemed to work in the past and try to do more of it, leading to only incremental advances. Every truly history-making transformation has occurred when people have decided to go for revolutionary change.
2. Be bold, take risks. Have the guts to try new, unproven things and the rigor to continue experimenting. Risk taking is not a blind leap off a cliff but a lengthy process of trial and error. And it doesn’t end with the launch of a product or the start of a movement. You need to be willing to risk the next big idea, even if it means upsetting your own status quo.
3. Make failure matter. Great achievers view failure as a necessary part of advancing toward success. No one seeks it out, but if you’re trying new things, the outcome is by definition uncertain. When failure happens, great innovators make the setback matter, applying the lessons learned and sharing them with others.
4. Reach beyond your bubble. Our society is in thrall to the myth of the lone genius. But innovation happens at intersections. Often the most original solutions come from engaging with people with diverse experiences to forge new and unexpected partnerships.
5. Let urgency conquer fear. Don’t overthink and overanalyze. It’s natural to want to study a problem from all angles, but getting caught up in questions like “What if we’re wrong?” and “What if there is a better way?” can leave you paralyzed with fear. Allow the compelling need to act to outweigh all doubts and setbacks.
These five principles can be summarized in two words: Be Fearless. Taken together, they form a road map for effective change-making for people from all walks of life, but it’s important to note that they aren’t “rules.” They don’t always work in tandem or sequentially, and none is more important than another. Think of them as a set of markers that can help identify when decisions are being made fearlessly.
We knew we were onto something when we shared these principles with friends and colleagues and started hearing from people in the private, public, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors who wanted to incorporate the principles into their own work.
Whenever I speak about being fearless, audiences are excited by how tangible the principles are. As someone said to me, “These are things I can do!” People often come up afterward and tell me their own stories of fearlessness, which light up my imagination and fill me with awe: a fourteen-year-old girl who created a nonprofit to cleanly dispose of prescription pills and drugs; a man who started a bakery to employ “unemployable” men and women just released from prison; a Cuban immigrant who created a formula for affordable assisted living; a Liberian activist who designed a program to help remote communities access medical clinics; a young farmer who invented a no-till process that will save one of earth’s most precious resources; a celebrity chef from Washington, DC, who figured out how to serve millions of meals to hurricane victims in dire straits.
These people dreamed big, but most of them started with small, familiar steps. Reading their stories is like following a trail of bread crumbs: They made phone calls. They knocked on doors. They wrote their visions in big letters. They talked and talked and walked and walked. They found supportive communities. They didn’t take no for an answer. They did things anyone can do.
Whether you’re working at a start-up, finding yourself at a personal crossroads, working as part of an established organization, or looking for inspiration to make a life-altering change, the Be Fearless principles can provide guidance on how to take that next step. And the moment to do so is now.
I am always inspired by people who challenge themselves and those around them by asking the question: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Be Fearless tells the stories of innovators and activists, artists and entrepreneurs, scientists and explorers, and individuals from organizations and businesses who answered that question with actions that spoke louder than words. Some of these individuals are household names; others you might never have heard of. As you read about them, I hope you’ll imagine yourself standing in their company.
Jean Case, the first female Chairman of the National Geographic Society in its 130-year history and CEO of the Case Foundation, is a philanthropist, investor, and internet and impact investing pioneer who advocates for the importance of embracing a more fearless approach to innovate and bring about transformational breakthroughs. Her career in the private sector spanned nearly two decades before co-founding the Case Foundation in 1997. Before the Case Foundation, she was a senior executive at America Online, Inc. where she directed the marketing and branding that helped bring AOL to the masses. In addition, Jean currently serves on the boards of Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure (ABC2), the White House Historical Association, and BrainScope Company, Inc., as well as on the advisory boards of the Brain Trust Accelerator Fund, Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society and Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2016 and has received honorary degrees from Indiana University and George Mason University. Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose is her first book.
“If you want to change the world, it helps to be fearless. And if you need a dose of courage, I recommend this powerful collection of stories, evidence, and optimism. Jean Case draws on research and personal experience to provide change-makers with moral support and practical guidance.”
– Melinda Gates, philanthropist and co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
“An inspiring book by an inspiring leader. Jean Case has been in the arena as a technology pioneer and philanthropist, and this book is full of stories and advice to embolden you to take bolder risks and have bigger impact.”
– Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Originals, Give and Take, and Option B with Sheryl Sandberg
“If you feel stuck in your career, Case’s principles are the answer! The book is packed with inspiring examples of success stories.”
– Focus Magazine
“Jean Case has done what many before her have tried but been unable to achieve: break down the essential qualities and principles that drive success. Her book tells us in no uncertain terms what it takes to break through in an increasingly crowded world of ideas. With legitimately surprising research and compelling stories, Be Fearless inspires us all to take risks we usually wouldn’t, conquer the fears that get in our way, and lead a fulfilling life of clear purpose and maximum impact.”
– Eric Schmidt, former Executive Chairman, Google and Alphabet
“Case expertly crafts a must-read for leaders who are seeking an inspirational roadmap for change in today’s challenging climate.”
“I wish I had Jean Case’s Be Fearless by my side when we were starting Warby Parker. This engaging book highlights stories of ordinary people who end up doing extraordinary things, much to the surprise of others and even themselves, and draws out the “secret sauce” behind success. For anyone looking to make a change, start a company, or change the world, Be Fearless provides both the inspiration and tools to make a real impact.”
– Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker
“Be Fearless is part business how-to, part cheerleader on how to get stuff done. If you’re stuck, need inspiration, or some ideas on how to move any part of an idea or enterprise forward, it’s filled with stories from real people doing incredibly difficult things — from philanthropy to enterprise — and Case’s own tough-love advice on making progress.”
“The stories in this book will inspire and motivate you to be brave and bold in unconventional ways. Jean Case creates a narrative of testimonies that can guide you through any challenge or roadblock. Confronting the status quo can intimidate many, however Be Fearless provides antidotes from thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and everyday people who have defied all odds.”
– Mellody Hobson, President, Ariel Investments
“Through compelling storytelling, Jean Case shows how bold decision-making and acts of fearlessness have transformed the world. Be Fearless stresses one of the most critical components of successful entrepreneurship: discomfort. Her very useful roadmap shows budding entrepreneurs how to think independently and move beyond their comfort zone. Starting a business is not easy, but Be Fearless gives entrepreneurs the tools they need to embark—fearlessly—on their own journey.”
– Tory Burch, designer & CEO, Tory Burch LLC
“Start the new year with an inspirational call to action.”
– Town & Country
“Case's book is a welcome kick in the pants for anyone who feels stuck in their career.”
– Business Insider
“When the going gets tough, crack open Be Fearless for a jolt of examples of how entrepreneurs and leaders have broken through and to be inspired to keep pushing forward on your own journey to change the world.”
– Brad Feld, entrepreneur and venture capitalist at Foundry Group
“As a philanthropist, investor and internet and impact investing pioneer, Case advocates for the importance of embracing a more fearless approach to innovation and bringing about transformational breakthroughs.”
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