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.