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How Businesses Can Be Fearless and Change the World

Photo: Courtesy of Jean Case

Jean Case is dedicated to changing the world for the better. After rising to the top of the private sector, she helped found the Case Foundation, which seeks to promote transformative ideas to meet society’s challenges. Her professional and personal journey led her to develop her “Five Principles for a Life of Breakthrough and Purpose,” recently detailed in her bestselling book, “Be Fearless.”

“My background took me around the world,” says Case. “People have ideas everywhere. And when I would say, ‛why aren’t you taking that forward?’ I’d often hear, ‛well, it takes a special genius’ or ‛you have to have gone to this school’ or ‛I need that,’ whatever that was. We undertook some research, and it was really out of that work that these Five Principles were revealed. We were able to debunk this idea that it takes this ‛special quality,’ because we could really see it was as simple as the application of these Five Principles.”

Five Principles

Case’s Five Principles encapsulate her philosophy for success and impact.

“The first is ‛Make a Big Bet and Make History.’ The idea is not to settle for incremental change. Think in terms of leaps. That’s where we see breakthrough success.

“The second principle is ‛Be Bold, Take Risks.’ Obviously, if you’re trying big new things, you’re going to be out there taking risks; it’s just a necessary part of the process. Third is ‛Make Failure Matter.’ There the idea really is that failure is a powerful tool if you do the hard work to learn from it. The next is ‛Reach Beyond Your Bubble.’ That really is the revelation that innovation comes at intersections, that it’s diverse teams that help break through and find success.

“Finally, ‛Let Urgency Conquer Fear.’ I often refer to Martin Luther King’s quote about the ‛fierce urgency of now.’ If there’s a sense that something really needs to change, that’s when we see people find what we call their ‛courage zone.’”

Capitalism 2.0

When it comes to having a social impact, Case believes these principles can be used by any company as a guide to making things better. “Any business can definitely incorporate impact investing into their business model,” she says. “For example, Dog Tag Bakery is one of the most popular bakeries in Washington D.C. A portion of their profits goes to train up veterans and benefit Blue Star Families, those that have lost members of the military. That’s a great example of a small business that right out of the gate said ‛we’re going to do more than just be a bakery.’”

Case is realistic on why the world needs these Five Principles so urgently. “There’s a lot of talk today about the failures of capitalism,” she says. “I think impact investing might represent a ‛capitalism 2.0.’ It gets away from the idea that only philanthropy, only nonprofits or the government are in the business of addressing problems in our communities and around the world. It takes a look at social needs and concerns around the world and builds great companies to address them.”

Diversity now

One of the Five Principles that Case stresses is the role of diversity in making breakthroughs and overcoming the natural blind spots we all have.

“We’ve always had this phrase ‛two heads are better than one,’” she says. “We fundamentally understand that when more than one person is looking at a challenge or an opportunity, you’re going to do a better job.” But Case also points out that a lack of diversity in her own stomping grounds —the tech world —is doing real harm. “We haven’t done a very good job of reaching beyond our bubble,” she notes. “Tech today is both financed and led by too many white males. We need to do a better job of mixing it up in tech. The data is pretty overwhelming from leading firms on this, that diverse teams and women-led teams outperform —they outperform financially, they outperform in being open to change and they outperform in innovation.”

Case offers one last bit of advice, noting that being fearless and following these Five Principles isn’t a choice if you want your business to succeed. “In this time of rapid change and disruption, you constantly have to be peeking around corners to see what’s coming next and taking the next risk. I would say to a small business owner, no matter what risks you’ve taken to get to where you are today, make sure you have a sense of the risks you need to continue to take to grow your business and to take advantage of opportunities —and more importantly, to make sure you’re not disrupted by another business that comes along.”

Jean Case, CEO, Case Foundation, [email protected]

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