Happy New Year!
Mogul's first interview of 2019 features Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, Chairman of the Board (the first female Chairman!) of the National Geographic Society and author of the brand new book, "Be Fearless: Five Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs & Purpose."
We can't imagine a more fitting way to begin the New Year than by learning from Jean about how to be fearless with our personal and professional goals. We hope that you enjoy today's interview:
Jessica Lipps (JL,) Mogul Interviews Host: With all of our guests, I like to start at the beginning. Where were you born?
Jean Case (JC,) Guest: I was born in a terrific place called Normal, Illinois.
JL: What was your childhood like?
JC: I had a pretty classic Midwestern upbringing. There was a a cornfield in my backyard and I spent a lot of time in nature.
-My family moved to South Florida. My parents divorced and I was brought up by a single mother who raised four children. That introduced some challenges but also some terrific opportunities.
-I attended private school on a full scholarship and had a wonderful mentor for whom I interned. That internship led to a job in the Reagan administration as a political appointee.
-Following that position, I entered the technology sector, ultimately working for the company that would become AOL.
JL: You are currently CEO of the Case Foundation. Why did you leave the private sector to work in philanthropy?
JC: There has always been one constant in my career: working to empower others.
-With the internet’s ability to democratize access, ideas and information, it was exciting to empower others through technology.
-My husband, Steve Case, and I reached a point where we asked: after our technology careers, might there be an opportunity to do this in a different way? The Case Foundation was born out of that question.
-We say that we invest in people and ideas that can change the world but in the end we’re trying to build a better world that empowers everyone.
JL: You have just released your first book, “Be Fearless.” Why this book and why now?
JC: Its origin actually goes back a few years.
-At the Case Foundation, we became interested in the question: Why do some ideas break through and others don’t?
-We hired a team of researchers. Out of their work emerged five common principles wherever we see transformational breakthroughs.
-When people heard about these principles, applied them, and saw good things happening, they asked us to further spread the word. That’s how the book came to be.
JL: What are the five principles?
- Make Big Bets and Make History. Don’t settle for incremental change. Have a big idea - think about a big difference that you might set out to make.
- Take Big Risks. Experiment early and often. If you are going to do something transformational, you’re into new territory and trying new things. You can’t break through without taking big risks along the way.
- Make Failure Matter. If you are going to take risks, you probably won’t bat 1,000 and maybe you’ll stumble along the way or have a failure. Don’t be daunted by that. Pick up, learn the lessons, and share them if you can. Make failure matter.
- Reach Beyond Your Bubble. Build unlikely partnerships and collaborations. Have people around you who bring different backgrounds and perspectives. We see this as really central to any big ideas that broke through and scaled in a big way.
- Let Urgency Conquer Fear. This is my favorite. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about the fierce urgency of now. As I spend time around the country and the world, I think that people are feeling the fierce urgency of now.
-These principles are brought to life by amazing stories of ordinary people who have done extraordinary things.
-Too often, we hear of people’s success late in the game and think that it was a straight shot. We think: they were special, they had money, or they were brilliant. But it turns out that that is not the story of great breakthroughs. These really are ordinary people.
-This book is a clarion call for anyone who has thought there could be a better way or I can make a difference in this world. I am urging you to just get started.
-The book's stories show how many people started out with few resources or advantages but, with the discipline of these principles at work, were able to do great things.
JL: If I am an average person who doesn’t have a big idea but reads this book, feels empowered, and wants to do something, what is my first step?
JC: The first chapter is called Start Right Where You Are!
-I think that people do have ideas about things that they might want to see changed in their community or in their life. The idea is: take stock of what you have right now, today. What can you bring to the party to get started?
-“Be Fearless" opens with the story of a woman who is a counselor. She saw that the Veterans Administration didn’t have the scale needed to treat the PTSD and other mental health issues of soldiers returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan war.
-To help meet the need, she asked if professionals could donate one hour a week to see patients.
-Then her idea grew stronger. She asked: What if we created a National network? So she built a program called Give an Hour. Now all across the U.S., thousands of doctors give one hour a week to a veteran and his or her family.
-Barbara would say that she was an ordinary person (though I think that she's super special!) without any obvious advantages to make Give an Hour a reality. She was later named to Time 100: The Most Influential People of 2012. But she started right where she was and used what she had.
-Many of us can think about that and ask: what can we do?
JL: This is a great professional example. The principles in this book can also be applied to your personal life, is that correct?
JC: It is!
-In this book, I speak to times in my life where maybe fear was an issue but I found a way to break through and go forward.
-Fearlessness is not a lack of fear. We all have fear. Fearlessness is the ability to dig deep and have the courage to overcome it.
-Good things don’t come from the comfort zone. They come from those moments when we take risks - when we make the decision to face fear and and go past it.
JL: But that’s not always easy to do!
JC: You’re right. But think about the following: We know that experimentation leads to breakthroughs in science, medicine, and technology. If we replace that scary word “risk” with Research and Development or experimentation, now we have a framework for moving forward.
-Approaching risk like experimentation puts you in a different frame of mind. It suggests that it might not work out. Entering into it with that understanding makes taking the risk so much less daunting.
JL: After you’ve experimented, what happens next?
JC: Ask yourself: Am I making progress?
-Once a day or once a week, ask: What have I done to advance my interest? Have I done one thing to make sure that I’m moving towards my big idea or or taking a risk necessary to get there?
-Don’t put your eyes on the finish line. Big bets are achieved by chunking them into smaller pieces that you can get done on a daily or weekly basis.
-Keep track of your progress to inspire you to keep going.
JL: What happens if you go for it, take a big risk and then fail?
JC: That has happened to us at the Case Foundation. We launched an initiative with lots of high-profile partners. As we moved forward, we faced challenges and eventually it became clear that we couldn’t overcome them.
-Our fearless Board decided that the right thing to do was tell the world what happened. I wrote a blog called “The Painful Acknowledgement of Coming Up Short.”
-In response, I started getting notes thanking me for talking about failure. At first these letters surprised me but then I realized: Wouldn’t we all be better off if we shared our lessons of failure with one another?
-At the Case Foundation we started something called "Fail Fests," sessions (sometimes happy hours!) taking place in a comfortable setting to discuss what didn’t work. There was no celebration of failure. This was an honest effort to let others learn from our mistakes so that they could apply the teachings to their own work.
-The key takeaway is to make failure matter by learning from it and sharing it with others so that they can be further along when they undertake their own project.
JL: That was an example from your work at the Foundation. Can you share a personal example?
JC: Every time that I’ve had a failure or strong disappointing situation, it teed up a great opportunity. I could have never seen those opportunities in the moment but all of my failures were setting me up for success down the road.
-Albert Einstein famously said: “Failure. Success. Progress.” We should embrace that ethos and in the hard moments dig deep and ask: What great thing is this setting up down the line?
-Great things will be set up if you make that failure matter, learn from the lessons, pick yourself up, and keep going.
JL: There is no better way to end than on that note of advice. Thank you, Jean, for such an inspiring and motivating interview!
JC: Thank you!
Find & Follow:
Facebook: @CaseFoundation, @JessicaALipps
Instagram: @JeanCaseCF, @CaseFoundation, @Jessica_Lipps
Twitter: @JeanCase, @CaseFoundation, @JessicaALipps
(Headshot Credit: Case Foundation)