BE FEARLESS: Failures and Potholes Pave the Pathway to Success

By Karli Thode, Communication Intern The Office of Innovation Creativity and Entrepreneurship

“To tackle today’s big and ever-changing social challenges; we have to take risks, be bold, and fail forward. We have to Be Fearless.”

  –The Case Foundation


These are the wise words of key note speaker and The Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award recipient, Jean Case, spoken at the Eighth Annual Excellence in Entrepreneurship Awards Banquet, which was held on April 11, 2013 in the Magnolia Room. Jean Case, along with her husband Steve Case, is the CEO of The Case Foundation, which was established back in 1997. Investing in people and ideas that can change the world,  the Foundation unites the principles of entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology to identify, test, prove, and scale both ideas and model to create exponential impact (The Case Foundation).

As the Award Banquet’s key note speaker, Jean Case spoke about the power of embracing failures and taking the pledge to Be Fearless. The bumps and potholes that we may encounter throughout our life journeys can really only make us stronger if we simply learn to embrace these failures and turn them into something positive. Steve Jobs is the perfect example of this. He was fired from his own company, Apple, and then later re-hired by the company as an interim CEO, bringing the company from near bankruptcy to profitability. Steve Jobs embraced his failures, learned from them, and turned both himself and Apple around completely, leaving a lasting impact and legacy on the world of technology as we know it. Case argues that this could any one of us. Try, try, and try again. Society has bred us to develop this one-track mentality—success, success, success. But in reality, has anyone ever achieved something great without a few failures along the way? Not really.

Jean Case invited all entrepreneurs in the room to take the pledge to Be Fearless with her and The Case Foundation, encouraging everyone to adhere to five major principles as innovative entrepreneurs.

First—we must make BIG bets. Engaging in the big idea will enable us to make history. Case urges entrepreneurs to set audacious, not incremental, goals.

Second—entrepreneurs must experiment both early AND often. The world moves quickly, and entrepreneurs must know how to take risks, take a leap, and to go first. Without risk, there is no way to reach innovation.

Third—make failure matter. Failure teaches us more than we will ever know, and the key is to wear that failure as a badge of honor. Fail forward, move on, and embrace in the experience. “Want to increase your success rate? Double your failure rate,” says Case.

Fourth—reach beyond your bubble and think about who is not at the table. Reaching beyond your bubble gives way to collaboration and impact. And reaching out to others beyond your bubble is a fundamental component of the Be Fearless pledge.

Fifth—let urgency conquer fear. Do not become a victim of “paralysis from analysis.” Hesitation can greatly inhibit the innovation process. Case urges that a sense of urgency is the perfect ingredient that will push us forward in the face of resistance.

These are all ideas that come out of careful study and transformative breakthroughs. Jean Case and The Case Foundation encourage all to join them in the Be Fearless pledge. Be inspired by the challenges of today, and conquer them without fear. And if you ever find yourself in a rut, remember the wise words of Jean Case. Dream big. Experiment and take risks. Acknowledge the ups and downs. Mix it up. And most importantly, don’t fear failure.

Jean Case is an actively engaged philanthropist and a pioneer in the world of interactive technologies. Her successful career in the private sector, including as a technology executive at America Online, Inc., spanned nearly two decades before she and her husband, Steve Case, created the Case Foundation in 1997. The Case Foundation is recognized for its leadership in leveraging new technologies and applying innovative approaches to increase giving; catalyzing civic and business participation; and promoting innovation, collaboration and leadership in the nonprofit sector. Jean is currently leading the Case Foundation in support of the Startup America Partnership, which focuses on maximizing the success of American startups and high-growth companies. Her leadership in innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship serves as an inspiration to students, faculty and staff at Wake Forest University.