Those three words alone conjure up all kinds of feelings in each of us. For me, it’s a combination of the three words… is it that I’m so afraid to change that I fail? Or is it that I’m afraid to fail so I never change? Either one is terrifying.

I don’t know if it’s age or just gaining a bit more confidence, but I realize that people who take the safe and/or easy road rarely make a big difference. I also am starting to accept the fact that everyone (not just me!) make mistakes and that’s okay too. I have a quote on my wall that says “Mistakes are proof that you are trying.” No one can fault you for trying. The bigger question is “what did you learn?” When I came across the Be Fearless report from The Case Foundation ( I immediately downloaded it because I think it’s applicable to all of us. The point is to be fearless, be bold and be brave in all that you do. You can download the full report and discussion by clicking here:

The Case Foundation was started in 1997 by Steve and Jean Case. A very quick background, Steve was a co-founder of AOL. Jean was a technology executive in the private sector and a senior executive at AOL. I didn’t know that prior to reading the Be Fearless report and my gut response was, “oh yeah, it’s easy to “be fearless” when you’re the co-founder of a huge company like AOL.” Not an extremely fair response, I know. After re-reading the report, I had a different thought. At some point in their lives, I’m sure that both Steve and Jean had to be fearless, be bold and be brave or they wouldn’t be where they are today. Sitting back and sort of being half engaged with what your trying to accomplish won’t get you far. If you want to make a difference in this world (your world, whatever that world is) you must be fearless.

The authors have identified five principles that they believe go hand-in-hand with being fearless.  Here they are:

  1. Make Big Bets and Make History. “So many organizations have a natural caution that leads them to make incremental changes. They look at what seemed to work in the past, and they try to do more of it.” It’s such a super safe approach. But, what happens when something unexpected happens? You’re not ready. It can throw everyone and everything off. “The most successful companies are those that set BHAGs – “big, hairy, audacious goals” -for themselves.” Yes, big and hairy and audacious goals. Why? Because the problems (at least in the social sector) that we’re trying to work on are big and hairy. Big and hairy problems requires a big and hairy goal to solve.
  2. Experiment Early and Often. “Organizations can maximize what they learn from innovations by pressing forward, sometimes even before it may be comfortable to do so.” If all you do is meet, talk, think and then meet, talk and think some more by the time you’re ready to “solve” your issue, it will have changed in all that time you spent meeting, talking and thinking about it. Less meeting, more doing. One of my favorite quotes from the report “every new good ideas feels as if it may be the last one. But experience shows us that we need to keep looking around the corner to find the next one. Because today’s iPhone is tomorrow’s Walkman.”
  3. Make Failure Matter. “When the philanthropy and social sectors become so fearful of getting something wrong, they increase the danger of depriving themselves and others of needed lessons. As philanthropic consultant Bob Hughes notes, “Almost no foundation is alone in its aims; others can take lessons and build on the mistakes. To do that, reports of failures must go beyond noting that an initiative failed to explain why it failed.” This isn’t just a quote for funders or social organizations. Stop burying your head in the sand and pretending like that mistake or failure didn’t happen. Own it. Tell everyone why it was a mistake or why it didn’t work and move on. Respect comes much easier when you can own the bad times with the good ones.
  4. Reach Beyond Your Bubble. “There’s no question that working with known or proven organizations is usually more comfortable than reaching out to entities that are unfamiliar. Philanthropy is no exception. It’s still more common to see social investors “going with who they know” – reaching out to the same likely suspects – even when these organizations may not be the most effective.” “A fearless approach embraces new people and unlikely partnerships, recognizing that innovation comes from new combinations.” If the Gates Foundation with all of it’s resources and wealth can enter into partnerships to reach their goals, I think foundations and social service organizations in the same city should be able to do the same. Yep, it’s hard. Yep, it requires letting go of some control. Yep, it requires trusting people on the other side of the table that you normally view as a “competitor.” But, if your goal is, for example, to create more after school programs in your city or to get more health and human services to the children in your community than put your ego aside and start to set those BHAGs we talked about at the beginning. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  -African Proverb
  5. Let Urgency Conquer Fear. “This principle describes a key mindset that can help drive action. A sense of urgency is the magic ingredient that can push the other principles forward in the face of resistance.” This is the there is a crisis right now and how are we going to fix it principle. Only to be replaced by the newest crisis a month later. Martin Luther King, Jr has a great quote about this, “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” There isn’t time to rest. There is just to much work to be done.

I would recommend downloading the full report. There are some great conversation starter questions for you to use at the end with internal colleagues and the same questions for external constituents and people you know will be honest. “The more we all work together to challenge ourselves and overcome our fears, the more impact we will have.”

Get over it.

Now, go out and be bold, be brave and be fearless.