This post is courtesy of our friends at The Case Foundation. The Case Foundation, created by Steve Case and Jean Case in 1997, invests in people and ideas that can change the world. They create and support initiatives that leverage new technologies and entrepreneurial approaches to drive innovation in the social sector and encourage individuals to get involved with the communities and causes they care about.
Education. Poverty. Environment. Human rights. Veterans. These are just a few of the causes (none of them new) that millions of people around the world care about and are working on to make the world a better place. For all the strides we’ve made in solving some of the big social challenges, there are others that remain persistent and new challenges arising every day.
In our 15th year, the Case Foundation has been asking some critical questions: What has led to transformative advances that change the social sector? In a world plagued with old problems, what was behind the bright spots — new thinking, new approaches and effective outcomes?
We discovered that breakthroughs happen most frequently when organizations are willing to be bold, act with urgency and embrace risks with the potential to produce exponential social returns. In other words, innovation happens when we were willing to be fearless. We’ve witnessed these breakthroughs from people like Ray Chambers, the UN’s Special Envoy for Malaria, and Barbara Van Dahlen, CEO and Founder of Give an Hour; and from initiatives like Code for America, the U.S.-Palestinian Partnership, and Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure.
After surveying our work, that of our partners and of innovators in the social space, we recently published five key values at the root of every fearless approach to creating change. We’ve put them forward here with the hope of sparking a dialogue on how foundations, nonprofits, social investors, political leaders, government institutions and any individual working to create change can develop new approaches using a fearless mindset. Whether you are working to reduce homelessness, beat cancer or stop domestic violence, these principles can lead you on a journey to Be Fearless, today, and beyond:
1. Make Big Bets — and Make History
Set audacious, not incremental, goals. History suggests that the most significant cultural transformations occur when one or more people simply decide to try and make big change. Thomas Edison didn’t simply try to make a better candle; rather, he proudly proclaimed his audacious goal to “make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.” While there is a time and place for incremental, safe moves, there is also a clear need for social investors to make big bets on big change.
2. Experiment Early and Often
Don’t be afraid to go first. The world moves more quickly today than ever, and our responses have to keep up. Just when we think a certain intervention is working, that’s when we have to look down the road to see what new tools or new dynamics will challenge our assumptions or provide an even better solution. Experimentation in social change can be difficult for any organization. But experience shows us that we need to keep looking around the corner to find the next good idea – because today’s iPhone is tomorrow’s Walkman.
3. Make Failure Matter
Failure teaches. Learn from it. With innovation comes the risk of failure. Every great innovator has experienced moments of failure, but the truly great among them wear those failures as badges of honor. Thomas J. Watson, longtime leader of IBM, famously said, “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.” It’s natural to be afraid to fail. No one seeks it. But if everyone commits to sharing lessons from failure, the society as a whole will be stronger and more prepared to attack the next challenge.
4. Reach Beyond Your Bubble
It’s comfortable to go it alone. But innovation happens at intersections. Collaboration provides new ideas and innovations, as well as “air cover” when sharing risk. A fearless approach embraces unlikely partnerships that cross sectors and geographies. Reaching beyond your bubble is not collaboration for its own sake; it is a fundamental part of being fearless. It spreads risk, but more importantly, it spreads knowledge and deepens impact.
5. Let Urgency Conquer Fear
Don’t overthink and overanalyze. Do. It’s natural to want to study a problem and look at it from all angles before taking action. What if we are wrong about our intended solution? What if there is a better way that we have not considered? Have we done our due diligence? A sense of urgency — what Dr. King called the “fierce urgency of now” — is the final ingredient that can push all the other principles forward in the face of resistance.
It’s no fun to be fearless by yourself, and thankfully, our research shows that many of our peers and partners have already blazed some trails. What’s next? We’re ready to spark a conversation in philanthropic and social change circles about how and why we accelerate this approach. And we’re looking for leaders and practitioners alike to stand up and pledge to be fearless. The stakes are too high and the challenges too great for anything less. Are you ready to be fearless? To learn more, visit the Case Foundation’s Be Fearless page. You can also sign the Care2 Be Fearless pledge!