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Be Fearless: Five Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose [Book Review]

Every day that has gone by since I read Jean Case’s Be Fearless,  I’m reminded of how important her message is.  Today, it was a citation from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce reporting that “13% of Americans, roughly 1 in 10, still believe that men are better “emotionally suited” for politics”, perpetuating the image of the hysterical female not able to take what comes at her and turn it into an actionable breakthrough and constructive purpose.

Jean’s five principles – making a big bet, taking bold risks, learning from failures, reaching outside your bubble and using urgency to override fear – can be understood and practiced to assure that each of us finds the capacity to be fearless and change these stereotypes and achieve a life of breakthroughs and promise.

Others have modeled these behaviors but perhaps these figures past and present feel remote to us.  While I continue to find powerful inspiration to act in Teddy Roosevelt’s charge to “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” and in Ben Franklin’s assertion that “the noblest question in the world is :  What good may I do in it?”, Jean’s collection of inspiring current fearless role models is timely and important.

Jean pulls powerful lessons from all walks of life – from her friend Jeff Bezos, to the founder of the Special Olympics, to a South Sudanese refugee who founded a non-profit to help his home country – and does so in a way that gives us a healthy mix of practical tips, roadmapping and inspiration. Briefly, her five principles are below.

1. Make a Big Bet.

So many people and organizations are naturally cautious. They look at what seemed to work in the past and try to do more of it, leading to only incremental advances. Every truly history-making transformation has occurred when people have decided to go for revolutionary change.

2. Be bold, take risks.

Have the guts to try new, unproven things and the rigor to continue experimenting. Risk taking is not a blind leap off a cliff but a lengthy process of trial and error. And it doesn’t end with the launch of a product or the start of a movement. You need to be willing to risk the next big idea, even if it means upsetting your own status quo.

3. Make failure matter.

Great achievers view failure as a necessary part of advancing toward success. No one seeks it out, but if you’re trying new things, the outcome is by definition uncertain. When failure happens, great innovators make the setback matter, applying the lessons learned and sharing them with others.

4. Reach beyond your bubble.

Our society is in thrall to the myth of the lone genius. But innovation happens at intersections. Often the most original solutions come from engaging with people with diverse experiences to forge new and unexpected partnerships.

5. Let urgency conquer fear.

Don’t overthink and overanalyze. It’s natural to want to study a problem from all angles, but getting caught up in questions like “What if we’re wrong?” and “What if there is a better way?” can leave you paralyzed with fear. Allow the compelling need to act to outweigh all doubts and setbacks.


Be Fearless: Five Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose is authored by Jean Case, National Geographic Society Chairman and Case Foundation CEO.


We read a lot of books. Feel free to check out some of the other titles on our bookshelf.

Gail Ball

Gail Ball

Gail leads three VC funds for AVG – Social Impact Fund, Women’s Fund and Chestnut Street Ventures (for Penn grads). She also leads the firm’s diversity and inclusion and impact-investing efforts. During Gail’s career at global financial services firms, she has served in decision-making posts as a banking executive, regulator, service provider, and board member. She served as a C-suite member of The Bancorp Bank, and held several executive roles at PNC Bank, Chase, Capital One, and NCO Financial Systems, and headed the Payments Studies Group at the Richmond Fed. Gail has served as an outside board director and head of the Risk Committee for Kompanion, and is presently on the board of directors of The Reserve Trust Company. Gail has a BS Economics, Finance and Statistics from Wharton (‘79).

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