Jan/14/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Structural Transformation

“The World Needs Us to Be Fearless”

As they neared their 15th anniversary, the Case Foundation published “To be Fearless” as both a reflection on its work and a challenge to philanthropy and the social sector. The following are excerpts from this report, written by Cynthia Gibson and Brad Rourke for the Case Foundation. (“To Be Fearless,” The Case Foundation, 2012.)

When it comes to creating change, traditional models are not keeping pace with today’s challenges. It’s time for us to take risks, be bold and fail forward. It’s time for us to be fearless.

We found that we were most successful when we were fearless—when we explored and experimented—and the least successful when fear or caution somehow became a dominant driver of decision-making. But what exactly does it mean to Be Fearless?

 To us, being fearless means setting audacious goals, acting urgently and boldly, being unafraid of risk, being willing to strike unlikely alliances, and accepting the possibility of failure while still pressing forward. We also define being fearless by what it’s not: it’s not reckless abandon, foolhardiness or arrogance, or presuming we have all the answers.

We have identified five principles that go hand-in-hand with our definition of being fearless:

 1. Make big bets and make history. 

History suggests that the most significant cultural transformations occur when one or more people simply decide to try and make big change, rather than move incrementally.

2. Experiment early and often.

Don’t be afraid to go first. Every new good idea 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.

It’s natural to be afraid to fail. No one seeks it. But if everyone commits to sharing lessons from failure, the sector 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.

5. Let urgency conquer fear.

Don’t overthink and overanalyze. Do. A sense of urgency is the magic ingredient that can push the other principles forward in the face of resistance.

The report ends with a simple invitation to start a conversation, commit to living out the principles and experimenting and sharing. I’m going to do my best to take up the invitation. I’ll be asking: What would our work be like if we at IISC were fearless? What could we accomplish? What will it take to get us there?  What will fearless look like for you?

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