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June 25, 2022
Bold Action Offers a Path Forward for Remaining Relevant
Book - Be Fearless
Nonprofit managers and executives constantly face a dual challenge: they work hard to maintain stability while figuring out how to change in response to evolving forces. Which is why they should read and absorb Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose."

Written by Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, a former executive who helped build AOL, and the first female chairman of the National Geographic Society, this book lays out, in a supportive, non-preachy manner, how organizations, and individuals, can adapt to remain relevant in a world in which change only seems to be accelerating.

She offers five principles that she says "are consistently present when transformational breakthroughs take place." They are:
  1. Make a big bet. People and organizations tend to do more of what has worked before, which only creates incremental change. "Every truly history-making transformation has occurred when people have decided to go for revolutionary change."

  2. Be bold, take risks. It's all about experimenting ”“ continuously. "You need to be willing to risk the next big idea, even if it means upsetting your own status quo.

  3. Make failure matter. No one intentionally looks to fail, but those who achieve in a big way understand that failing is part of moving toward success. "When failure happens, great innovators make the setback matter, applying the lessons learned and sharing them with others."

  4. Reach beyond your bubble. Great advances, and great innovations, don't happen in isolation. "Often the most original solutions come from engaging people with diverse experiences to forge new and unexpected partnerships."

  5. Let urgency conquer fear. Overthinking and overanalyzing a problem in an effort to avoid being wrong stymies action. "Allow the compelling need to outweigh all doubts and setbacks."
OK, but how does one act on these principles? Case's answer: Start where you are. It often means acting on an idea spurred by the thought that there has to be a better way to do deal with a problem you've identified, and refusing to be put off by lack of experience or resources.

She makes her five principles come alive through real-world examples of people who acted on them. They all had a bold idea that can inspire anyone and engage others, and took steps to act on it, experimenting, discarding what didn't work, building on what did, and enlisting supporters, workers, and funders.

If nonprofit leaders are to act on all this, while attending to the daily demands that keep their organization on an even keel, one of the best things they can do is step back and reconnect with what attracted them to the work they're doing. And then, as Case advises, ask themselves, "What would you do if you weren't afraid?"

Being fearless is about finding your inner audaciousness. It's about daring yourself to try something outside the norm (without necessarily putting everything on the line), to take steps to make a difference in the world, which, after all, is the overriding goal of virtually every nonprofit organization.

Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose is published by Simon & Schuster.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy

February 2019
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