Book Summary: Be Fearless by Jean Case

Are you looking for a book summary of Be Fearless by Jean Case? You have come to the right place.

Last week, I finished reading this book and jotted down some key insights from Jean Case.

You don’t have to read the whole book if you don’t have time. This summary will provide you with an overview of everything you can learn from this book.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

In this Be Fearless by Jean Case book summary, I’m going to cover the following topics:

What is Be Fearless by Jean Case About?

The book Be Fearless offers readers an inspirational look into what it takes to change the world. 

Jean Case draws from her own experiences with game-changing technology as well as those she admires in business, exploration and philanthropy. 

Case demonstrates that the most influential people in history all share one significant quality: fearlessness.

Who is the Author of Be Fearless?

Jean Case founded America Online in the 1990s, which introduced many people to the internet for the first time. 

As CEO of the Case Foundation since 1997, she helps others find funding to realize their breakthrough ideas. 

In addition to serving as the first woman Chairman of the National Geographic Society, she is on the boards of several other philanthropic institutions, including Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation.

Who is Be Fearless by Jean Case For?

Be Fearless by Jean Case is not for everyone. If you are the following types of people, you may like the book:

  • Those who feel held back by fear
  • Philanthropists and entrepreneurs
  • Those who want to make a difference in the world

Be Fearless by Jean Case Book Summary


If you follow the news, you may have read a troubling article and thought, “I need to act on this.” Perhaps it was a local issue, like homelessness, or an international issue, like global warming. You may have been concerned and tempted to act, but your second thought was perhaps: “I would like to help, but I cannot change my life today.”

According to Jean Case, taking action requires courage, and doing nothing or following the autopilot is much easier than taking action. Since we need courageous people who are willing to make the world a better place, she decided to provide inspiration to those who need that extra push to replace their fears with courage and confidence.

Case’s five principles for being fearless are making a big bet, taking risks, making failures matter, letting urgency win, and reaching beyond your bubble. In this article, we’ll look at some examples of how these principles work and hopefully motivate you to unleash your inner game-changer.

Lesson 1: Change usually begins with a big bet, which may even be audacious and come from wherever you are now

The first humans to set foot on the moon did not know exactly how they would accomplish it until the 1960s. While there were a lot of stumbling blocks in the way, including the fact that the technology had yet to be invented, US president John F. Kennedy proclaimed on national television that the astronomical feat would be accomplished within the decade.

Being a fearless individual who makes a difference in the world begins with taking a risk, which the author refers to as making a Big Bet.

An audacious plan defies expectations and captures people’s attention when it stands out from the crowd. Likewise, Elon Musk has made the audacious bet of visiting Mars by 2030, as JFK did in 1961. In addition, as CEO of the electric car company Tesla, he plans to revolutionize how people travel on Earth.

Elon Musk has had his critics, but SpaceX silenced some of those critics in January of 2018 with its own rocket launch.

It’s one thing to travel into space, but what about surfing the internet with a balloon? X, the Google development lab Astro Teller supervises, has created the balloon-powered internet, the craziest project the lab has ever attempted. In 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, but the project helped the island regain its connectivity.

A Big Bet does not require your expertise as a rocket scientist. Anywhere you may be in your life at the moment, you can create one.

Rachel Sumekh was just a regular UCLA student back in 2010 when she found herself the only one to show up for a food drive to assist students who couldn’t afford decent food. In some states, 40% of college students have used food banks or been unable to buy groceries, highlighting how underappreciated the issue of student hunger is.

Swipe Out Hunger, an organization that lets students donate unused food card money, was founded by Sumekh when she became convinced that this long-standing problem could be solved. Obama was able to recognize her efforts and she has since expanded to over 30 campuses and delivered over 1.3 million meals.

Lesson 2: You can make big bets by defying assumptions and seeing what lies ahead

You’ve probably been frustrated by something at some point, only to hear someone say, “Well, that’s how things are.”

Many people believe they shouldn’t try to change anything since things are as they are. On the other hand, there are people who defy these common assumptions and show us that things can be changed for the better.

David Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal are two such people. When Gilboa needed new glasses one day, he was upset to find out that a new pair would end up costing him almost $700. There should be some way to obtain decent specs without breaking the bank, he felt.

Most people assume that the process of getting eyeglasses, such as getting an eye exam, lenses, and frames at a shop, is set in stone. Blumenthal, however, has previously worked for a nonprofit organization called VisionSpring that teaches people in developing countries how to do eye exams and runs shops that sell glasses for low prices to those earning less than $4 a day.

Therefore, there was a less costly way, and Blumenthal and Gilboa used just $2,500 for seed money to start Warby Parker, an online service that offered stylish eyeglasses for only $95 a pair.

There was a strong response, with the entire inventory selling out in a month and 20,000 customers on the waiting list. Today, Warby Parker is worth $1.75 billion, with more than 1,400 employees and dozens of stores.

You can use the Big Bet to look around the corner to see what lies ahead, as well as to question assumptions.

The people of the 1990s couldn’t understand why they needed a website for their business, or even why they needed an email account. It is hard to imagine a world without the internet today.

When people in the 1980s were bewildered that she wanted to work for the start-up that would become America Online, the author was among a group who saw the possibilities of the internet.

Lesson 3: To achieve greatness, one must embrace risk

It’s probably more comfortable for you to stay in your comfort zone, aren’t you? Everyone does, right? Even though you might be able to produce good work in that space, the reality is that you won’t be able to produce amazing, game-changing work if you’re comfortable.

You need to get uncomfortable in order to change the world. Taking risks and being bold is a second principle of being fearless.

Imagine how much progress we would have made – or wouldn’t have made – if we had only been concerned with comfort. We wouldn’t accomplish all the amazing things if we only took on the jobs we’re absolutely certain we’ll be able to handle. Does that sound all that exciting?

Being the only member of their group at work can be extremely uncomfortable for women and minorities. Apart from feeling different, it is also overwhelming to feel that you are representing a whole gender or ethnicity in your work.

In addition to being grateful for her role as National Geographic Society Chairman, the author is also thankful to Eliza Scidmore, who was the first female board member of the organization in 1892.

It is due in part to the fact that Scridmore embraced the risks that come with being a pioneer, that she was so remarkable.

She was one of the first women to graduate from Oberlin College at 19. After that, she wrote a popular newspaper column under the pseudonym E.R. Scidmore, which enabled her to fulfill her dream of traveling the world.

75 years before Alaska became part of the United States, she boarded a steamship for Alaska in 1885. When she arrived, she created the first travel guide for the area – a truly impressive feat! Scidmore eventually became the first female writer and photographer for National Geographic magazine, which took her to faraway places such as India, China, Indonesia, Russia, and Korea.

As a single mother of two at the end of the nineteenth century, Scidmore must have found such trips extremely difficult and risky. Nevertheless, she accepted the risks and discomforts involved in trying to change the world.

Lesson 4: Take advantage of other people’s work and don’t regret taking bold risks

Eliza Scidmore is an important trailblazer to know, because the work she did and the doors she opened can make it easier for you in the present.

It is impossible to change the world without starting from scratch and reinventing the wheel every time. As a great inventor like Thomas Edison knew, it is vital to use what has come before.

There is a common misconception that Edison was a genius who was frequently struck by “eureka moments,” where ideas such as the light bulb came to him purely as a result of his brain. However, Edison actually called himself a sponge instead of an inventor. This is because he was aware of advances others were making, and he was able to use his own resources and knowledge to improve upon them.

Justin Knopf, a fifth generation farmer who learned about the no till approach to farming, is another recent example. There is still a problem with soil erosion and topsoil blowing away, just as there was during the dust bowl, but no tilling allows farmers to preserve as much soil as possible. In school, Knopf had learned about retaining nutrients in soil, so when he heard about it he thought it might also help.

Immediately after starting testing, he saw astounding results, and soon the size of the yields was growing exponentially. The no-tilling movement has emerged as a result of Knopf’s openness to share what he knows.

You may be hesitant to make changes, but if you want to avoid regrets, you’ll want to take those bold risks. Many people regret not doing something risky in their later years, but rather choosing to play it safe.

You only have to look at what Kodak did. Prior to the 2000s, the company dominated the camera film market with 70 percent of total sales.

In the face of the decision to invest in digital film or protect this market share, they opted to stay the course. Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012 as digital camera sales outpaced film camera sales. Therefore, if you don’t want to live a life of regrets, you need to take risks.

Lesson 5: Learn from your failures and keep the bigger picture in mind

It may surprise you to learn how many game-changers view failure as a positive thing when a project fails. It’s important for them to know that every success story has a failure behind it, as failures are an integral part of the process. To be fearless, the third principle is to make your failures matter.

To begin with, you can learn a lot when you have a healthy attitude toward failure. According to IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, doubling your failure rate is the only way to succeed.

In the case of the author’s Case Foundation, which funds bold creative projects, a lack of failures would signal a lack of innovation. It is only natural that there should be a healthy amount of failures when every project tries to push the limits.

Remember Astro Teller, the scientist at X lab? He tolerates failure and expects it. “The Unexpected Benefit of Celebrating Failure” was the title of Teller’s TED Talk, in which he explained that at X, they actively try to bring a project down by disproving its core assumptions. You’re much more likely to come up with a brilliant idea if you can’t!

To accept failure as part of the process, it is also important to always keep an eye on the bigger picture.

One of the most successful people in the world is often thought to be Warren Buffett. Buffett is a hugely influential investor who has built his whole philosophy around seeking out long-term businesses that will be successful. His philosophy is not fad-driven. He prefers to invest in companies that have long-term potential.

It is interesting to note that Buffett himself is somewhat of a late bloomer. He built almost all of his fortune after his 50th birthday, and from his 83rd to his 87th birthday he earned more than he earned during his first 60 years.

Albert Einstein said, “Failure is success in progress.” In the end, it doesn’t matter if you avoided failure for your entire life. What matters is that you pursue your goals and learn from the inevitable failures you faced.

Lesson 6: Look beyond your bubble, eliminate blind spots, and forge unlikely collaborations

Each year, the author and her husband enjoy traveling around the United States in their RV. In addition to seeing beautiful scenery, she also meets people she would not normally get to know. She gets outside her bubble through these road trips, the fourth principle of being fearless.

First of all, you must look beyond your bubble if you want to understand what’s really happening in the world.

There are many people who believe that certain US cities, such as Pittsburgh or Detroit, are failing and should be avoided. If you were to see these locations for yourself, you’d see that they’re undergoing exciting work.

Ford and Uber, for example, are investing a lot of money in Pittsburgh because the city is doing pioneering work in automated driving. Biomedicine, robotics, and alternative energy companies are also thriving in the city.

It’s no secret that Detroit is poised for revival, with innovative partnerships between public and private sectors working to usher in a new era of prosperity. Quicken Loans owner Dan Gilbert has consolidated his entire business in Detroit. Investing heavily in start-ups and real estate in the city, the company employs around 17,000 people.

You may not find a perfect but unusual partnership that holds the key to your future unless you look outside your bubble.

As an example, the NASA-Lego partnership in 2010 involved Lego sets being used inside the International Space Station while classrooms interacted with the astronauts using specially-designed curricula. Those students may look back upon those classes as inspiration for a career in astronomy, which is just what NASA hoped for with this partnership.

The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa is another great example. The hazmat suits at the time were not fit for purpose. There was a 30-step process to get them on and they didn’t offer complete protection. When Johns Hopkins University posted an open call for a better design, who won? A wedding dress maker! 

You may never find the right solution if you stay inside your comfort zone. At times, the best solutions are found in the most unlikely places.   

Lesson 7: Seize the opportunity and deal with crises when they arise

Finally, being fearless means letting urgency prevail over your fears.

Everyone experiences fear as a way to protect them from danger, however that fear can also prevent them from taking chances, being bold and taking action that will lead to amazing results. 

You can bypass this fear of failure by letting urgency take over and giving into the kind of instinctual response that automatically kicks in during times of crisis.

In a situation where one’s back is against the wall, adrenaline kicks in and one does things that would never happen in a normal situation. You’re likely to find a crisis around you or in other parts of the world that makes you passionate about doing something to help, if you look closely. Don’t let this passion go to waste!

It is called first responders by the author and there are many of them who have been successful in doing amazing things for others.

Having founded the DC Central Kitchen to help hungry people in Washington DC, José Andrés is both an award-winning chef and seen as “the face of American disaster relief.” This recognition started locally, too, in Washington DC. He changed his mission in 2010 when an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude devastated Haiti.

The hunger relief effort in Puerto Rico did not end there: in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Andrés started off with a single kitchen serving 1,000 meals a day, but soon, he ramped up to serving 175,000 meals a day, ultimately giving out 3.5 million meals. 

André says that the American dream is more than just having a nice house, a nice car or a good job. The American dream is about finding success in our own lives by helping others.

He seizes the moment and tries to help in any way he can due to the urgency of hunger. David Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal, the two behind Warby Parker, made it their business to get people’s glasses at an affordable price, and it’s why they connected their business model to a “buy a pair, give a pair” program.

The organization has distributed about four million pairs of glasses to developing countries so far.

Lesson 8: Don’t overthink your actions – just take them!

You may have been told to “Think things over” by someone who meant well. They may have urged you to avoid being impulsive.

You can end up paralyzed by uncertainty, confusion, and exhaustion the more time you spend thinking things through. Simply put, every great idea appears dubious if you pick it apart for long enough.

So, it is a good idea to let urgency push you to take action. An important cause can inspire passion within you, so it’s likely worth pursuing. The issues you’ll need to deal with may be uncomfortable at first, but you’ll figure them out eventually.

Bertha and Harry Holt did that when they heard about homeless children in Korea whose fathers had been American soldiers back in 1954. As soon as they heard about those children, they adopted eight of them. 

Upon closer examination, they would have discovered that this was actually illegal. However, they did not let it stop them, putting pressure on Congress to pass Holt’s Law, which enabled the children to live with their families.

A residential facility in Seoul was built for them to provide a safe place to live, and the Holts then started an adoption agency with the Salvation Army to offer other children a safe home. Molly Holt, the daughter of the Holts, continues to run the facility today. 

Holt family’s decades of philanthropy have provided decades of care for Korean children, which is documented in a museum on the grounds.

Take action now rather than waiting for the perfect conditions to arise. Brené Brown, the author of Daring Greatly, states that waiting for the perfect moment can waste a lot of time, talent and meaningful relationships.

Getting involved doesn’t have to be a huge leap of faith. If it’s a big task, it’s best to break it up into small steps rather than tackling it all at once.

Starting a business aimed at redefining the way communities recycle, for instance, may begin with you clearing your neighborhood of trash while learning more about the current recycling methods. Take action and don’t let fear stop you from following your heart.

Final Summary

In order to end hunger and poverty once and for all, there needs to be more fearless people in the world. To create something transformative, you have to be fearless, because each groundbreaking idea demands the courage to take risks, learn from failures, and step out of your comfort zone.

By embracing diversity, you can ensure you step outside your bubble. Businesses lacking diversity in terms of gender and ethnicity underperformed compared with more diverse ones, according to a 2018 McKinsey report. 

In addition, women-led businesses perform much better than men-led businesses. However, only 10 percent of investment capital is directed to businesses founded by women and minorities in spite of these impressive numbers.

Further Reading

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