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Tech leader and philanthropist Jean Case on achieving transformative success

Tech leader and philanthropist Jean Case has written a book describing what she sees as the five key principles needed for achieving transformative success. The book, “Be Fearless,” leverages years of research conducted by the Case Foundation, where she is CEO. Judy Woodruff sits down with the author to discuss why she is sharing this roadmap for breakthrough.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    On our "Bookshelf" tonight, a leader recognized for her success in the tech economy and philanthropy, Jean Case has spent years traveling and meeting Americans from many backgrounds and writes about her formula for overcoming doubts and achieving one's dream.

    We sat down this week to talk about her book "Be Fearless" and why she wanted to share lessons from her own life.

  • Jean Case:

    Well, I will tell you, I have been really fortunate, Judy, through my work in different roles, including my nearly 20 years in the tech sector, of traveling both around the United States and around the world, and seeing that people everywhere have one thing in common.

    And that is that they have ideas about how to make a better world. And, too often, what I would observe is, they have great ideas, but they got caught up in this idea that maybe it takes a special genius, or graduating from the right school or connections.

    So, about six years ago, the Case Foundation, where I serve as CEO, we understood some research to take a look at the core qualities of people who do break through.

    And, Judy, it was really great news, because we were able to debunk this myth that it takes super special qualities, and instead brought forth five principles that are present whenever transformational breakthroughs take place.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There are these five principles in the book. And you, throughout the book, sprinkle stories about — you have had the opportunity to meet some pretty amazing people, Oprah Winfrey, Elon Musk, and the list goes on.

    And yet, from all of them, virtually, you describe how it didn't — they just didn't wake up one morning and they were successful.

  • Jean Case:

    I'm really trying to take the reader behind the scenes of their stories and show them that their path to success was lined with failure.

    I have a chapter in there called "Fail in the Footsteps of Giants." But most of the stories, as you know, are really stories most people have never heard before. And, really, these are ordinary people who do extraordinary things.

    And that's the main message of the book. The principles are there as a road map. But the stories are there to really bring the principles to life and show how anyone can take a big idea forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And threaded throughout the book is your own story, Jean Case.

    You grew up in a small city in Illinois.

  • Jean Case:

    Yes, Normal, Illinois.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Normal, Illinois, we love the name.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Your mother, by then a single mom, took you and your siblings to South Florida, where you finished school.

  • Jean Case:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You went on. You got a job working in politics, made your way to Washington.

    But you write that you — even you had doubts about what you were doing and where you were going.

  • Jean Case:

    Definitely.

    When I was in South Florida, as the youngest of four kids my mom was raising while she was working full-time as a waitress, I was on full scholarship at the private school. And, of course, today, I have the unique American privilege of being able to have had a life that will now allow me to use my resources to empower others.

    But, yes, what I noticed was, when I was in these more elite environments around my private school, I would watch and listen to people. But then I would go home to my working-class neighborhood, and I would see people had the same capacity. They had the same kind of ideas.

    And, really, from an early, early age, I realized it was actually just opportunity that wasn't equal in my neighborhood.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you were just telling me that one — that the audience you hoped to truly reach with the book — it's obviously a lot of people, but you want to reach people who live in the heart of this country…

  • Jean Case:

    That's correct.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … but who may not feel connected…

  • Jean Case:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … to what's happening and what's growing and what succeeding.

  • Jean Case:

    That's right.

    I think we have gotten a little caught up in putting too much spotlight on Silicon Valley and California, on the coast, if you will. But what we know is, most of the Fortune 500 companies — in fact, over 70 percent of them — were founded between the coasts in a lot of the towns that we think of today as sort of time gone by.

    There's amazing innovation. I talk about two young co-founders in Pittsburgh who have a company they started called SolePower. So it's an insole that you put in the shoe. And, as you walk, it generates power that you can use to charge your mobile phone or other devices.

    So the military sees that as a terrific potential battlefield solution. So the kind of innovation we're seeing from across the country, but particularly the nation's heartland, is really exciting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You and your husband, Steve, you get in your camper, R.V.

  • Jean Case:

    We do, every summer for a few weeks, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And drive around.

  • Jean Case:

    We do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just the middle of America, try to stop and say hello, get to know people a little bit.

  • Jean Case:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What are we missing here in Washington and in the big media centers about what is going on across the country?

  • Jean Case:

    Right.

    Well, obviously, we are living in a divided time. And I do think a lot of people feel gripped by fear and discontent. One of the principles in the book is reach beyond your bubble.

    And, you know, whether we like it or not, we are all living in our own bubbles. We don't know enough people different from us to understand their perspectives or to have kind of a different point of view.

    So we like to go out into the country in small towns and different places where we know people are quite different than we are, or we suspect they are often when we go in, and we find sort of talent and remarkable people almost in any setting as we set out there.

    But it really — that's not how people see, unfortunately, the world today. And we're being very purposeful in trying — I am — in trying to highlight these stories in the book to make it clear that great people are everywhere.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right, and that they are listened to and can be appreciated.

  • Jean Case:

    That's right.

    And if they have an idea, this is a playbook to get them started.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jean Case.

    The book is "Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose."

    Thank you.

  • Jean Case:

    Thanks, Judy.

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