There is a common myth that those who achieve success or accomplish something extraordinary in this world are born with rare qualities that set them apart from the rest of us. But the idea that success requires that “special something” is what prevents us from trying to pursue our own ideas.
Through my work at the Case Foundation, I found that regardless of economics or demographics, countless people actually do break out in their pursuit to build a better life for themselves and others.
This led us to ask: How do they do it? And so few years back, the Case Foundation set out to research whether there was a “secret sauce” behind the success of innovators, entrepreneurs and changemakers.
What we found surprised us. Indeed, it wasn’t genius, massive resources or degrees from elite schools behind their success. Rather, they shared a common passion to make the world better, and lived by these five principles:
1. Make a “big bet”
Truly significant transformations only occur when you decide to go for a revolutionary change.
Consider Shazi Visram, the daughter of Pakistani and Tanzanian immigrants. Visram got her idea for Happy Family, a healthy baby food brand, when she was an MBA student at Columbia University. She wasn’t a mother then, but she was moved by the story of her classmate, a working mother of two who complained about the lack of healthy baby food options.
Visram found that the market had remained stalled for decades, even as the population was growing increasingly interested in healthy, organic foods. She decided that this was going to be her “big bet” and eventually raised enough capital to launch Happy Family, in 2006. In 2013, Visram sold Happy Family to a multinational company committed to products that promote health. She knew this path would enable even broader distribution and product choices for consumers. Her early investors realized return of 30 times.
2. Be bold, take risks
To move forward with new ideas, some degree of risk-taking is required.
If you feel uncomfortable taking risks, try switching up your mindset and view it as an incremental process of change, as opposed to a reckless act. This lessens the fear, and risk-taking then becomes part of the process of discovery. Risk and development helps us avoid stagnation by constantly calling us back to the drawing board.
Like the cautionary tales of Kodak and Blockbuster that I write about in my book, “Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose, ” it’s easy to stick with what’s comfortable. But as Josh Linker, author of “Road to Reinvention” reminds us, “Playing it safe has become recklessly dangerous.”
3. Make failure matter
While no one seeks out failure, great innovators make setbacks matter. They take the lessons to further perfect their ideas. The process of Research and Development (R&D), used in science, medicine and tech, recognizes the importance of trial and error, yet we often forget the value of the “error” part that failure represents in our own lives.
The point is not to celebrate failure but rather learn from it – as numerous leaders and businesses like Google X, IBM, Meg Whitman and others have.
4. Reach beyond your bubble
More brain power applied to anything is usually a good thing, but too often, breakthroughs are seen as the stuff of lone geniuses. In reality, the greatest organizations, products and movements were all advanced by people working together — people who were different from one another and complimented each other’s skill.
In a report called “Delivering Through Diversity, ” McKinsey studied the data of 1,000 companies across 12 countries. They found that organizations with diverse cultures were two times more likely to meet or exceed financial targets, six times more likely to be innovative and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.
5. Let urgency conquer fear
Don’t overanalyze, just do.
In 2010, chef José Andrés founded the World Central Kitchen after traveling to Haiti following the devastating earthquake. Since, then, he’s continued to provide disaster relief. In 2017, when Andrés realized the lack of government response to Puerto Rico’s hurricane disaster, he scaled rapidly. He went from serving 1,000 meals in one kitchen per day to 23 kitchens serving 175,000 meals per day.
It was Martin Luther King, Jr., who talked about the “fierce of urgency of now,” and while he was speaking of the bold steps taken to end segregation, the words are applicable today to anyone who is ready to step out or up to innovate or breakthrough with something new. “This no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism,” he said.
People do great things not because they are blessed with remarkable ability, great charisma or any special advantages, but because when they hear that voice whisper, “This could be your moment,” they simply choose to act. The first step to greatness is deciding to be the one who doesn’t just let life happen to you. So, pick your arena and go for it. The time is now for each one of us to decide whether we will hold back or strike out.
Jean Case is the Chairman of the National Geographic Society and CEO of the Case Foundation. She is also a philanthropist, investor and author of “Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose.” Follow her on Twitter .