ATLANTA – Tech industry pioneer and noted philanthropist Jean Case urged the 2017 class of Coca-Cola Scholars to “be fearless” during a keynote interview at the 29th annual Coca-Cola Scholars Banquet.

Case and her husband, Steve Case, co-founded the Case Foundation in 1997 to invest in people and ideas that change the world, with the goal of making giving back a part of everyday life. In a conversation with Susan Suh, 1992 Coca-Cola Scholar and chief talent officer for the Rockefeller Foundation, the former America Online (AOL) executive on April 20 shared five ways to distinguish the “ordinary and the extraordinary” and drive “transformational breakthroughs” in business and beyond:

1. Make big bets and make history.

True disruptors think beyond to-do lists and always have an eye on the big picture, Case said, citing serial entrepreneur Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX fame as an example. “He doesn’t talk about the car or battery,” she told the 150 graduating high school seniors who each earned a $20,000 college scholarship in recognition of the positive impact they are making in their communities. “He says he wants to change the way the world uses energy.” SpaceX, meanwhile, is in the business of sending humans to Mars. “That’s really a big bet,” Case added. “That’s not a tactic.”

2. Experiment early and often. Be bold and take risks.

“Nothing great comes from the comfort zone,” Case said. “Transformational change is when people push themselves to an uncomfortable place.”

Jean Case
Case chats with Susan Suh, 1992 Coca-Cola Scholar and chief talent officer for the Rockefeller Foundation.

3. Make failure matter.

“If you’re out on the front lines trying to innovate or make a difference in this world, you will fail… no one bats 1,000,” Case said. “Einstein said, ‘Failure is success in progress’. And Edison said, ‘I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 things that won’t work’. In Silicon Valley, many of the names you know wear failure as a badge of honor because they understand they’re out to do great things.”

4. Reach beyond your bubble.

Spending time with people from different backgrounds and with different perspectives is critical. “Expose yourself to thinking of people who are different than you are,” said Case, who also serves as chair of the National Geographic Society’s board of trustees. “If you have a diverse table around you, you will achieve more.”

6. Let urgency conquer fear.

Case explained that challenging points in her career brought out an urgent need to exit her comfort zone and try new things. “Fearlessness is not the absence of fear,” she added. “It’s recognizing you have that fear and will break through it anyway by taking bold steps that are hard to take.” She encouraged the Coca-Cola Scholars to constantly stretch themselves beyond their core strengths and to never stop learning or evolving. “Try things you’re not sure you can be good at,” she said. “With the proper discipline, backing and education, we can do things we’d never imagined we could do. We can break through.”

Jean Case
Case with a group of 2017 Coca-Cola Scholars.

Case, who was raised by a single mom and attended both high school and college on scholarship, said she recognized the power of generosity at an early age and knew she wanted to devote her career to empowering others. She initially thought she’d do so as an attorney before entering the emerging tech industry where she played a key role in democratizing access to ideas and information before joining AOL and, later, co-founding the Case Foundation.

“Don't fixate on your exact path,” she concluded. “Stay open, and have a true North. And know that whether you become an accountant or an artist, you can be a change maker and use your time and talents to make a difference. No matter where your journey takes you, one thing to know for certain is that you have the potential to change the world.”

The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation celebrates and empowers visionary leaders who are refreshing the world. With its 29th class of Coca-Cola Scholars, the Foundation has provided more than $63 million in scholarships to 5,877 program alumni who together have become a powerful force for positive change. Learn more at www.coca‑colascholars.org.

Read about 8 Coca-Cola Scholar alumni who are making a difference.