Sharing Stories Of Failure As A Means To Success

By Joyce Gannon
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) How important is it for women in business to learn from our mistakes?  According to philanthropist Jean Case, the chief executive of the Case Foundation, the value of acknowledging mistakes is critical to future success.  In fact her foundation sponsors “Fail Fests” where participants share personal stories of what went wrong in their past business ventures. What a great idea….empowering women to be “less than perfect.”  

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jean Case doesn’t relish failure, but she believes in talking about it.

The chief executive of the Case Foundation said the value of acknowledging mistakes is so critical to future success that her foundation sponsors “Fail Fests” where participants share personal stories of what went wrong in their past business ventures.

“Innovation is paved with a road of potholes behind it,” she said Monday during her appearance as the featured guest of the Philanthropy Forum at the University Club, Oakland. “You won’t hit it out of the park 100 percent of the time.”

Ms. Case, 56, launched the foundation in 1997 with her husband, Steve Case, the founder of early Internet provider AOL. She was a top marketing executive at the company and prior to that worked at GE’s information services division and for The Source, another online service firm.

AOL, originally known as America Online, hit success only after other companies had mixed results with getting consumers connected to the Web, Ms. Case said.

“AOL followed an earlier group of pioneers … innovation usually happens through chapters,” she said, noting that Pittsburgh on Monday kicked off “Inclusive Innovation Week.”

AOL merged with Time Warner in 2001. The Cases now pursue their own investment funds and charitable giving.

Their Washington, D.C.-based foundation has made grants totaling more than $100 million since its launch, she said.

Beneficiaries have included Habitat for Humanity and the Network for Good — an online fundraising site for charities that AOL helped to launch in 2001.
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The Cases are members of The Giving Pledge — a commitment by global billionaires to give away most of their wealth. Other members include Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates, Michael Bloomberg, and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan.

When the Cases started their foundation, she said, they weren’t sure how it would focus its giving. They eventually decided to concentrate on impact investing that has a strong component of social innovation.

One of the foundation’s underlying principles is to “accept that failure could be an option,” she said.

What inspired her to rollout the “fail fests” was her own experience in 2012 of sharing on a blog the details of a clean water initiative in rural African villages that the Case Foundation supported but that fell short of its goals.

“I put that out there, and people called and thanked me for acknowledging that something didn’t work.”

The University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs sponsored the forum. Later on Monday, Ms. Case was scheduled to talk with students and then meet with entrepreneurs at AlphaLab Gear, a business accelerator space in East Liberty.

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