( ENSPIRE Business ) Everett Harper Delivers a Powerful and Pragmatic Take on Problem-Solving in New Book, Move to the Edge, Declare it Center
ENSPIRE Contributor: Maya Lanzone
Strategist, entrepreneur, CEO, and newfound author Everett Harper knows a thing or two about decisiveness amid uncertainty – a topic that leaders can relate to right now because of the pandemic. As the CEO and Co-Founder of Truss, a software company, Harper translated his knack for solving complex problems and finding innovative solutions into a book.
Harper’s book, Move to the Edge, Declare it Center, shares effective methods for decision-making in situations where there may be a lack of complete information, ways to sustain teams during uncertain and stressful periods, and effective techniques for managing personal anxiety—a crucial leadership skill.
ENSPIRE spoke with Harper about his book and personal experiences:
How did you learn to “get comfortable being uncomfortable” as a leader?
There are many experiences that taught me about getting comfortable being uncomfortable, from being an NCAA National Champion soccer player at Duke to becoming a father. But the one I want to focus on is that I’ve had a meditation practice for 30 years. I started with Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1992, and have attended 1-, 5-, and 10-day silent meditation retreats. I learned how to observe the discomfort and my response to the discomfort. They’re not the same thing, and by observing both, I learned how to allow my response to shift. It is a very powerful practice to prepare for uncomfortable situations that are inevitable when you are a leader.
What value do you see in living on the edge–as a Black man, championship athlete, and entrepreneur?
The value is insight and innovation. A perspective from the edge has enabled me to observe the assumptions that others make that don’t reflect reality. I can see blind spots before other people and companies – and be aware that I have my own! Finally, being on the edge brings me in contact with people from other professions, communities, and backgrounds, who bring their own unique perspectives.
How do you implement the strategies you discuss in Move to the Edge, Declare it Center in your own company, Truss?
There are many ways that we implement the strategies at Truss, from pre-mortems to survey research, and which tools we use depend on the project. However, I can summarize the pattern below:
- Articulate the problem to solve and the concrete outcomes that we desire
- Create experiments to test hypotheses with fast feedback loops
- Invite diverse perspectives to highlight solutions and potential pitfalls
- Use blameless retrospectives and post-mortems to highlight what we’ve learned and where we can improve.
- Communicate results transparently and on repeat!
This pattern creates trust and psychological safety so that the entire organization can participate. All of these steps are represented by methods and processes that together form a system that we can scale, share, and sustain.
Can you tell me about the meaning behind the title of your book, Move to the Edge, Declare it Center?
There are two meanings to the title: as a metaphor and as a framework for making decisions.
As a metaphor, the title is an invitation to be courageous and bold in pursuing purpose-driven systemic change… and simultaneously pragmatic and methodical about solving problems so that the results–and the person–can be sustained.
As a framework for deciding, the title summarizes two skills that are necessary to solve complex, systemic problems:
Move to the Edge is about being on the boundary of your knowledge and the unknown. Move to the Edge involves methods for discovering insights by creating experiments, iterating quickly, and identifying levers of change. It involves intersecting with other boundaries and overlapping with other people’s mental models, networks, or schools of thought. It can open up different perspectives and insights that cannot be viewed from the center.
Declare It Center is about taking new information and insights and building operations to systematize, scale, and share these innovations so that they deliver the desired outcome. The infrastructure that supports Declare It Center enables individuals, teams, and companies to sustain their work with less individual effort.
What would you say is one of the main strategies that helps leaders to maintain high performance, avoid burnout, and enable their companies to thrive?
The main strategy is to develop processes, methods, and systems to scale, share, and sustain our work. The temptation for leaders, including myself, is to double down on working hard, gritting our teeth, and being heroic in our effort. However, heroism is not sustainable. Systems are.
How did witnessing leaders falter in dealing with complex problems – from COVID to George Floyd’s murder – influence your decision to write Move to the Edge, Declare it Center?
I witnessed very experienced successful leaders freeze, flee, or fight when they encountered the effects of the COVID pandemic, remote or hybrid work, or talking about the impact of the killing of George Floyd on their employees. Privately, they told me they were afraid of saying the wrong thing, and they were flummoxed because they didn’t have a framework or playbook for what to do when they didn’t have the right answer. I realized that the pandemic, racial violence, and the new normal of work had a common property – they are all complex problems. Complex problems are distinctive because they have lots of unknowns and no “right answer.” I recognized the issue was that as leaders, we’ve been trained to have the right answer – and so there is a big mismatch.
Having built Truss over the last decade precisely to navigate uncertainty and unknowns with our clients and to build custom software systems and solutions in response, I realized we had a lot of practice, tools, methods, and processes to help where these leaders felt most uncertain. I wrote Move to the Edge, Declare it Center with the hope that leaders can add these practices for themselves and share them with their organizations. The urgent complex challenges we face in our businesses and communities over the next decade are so important that we need leaders to be at their best, so I hope this book helps us all rise to the challenge.
Harper’s personal experiences, including the tragedy and unknown in his own life, have presented him with the opportunity to write a book that can help businesses and individuals alike. Check out his book Move to the Edge, Declare it Center on Amazon.
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