Guest post: The Wisdom Within a Minute

Wisdom Within a Minute

Today sharing a post from Ed Duggar, a wise human I had the good fortune of meeting last year through “mi hermana”, Rosie von Lila as we all came together in NYC to support one of her “What Comes Now” live events

Ed is deeply passionate about taking his experience and skills in the field of investment capital and demonstrating (as he has, repeatedly, throughout his career) that one can invest capital to scale businesses, gain excellent returns AND address key challenging social and environmental issues AND addressing structural biases that radically limit access to such capital to women, people of colour and other less represented groups.

He and his business partner Julianne Zimmerman follow this purpose and passion through their business, Reinventure Capital. As part of this, they write regular blog posts, and today am sharing a recent post from Ed on “The Wisdom Within a Minute”. To cut to the “punchline” of the story that follows, Ed asks and answers a powerful question:

..if only given a tiny little minute — didn’t choose it, had to use it, must give account if I abused it — but that minute had an eternity of ripple effects within it, what would my decision be?

Perhaps the best answer is the one we knew was right to begin with, when free of considerations of lost favor or personal retribution. Powerful decisions full of values we believe in, that stand the test of the time we live in.

Enjoy the article…

Ed Talk: The Wisdom Within a Minute

“You will live to regret it.”

No one had ever said that to me before, nor would I ever expect it would come from the source it did. I was not having a conversation with a mob boss or a jilted lover. I was not considering a crime, an injustice or an act that would jeopardize someone’s health or well-being.

No, I was in the midst of a conversation with a senior officer at a large insurance company about an investment in my earlier venture fund, which specifically addressed racial inequity in the venture capital industry. I was approaching the total commitments I needed to close with an extraordinary group of institutional and corporate investors, and a commitment from this prominent entity would put me over the top. This officer and I had been discussing the investment for some months and I was optimistic that this conversation would seal the deal. A closing date on which all others had agreed was rapidly approaching, so time was of the essence for pinning down his commitment, and we both knew it.

A commitment was offered; the dollars were right, but the terms were highly objectionable and inconsistent with those already accepted by everyone else. I pushed back, offering a more palatable solution. The tone of this heretofore friendly officer quickly turned ominous and threatening.

“You will take our money and on these terms, or you will live to regret it!”

Regret NOT taking their money? My mind raced. What kind of regret? Professional? Financial? Suddenly I was confronted with a personal threat and it was deeply troubling.

The gravity of my situation was just beginning to sink in when this person added what was intended to be his coup de grâce:

“And you have one minute to decide!”

As my one minute began ticking way, the words of Benjamin Mays, Baptist minister, President of Morehouse College and “intellectual father” of Martin Luther King, Jr., quickly tamed my shock:

I have only just a minute,
Only sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me, can’t refuse it,
Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it.
But it’s up to me to use it.
I must suffer if I lose it.
Give account if I abuse it.
Just a tiny little minute,
But eternity is in it.

I’ve never had an experience so traumatic that in an instant my life flashed before my eyes, but I imagine this came close. With this palpable threat hanging over me, it was not fear I felt, not even anger, just profound disrespect – of me, certainly, but more importantly of everything and everyone for which and whom I stood. In that minute, now moving in slow motion, I felt tugging on me an eternity of threats and injustices piled on black folks century after century, from slavery to that day. I felt the ripple effect of innumerable decisions made under duress by millions of black souls surrounding me that moment and joining to shape my own.

A lot more than was obvious was riding on my decision. There would be no time to consult with others and that intention was clear. Presented as a simple take it or leave it decision, there would be no easy answer. This was not “just business.” This was the exercise of power in its rawest form of one person over another with the intent of establishing supremacy and reducing the other person’s options to mere submission.

This was personal.

I was not given time to consult my elders, but I really didn’t need it. My elders inform my values and they speak to me every day. I was not accustomed to leaving my values at my office door and, despite this circumstance, I saw no reason I would come to regret holding firm to those values in response to this threat. Moments like this show what you’re made of, bringing sharply into focus one’s North Star, if one exists.

This decision demanded a personal response based on who I was, and not the person this senior officer perceived or wanted me to be. I had an opportunity, and an obligation, to use this minute to create a shift, even if perhaps imperceptible, toward justice, or suffer the more damaging regret of a lost opportunity to act on its behalf.

I settled on an answer with 30 seconds to spare. “I guess I’ll have to find out just what regrets you have in mind.”

Still waiting.

I found a way to close my fund without that institutional investor, with no idea what the personal consequences might turn out to be. Yet I was confident that I had made the right decision for my LPs who were committed to sharing their privilege, my founders of color who needed that shared privilege to create opportunities for themselves and others, and my portfolio companies who needed access to capital to succeed.

Today I still have no regrets. To the contrary, I’m proud of the pioneering role played by that fund to execute an investment playbook that any venture capital LPs would recognize as a worthy performance model: a 10-year IRR of 32%, the growth of companies led and controlled by founders of color in 10 growth sectors of our economy, management teams and employees that reflected the diversity of our nation, businesses that attracted over $2 billion of conventional capital for their growth and created over 7,000 family-supporting jobs.

No regrets, but a lesson learned.

There is wisdom in a minute of intensely focused contemplation. Yet whenever possible, we usually prefer to create the luxury of deciding things over time in the belief that the more we think about it, the better the decision will be. Or at the very least one with which we can live more comfortably. We ask ourselves what is the best thing to do and seek the prevailing “conventional wisdom” on which to hang our hat, not realizing we are seeking the best answer by starting with the wrong question.

Perhaps the question we should ask ourselves is: if only given a tiny little minute — didn’t choose it, had to use it, must give account if I abused it — but that minute had an eternity of ripple effects within it, what would my decision be?

Perhaps the best answer is the one we knew was right to begin with, when free of considerations of lost favor or personal retribution. Powerful decisions full of values we believe in, that stand the test of the time we live in.


Also published on Medium.

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