On Duality and Balance: Post 2020 Election Musings

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil: for you are with me. — Psalm 23

Today feels like a new year and that the hope we desperately need after this year has arrived. Those that came before, from John Lewis to John McCain, have been watching over all of us as we endured these most recent trials.

As I processed the last week of uncertainty, I found myself turning to both of the John’s for guidance on how to be a better human and for the resilience to weather an incredible storm of vitriol emerging from the White House. We will need more of that resilience in the coming days and weeks, but for now, we seem to have stepped forward.

Regardless of your political leanings, the recent election results are a victory for all as they are a victory for the liberal democratic experiment in which we live. The world today is safer, fairer and kinder, and for that we should celebrate.

The last four years has been a dark, dark time in America, with anger and partisanship fueled by rising economic inequality and destructive digital eco-chambers which brought forth the worst in all of us. We owe deep thanks today to the the superhuman efforts of the teams on the ground for the past four years who have sustained us and brought us to the other side. Collectively, we have staved off the acutest existential threat to America’s 250 year old experiment in recent memory.

But, the work has only begun. We must now embrace this opportunity to build the world we want, asking ourselves, what’s next? How did we get here? Where do we go? And, most importantly, how do we build a country worthy of being passed on to our children and grandchildren, a country that both John’s would be proud of?

Rewinding four years to the heels of the 2016 election, I was struggling to answer similar questions and find my next step as a technologist. I knew I had to do something different but was unsure as to the first step towards resolving the systemic diseases which underlay the dangerous, emergent populism within the American electorate. Political science teaches us that a vibrant, liberal democracy requires an informed electorate and a connected civic society, but no one had ever explained how to get there. Luckily, in my haze of exploration, I stumbled onto the early stages of a big idea being started by Rachel Carlson and Britt Stich, a company called Guild Education.

Much like America, Guild is an experiment, balancing a fragile duality. Mission and Margin. Venture Funded and B-Corporation. An education company and powered by the finances of corporate America. A services business and deeply tech-enabled. Maintaining the balance in this ecosystem is hard, as is building the next version of the American prototype.

Prior to my start at Guild, I joined the team for a retreat in the Colorado Mountains. After experiencing a minor shock of walking into a lipsync battle the night prior, the second day of the retreat included a powerful team conversation about what success meant to us in 10 years. At that time, I knew nothing about our team, our students, our business, or the massive opportunity in front of us but framed up success for myself as twofold:

  • First, for Guild. While almost everything has changed about Guild in the years since, we have never lost focus on our mission; unlocking opportunity for all Americans through education. Success in this meant changing what opportunity through education meant, which I framed for the team as supporting more students than the largest for-profit colleges who have preyed on the ignorance and hope of many.
  • Secondly, for our team. One of the most powerful things we’ve done at Guild is aligning our economic and social goals. Simply, this means that when we serve more students, we make more money. This on its own was a risky experiment but we knew that if it could work, it would be powerful. My second barometer of success was just that, proof that solutions like Guild can work.

I’m happy that Guild and our partners are well on our way to achieving both of these goals, many years ahead of schedule. Guild is a bold idea and we are deeply humbled by the gravity of the challenge in front of all of us, far beyond what any one group can accomplish. Our impact will ultimately be felt far beyond Guild’s walls, through the many businesses and organizations which find ways to combine the power of social and economic impact to positively impact the fabric of our society.

Through the last four years, my family and Guild have taken the sum of my focus, time and energy (if you missed the family side of our journey — more here and here on that). As we turn to the next iteration of America, I’m find myself considering what’s next for my own, small role.

In the years to come, I hope to use the resources and expertise we have created at Guild to empower many more entrepreneurs who see a different future. Entrepreneurs working on challenging, long term issues from information transparency and education access to building vibrant local economies and connected civic societies with opportunity for all.

I have many more thoughts to share on these topics but for now, I’ll leave it here. Congratulations America on weathering this moment. Now, let’s get to work building the next version of our collective experiment in liberal democracy.

If you are an entrepreneur working in these spaces, please reach out. I am working to spend more time supporting innovators like you. My contact information is public on Twitter + LI.

This article has been re-posted from LinkedIn

Posting about policy and product | Current: VP Product @GuildEducation | Prior: @beCraftsy, @TripAdvisor, @CityYear.