Everett Harper B.S.E.’87 can’t sleep.
You might say it’s the only thing he attempts regularly that he doesn’t do especially well. His resume is mind-blowing – Silicon Valley CEO, champion of social and racial equity, world-class chef, NCAA champion soccer player, published author. His Instagram will make you question your life choices.
Or, you might say that Harper takes a situation that could be irritating or debilitating, and flips it. Awake in the wee hours, he dictates notes into his phone for a filter-free creative brain dump.
“I use the time to pursue my curiosity, making connections between different domains in art, sports, psychology, and history,” Harper writes in his 2022 book, “Move to the Edge, Declare it Center.” “Most ideas are worthless, but I value the exploration.”
It seems nobody values the exploration like he does. Connecting disparate ideas has been a path to great success in his career and a lot of fun in his personal life.
“Remember the Most Interesting Man in the World?” asks his friend Derrick Mashore ’79, referring to the famous beer ad. “I think Everett took his place.”
THE HARPER FILE
Doting father to daughter Dami, 17
Friends rave about his cooking skills (check out his Insta @everettharper for mouthwatering photos)
Often attends the Burning Man festival, cooking for attendees
Earned an M.B.A. at Stanford University
Frequent speaker at tech and social equity conferences
Known for his fashionable attire
Published “Move to the Edge, Declare it Center” to share his tried-and-true creative problem-solving methods
A.B. Duke Scholar
Senior starting right midfielder on the 1986 men’s soccer team that won Duke’s first national championship in any sport.
Classmate and teammate of current Blue Devils soccer coach John Kerr, who remembers Harper training at the edge of his ability during blistering summer preseason practices: “It was inspiring because it was really hot and he, as he always did, used every ounce of energy that he had to make practice better, make himself better, and make the team better.
Harper’s day job is running Truss, the software company he co-founded. Using creative practices and processes outside of the norm, the people-centered civic tech group creates digital infrastructure for clients to deliver services online. Harper describes the philosophy in his book: Experiment, iterate and build innovative solutions to solve complex problems, even if they are at the edge of a client’s understanding or ability. Once the outside-the-box solution is proven to work, it becomes the new normal.
Famously, Truss helped fix healthcare.gov after its catastrophic launch, quickly figuring out how to make it work for millions of Americans signing up for health insurance. That led to Truss becoming a unicorn among federal government contractors: reliable, ethical, efficient and cost-effective.
“The reason that they’re successful is because they’re collaborative,” says Eddie Hartwig, a longtime government employee and current consultant. “They work with the people in the government to understand their problems and their challenges. They help them design things like roadmaps and product plans, but then they also help them build those things.”
Harper also speaks eloquently about leading his company through defining social-justice moments such as the death of George Floyd. Truss reflects his equity and justice concerns: The company has been a remote workplace for more than a decade, and its staff is uncommonly diverse in the relatively nondiverse tech sector.
“Complex problems have a bunch of different features, but one of the key ones is there isn’t one right answer,” Harper says. “If you try to optimize for one right answer, you often will screw up something else out of sight.”
“Everett is really one of my favorite people in the world,” says tech entrepreneur Kathleen Warner ’86. “He’s a fearless human – hugely ambitious, but also deeply curious with a lack of ego about knowing some path of truth or path of right in the world.”
Part of Harper’s life philosophy is becoming comfortable being uncomfortable. If you’re going to live and conduct business on the edge, constantly dealing with complexity and uncertainty, discomfort is going to be your partner. His parents modeled this, moving their family to Wappingers Falls, New York, 25 miles outside of New York City, for jobs with IBM in the 1960s. The Harpers were one of the few Black families in town, but thrived because they could apply their intellects to the opportunities offered.
“I am definitely very curious,” Harper said. “My real love is social psychology. I love how people interact with each other, good and bad, and all the biases that we all have are just endlessly fascinating. Learning how to unlock more and more potential is a passion.”
That’s something to ponder on a restless night.