Evelyn Burnett

Co-founder and Partner, ThirdSpace Action Lab

Why can’t my business partners and others around me move more quickly? Why can’t they make snap decisions? Why can’t they sacrifice more, work longer hours and understand the urgency of the problem we’re trying to solve like me? How much longer do we have to wait to end racism?

 These questions and more were bothering me. They also were hindering the growth of the solutions studio I co-founded in 2018.

Anyone who knows me well gets that I come to my pursuit of revitalizing neighborhoods and ending racism with intense passion. This isn’t just a business to me. It’s everything. But my Type A personality and impulsive style were holding us back.

During the past few months, my coach and trusted advisors (including my co-founder) helped me recognize that I needed to start thinking and acting like the CEO that I am. My epiphany was realizing I was imposing expectations on others that limited their effectiveness in the organization and the work more broadly.

So, why do others need time to think before they talk or act? Because they have different strengths. They may be introverts and pragmatists and do their best work when they can reflect and analyze first. They aren’t asking for time to invent eight sides of a square. They just need time to do the deep work I’m asking of them.

The people around me aren’t the only ones who need time to think. I’m learning that I do, too. The topics I care about so much, namely the impact of racism on neighborhoods, and more importantly, our humanity, are highly complex. Solving these systemic, structural problems require deep engagement. They are not reversed overnight.

I used to roll my eyes when someone said we needed more time. Now I tell myself to stop and take a breath. Think. Then act. And engage deeply.

I’ve learned a lot lately, and my organization is going to be much more effective because of it. In the end, my firm is going to be sustainable and make a deeper impact on the world.

Evelyn Burnett is co-founder and chief executive officer of ThirdSpace Action Lab and Third Space Café. She also has served as vice president, an economic opportunity at Cleveland Neighborhood Progress; associate director for program strategies with Admiral Center at Living Cities; project director in the Cleveland Office of Sustainability; and as a Cleveland Executive Fellow. She is a 2018 German Marshall Fellow and holds board officer roles for Birthing Beautiful Communities, ioby, and Teach for America.