A Beginner's Life

Court Vision Required

4 min read
magic showing off court vision

Periodically, we review what makes a great employee at Wistia. We look at who has struggled, who has thrived, and try to determine why.

We’re not very good at micro-managing (I am, in particular, poor at it). By-and-large, people at Wistia set their own to-do lists, and we trust them to do the right stuff. We’ve done a good job hiring people who are self-directed and succeed in that environment.

When someone is struggling, we look for what’s missing. We’ve always been pretty fixated on the idea of ownership. Ownership over a project, or a part of the total customer experience. Responsibility is driven by ownership – if you have the ability to set the scope, you know what needs to be done.

Ownership alone is standing still. Simply knowing what needs to be done, and plowing forward on it, is not enough to produce inspiring work. It’s not enough to motivate your co-workers to plot and scheme and produce something awesome with you.

To remain one step ahead of the game, we need vision. We need folks who continually evaluate what they are working on: how it fits into the company’s mission, how it helps us move forward, how it helps our customers.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying everyone must be a visionary, looking deep into the future to determine how we as a company should act. We’d be pretty short staffed if that was a requirement – there are not many true visionaries out there. Having multiple long-term visionaries would also cause a whole host of problems (too many cooks in our long-term planning kitchen).

Instead, I’m talking about the ability to look around, see how each small project fits into our long-term vision, and take action when needed.

Court vision, in basketball terms, is being able to see the pieces on the floor, and knowing how they will move. In overused startup parlance, it’s knowing where the puck will be. It’s finding the skip-pass that leaves the defense completely out of position, leading to the easiest, most efficient points possible (wide-open 3 from the corner, easy weak-side layup, etc.).

Having excellent court vision requires executing well, and taking risks. It requires leaps of faith, confidence, and speaking out of turn.

To have court vision, you must plunge into the problem, study the options, and take them to their future conclusions. To tackle new problems (especially those with no precedent), you must think ahead to your ideal solution, and then lay out the plan to get there. This can sometimes mean scrapping work, even in full-swing, because it’s not the right thing to be doing.

Let me give you an example, to try and drive it home. In support, we’re not here to simply answer emails. I expect every email to come under a certain amount of scrutiny, i.e. “should we be answering this earlier in the user experience? If so, where?”.

If there is a practice (no matter how entrenched and common practice it is) that causes more problems than it solves, we should stop it. If there is a new practice we should implement, regardless of the work required to get it set up, because it is the best way to deliver support, we should do it.

Jordan, Mercer, and Max do a great job identifying what we should be doing, outside of just responding to emails, in order to improve their lives and ultimately the customer’s lives.

The best support people don’t blink at a crushing volume of support – they see it as solving problems for customers (which is a good and exciting thing to them). But they will try to get at the root of the problem, and understand what we should be doing better.

Chris talks about pulling the emergency brake on the train. There is a lot of momentum that gets built up in our tiny echo chamber, and it can be tough, even scary, to stop it. To be the one in the way, blocking the path forward. But when the “brake puller” comes armed with a reasoned argument and a new recommended path (or some options), it is one of our greatest weapons to be able to change course.

These can be teeny tiny, almost-imperceptible-to-the-outside-world course corrections. Over a long journey, they add up.

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