If I Knew Then: Evan Williams

The Mistake: My mistake was not working hard and not focusing enough on what I wanted to achieve. This goes back to high school in the 1970s. I played basketball, but I decided I really enjoyed the performing arts. That was mainly because there were a whole bunch of women in performing arts. So, I quit the basketball team and decided I would put my time into theater. I thought theater was all about showing up and hanging out. The first production came up and there was a technical director in charge of choosing the show crew. I thought, I’m here all the time, so of course I’m going to get a show position. But the technical director totally beat me down. He said: “I didn’t give you a show position because you’re not putting in any effort. It seems like you just want to hang out and socialize and not do anything.”

People should embrace their passion…and leave their egos at home when they come to work.

The Lesson That crushed me. But, I think I owe him for encouraging me to get out of my own way and actually put in the time, learn my craft and show up for my team. That was the impetus to my learning that you really have to work hard and focus to get what you want to get. I passed this lesson along to one of our key management staff members, our director of technical design services. He started working for me part-time when he was 19. He was unfocused and he thought he wanted to continue his part-time education and pursue a career in criminal justice. I can still remember it; we sat on a curb, way back when, and we talked about what he was going to do with the rest of his life. I said: “Look, you have a huge opportunity to be successful and grow and make a six-figure salary in this business. I don’t see you in criminal justice; It’s a waste of your creative talent. I think if you can focus on what we’re doing here and what you can do for yourself you will be successful and this will be an entire career for you.” 20 years later, he’s still here. He does world-class design and engineering work for some of our biggest clients. We’ve had extremely high employee retention over the last 30 years. I’ve pushed people to their max, and empowered them to do what they want to do. I point out to people that just because you have this job it doesn’t mean that I love you and I respect you and I trust you and you can move up in the organization. You have to prove yourself. You have to put in the work. One of my favorite sayings is: “Wisdom has two parts: having many things to say—and not saying them.” That speaks to action. It speaks to the idea that people should embrace their passion and actually get something done and leave their egos at home when they come to work. This story originally appeared in Crain’s Silicon Valley and can be read here: http://sanfrancisco.crains.com/if-i-knew-then/evan-williams/riverview-systems-group-inc  

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