Fresh Eyes: The Sober New Employee

“You were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Does this quote ring a bell? It should, it’s fairly common and for the most part, sound advice. It emphasizes the need to think before you open your mouth and say something unwarranted or stupid. It can also have a negative effect, it can prevent new and provocative ideas from being shared.

When you start a new job, this may seem like a great rule to follow. I’m going to keep quiet, listen in the background, observe and reflect. You don’t want to stand out due to the fear of saying something stupid. You’re scared to question some dogmatic rule about the organization.

When I’m interviewing candidates, one of the questions I ask is pretty typical.

Me: “What do you plan on accomplishing in your first few weeks at Breather?”

Interviewee: “Oh, I’m going to listen and learn from the other team members. I want to see how things are done here.”

At this point I usually sit back and think about how generic and brutal that answer is.

An answer like the one above doesn’t mean you won’t get hired, but I’ll push back and dig into why you replied with that.

When new employees start at Breather, I tell them to speak up. In fact, I ask them to question everything. No piece of our product should be considered untouchable. Do you believe that you have a different perspective, a better way? Tell me, even if you feel like it could be dumb.

There’s a certain sobriety that comes with being a new employee. At Breather, we call this “Fresh Eyes”. We even made an emoji for it. This term originated from one of our product discussions when Pierre, our UX designer started back in 2015. Ever since, I’ve tried to bake it into our Product culture.

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One of my favourite ways to see “Fresh Eyes” play out is during our design test we send to potential designers. We give a brief description of an actual problem we’re trying to solve with some assets and a loosely defined sandbox to play in. Everything else is up to them.

The best projects come back with new and outside of the box ways to fix problems in the Product. Here’s an example from one of our new designers, Arnaud.

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I wait with bated breath to see what they come up with. Sometimes they fall flat, sometimes they blow our minds.

In the first few weeks you have an unbiased and un-emotional attachment to any of the work that has been done. You don’t have an intimate familiarity with the Product, you may notice something that no one else has noticed.

Speak up, we’re listening.

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