John Riccitiello is CEO of Unity Technologies, the world’s leading real-time 3D development platform with games and experiences on 3 billion devices worldwide. His 36-year career also includes roles as CEO of Electronic Arts and co-founder and managing director of Elevation Partners.

What is something you’ve learned that you lean on daily?

Before almost every meeting, I spend 30 seconds thinking about the mindset I’m going to bring to it—which version of myself I’m going to be. My natural tendency is pretty hard-charging and aggressive. I don’t think that’s uncommon for CEOs. But what gets you to a leadership position isn’t always what makes you good at doing the job. So I think, “Do I want to be the version of myself that’s overconfident, overbearing, and aggressive?” No. Because I really want to know what my team members think. And I'm not going to go anywhere until I understand that.

I try to instead come in with a mindset where I assume others’ best intent and am curious. It’s easy to make profound mistakes if you don’t listen deeply to the people around you. If you can’t be present enough that you’re able to repeat back what they believe and why, you’re better off skipping the meeting.

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting a company?

Don’t marry your bad decisions. If you’ve pushed hard for a big hire or program and then you get early evidence that it wasn’t as smart as you thought, it’s hard to go to your entire company and say, “Oops, I fucked up.” It’s amazing the convoluted rationales people will invent to justify waiting six months just hoping something gets better. But you can’t put a dead rat under the carpet without people tripping on it. Your team already knows.

For instance, let’s say you’ve hired someone who isn’t a good culture fit. One of two things will happen. People will think you’re going in a different direction on purpose, and they’ll assume they no longer fit. Or they’ll think you’re too stupid to recognize that this person isn’t working out. Either way, you’re taking a bad situation and making it worse.

I try to think through the important decisions I’ve made and ask myself, “If I could do that over, would I? If I could get out of it, would I?” You can always get out of it. When you’re wrong and do nothing, it’s like making that bad decision over again every day.

What small change has made a big difference in your life?

I was working in sales about 30 years ago and my boss came to town for a visit, so I invited him to dinner on Sunday. I suggested we get a drink afterward, but he said he needed to be back at his hotel by 7:30. It turns out he spent two hours every Sunday planning the week ahead. "That way," he said, “I show up Monday knowing exactly what decisions I have to make, what meetings I have to attend, and what I have to ask of people.”

Since then I’ve been doing the same thing—either taking time on Sunday or getting up early Monday morning to plan my week. In the Valley, there’s a lot of value placed on thinking on your feet, and that’s important. But I think it’s convinced people that they can just show up and wing it. I’ve learned a little preparation crushes winging it almost every time.

What don't you know that you wish you knew?

I always want to know what the other person is thinking. And I’ve found they’ll usually tell you, if you’re willing to ask. Most people are uncomfortable pausing during a tough negotiation or a board presentation and just asking, “Hey, what do you actually think about this? Is it something you want to do, or are we just talking?” I do that a lot.

I find I will often get a good answer if I ask the right way. You have to be willing to hear the response—especially if what you’re asking is, “Did I screw up here? Is there something I could have done better?” I try to push through that awkwardness and make it clear I really want to get to the truth.

What books are on your nightstand right now?

There are about 50, but the one I plan to crack open next is Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson. I like biographies. I didn’t read his book on Steve Jobs because I met Steve a few times, and I didn’t want someone else’s version of him to write over my own memory. But I didn’t know da Vinci, so that one’s pretty safe.

I’m also trying to finish Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. It got slow near the end, but I loved the rest. What I find interesting are the fundamental beliefs that have allowed society to progress. I never thought of currency as a belief system, for example. I never thought about how religion had to organize at scale. I love books that let me examine a larger landscape beyond my usual thoughts about whether Unity is going to prevail.

When did you realize you were wrong about something?

I once hired someone who had a blindingly good pedigree—the best on my team. Worked for great companies at the senior VP level, graduated from a great school, all that stuff. Unfortunately, he also was a bad fit for our culture. He was political and interrupted other people in meetings. We talked a lot about that not being the Unity way, but he just wasn’t taking the feedback. Six weeks in, I’d already given him three or four warnings.

We had an executive offsite, and he was scheduled to be one of the main presenters that afternoon. But in the morning, he kept interrupting, and it was taking us in the wrong direction. So I asked him to go for a walk with me at lunch. He knew what was coming; I got two sentences in and he said, “You’re going to fire me, aren’t you?” And I said “Yes, right now.”

I’d touted this hire as a big deal, but I had to accept that I was wrong. When he didn’t come back after lunch, my team gave me a standing ovation. I can still be a bit of a pedigree snob, but I’m more aware of my biases now, and I work hard to make sure I consider all angles. I’ve realized pedigree doesn’t overcome basic human virtue.

What unit of time matters the most and why?

There are metrics that matter for every unit of time, and I could make an argument for any of them. But I’m inclined to say the next three months, because that’s the challenge for me. I’m good at the next three years. I can keep everyone aligned on the big ideas and have a good, clear line of sight to where we’re going. The next 90 days, though, is harder.

Hard-won advice