When They Zig, You Should Zag.

I have a rule when it comes to picking new projects: If pretty much everyone is doing something, I try to head the other direction — and as fast as possible.

I like have my own space to experiment in. I like being different. Sometimes, that means I miss out on a new trend, and that’s OK. I’d rather be working on something that’s under the radar, trying to find an opportunity that nobody else sees.

And I love reading stories of people who’ve found opportunities just like that. “Moneyball” is the most famous example, but sports are full of “hidden in plain sight” stories. I found one this week while reading the obit for Frank Broyles, the former head coach at both Missouri and Arkansas. This paragraph stuck out to me:

“One of his strengths was recruiting, and particularly recruiting married athletes. In his first summer at Arkansas, Broyles recruited the newlywed Lance Alworth, a schoolboy All-American from Brookhaven, Miss., after the University of Mississippi had rejected him because of a rule against married players. Alworth went on to a Hall of Fame career as a wide receiver in the National Football League, almost entirely with the San Diego Chargers.

“Broyles had 20 married men on his 1960 squad alone.”

I’d never heard of college teams banning married players, but I find it absolutely fascinating. Broyles saw an opportunity to find talent that no one else wanted, and it eventually helped him win a national championship.

Or here’s one about my favorite baseball team, the Washington Nationals. The Nats have an unusual habit: They love drafting really talented players who are recovering from injury, like Anthony Rendon:

“Rendon, a Houston native, stayed near home for college at Rice, where he hit .371/.510/.679 as a three-year starter, including a .394/.539/.801 line as a sophomore, the year before the NCAA deadened the bats. He went pro after his junior year, and was perhaps the best player in the 2011 draft, the deepest of the past decade, but ankle injuries caused him to drop to Washington at no. 6.”

Rendon — who otherwise would have been the no. 1 pick — was a steal for the Nats. His ankle healed fine, and he made the major leagues two years after being drafted. This year, he’s been one of the best third basemen in baseball, and he’s a dark horse MVP candidate.

And it doesn’t stop there. Pretty much every year, the Nationals draft a talented pitcher who just had Tommy John surgery. Why? Most teams don’t want to put up with the rehab. But with modern medicine, pitchers who undergo Tommy John often come back healthy as ever, and the Nats have been able to acquire talent that nobody else in baseball wants.

When it comes to finding great opportunities, my motto continues to be: Don’t follow the leaders. Instead, ask yourself: What’s something that nobody else is doing? Is it something we should try?

You might find something of real value that nobody else sees.

How Do You Know It’s Time To Leave Your Job?

exit

Since I announced that I was leaving BuzzFeed, a lot of people have been asking: How did you know it was the right time to leave?

I hadn’t been applying to jobs elsewhere when the New Yorker opportunity came around. So to make sure it was the right time for me to leave, I made a list of six questions, and thought carefully through each:

1) Am I still being challenged in my current role?
2) Am I still learning new things?
3) Am I part of the decision-making process at my office? Do I have a seat at the table where big decisions are made?
4) Is there a path for me to grow at this company?
5) Do I have the right people on my team?
6) Do I have what I need to do my best work?

If the answer to one or two of these is “no”, you might be unhappy at your job, but it’s probably not time to leave. Have a conversation with your boss about your role — maybe there’s an opportunity for them to give you the support/training/help you need to fix those issues.

But if you’re answering “no” to more than that, it’s time to make a change. You deserve to be at a place where you’re surrounded by the best team, working on projects that challenge you, and supported with the resources you need to do great work.

One more thing: You’ll notice that money’s missing from this list. I’m lucky in that at this point in my career, I didn’t have to make a move based on financial needs. But if you’re at a different stage in your career, that should absolutely play a role. Don’t stay at a job that pays you less than you’re worth — otherwise, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to make a significant salary leap.

———

That photo at top is called “Exit” by Paul Downey. It’s licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Launch It, Or Leave It Behind.

a folder full of bad ideas

It’s my last week at BuzzFeed, and I’ve been cleaning out my desk drawers. It’s amazing what I’ve found in there: Gadgets I haven’t used in years; random articles of clothing I never wear; and folders and folders of ideas, going back to my very first week of work in 2012.

I’ve written about this before: Coming up with ideas is never the problem. You will always have more ideas, as Ze Frank put it so brilliantly in this video from 2006:

What actually matters is getting those ideas into the world. Finding the right team to build on those ideas with. Testing those ideas. Launching those ideas. Making sure you’re getting the right data to learn more about how your fans are engaging with those ideas. Being willing to kill those ideas when they’re not as good as you thought. Being willing to build on those ideas when they’re better than you could have expected.

The only truly dangerous thing you can do is hang onto an idea too long. The longer you hold onto it, the more precious it becomes. The more you think that one day, when conditions are just perfect, you can release that idea into the world and let it bloom into something great.

That never happens.

You have to make something of your ideas, or you have to move on.

That’s why I’m leaving that 2012 folder — and thousands of other ideas I’ve generated over the past four years — at BuzzFeed. Maybe someone will turn those unused ideas into something real. Maybe they’ll end up in the trash. But I don’t need to cling to them.

It’s time to move on to whatever big idea is next.

Some News: I’m Leaving BuzzFeed For The New Yorker.

Will work for clicks. A cartoon by Barbara Smaller, from 2014. #TNYcartoons

A post shared by The New Yorker Cartoons (@newyorkercartoons) on

I’ll keep this part brief: I’m starting a new job in August. I’m headed to the New Yorker, where I’ll be overseeing some new digital projects, starting with newsletters. I’m absolutely thrilled about the opportunity — getting the chance to work with their team of reporters, artists, and editors is a dream, and I can’t wait to get started.

But it also means I’ll be leaving BuzzFeed after nearly five years leading the email team. I’m so grateful for the opportunity I’ve had at BuzzFeed — they gave me a chance to be a part of building something great. Doree, Scott, Dao, and Ben let me pitch this job, and I’ll always be thankful for that. A handful of folks got us off to the right start: Jack, Summer, Elaine, Ben R. (both of them, actually), Jon, and Erica. There were people who got our newsletters into the hands of readers around the world — Bibi, Caitlin, Claire, Ellie (literally all the Ellies), Flora, Mariana, and Millie — and writers who believed in Courses — Sally and Augusta, especially. There are so many more editors, writers, designers, developers, strategists, analysts, and marketers who helped us along the way — I simply can’t name them all here, but: Thank you! (And a big thanks to the Campaign Monitor team for all their help over the years.)

And above all, thanks to the team in NYC that built these newsletters and made them great: Adam, Ray, Kaelin, Lincoln, and now Ciera. Thanks for coming on board to do such amazing work.

If that seems like a lot of people to thank — and it is! — it’s because here’s the big secret of BuzzFeed: The company hires exceptional people. I’ve had the chance to work with a truly generous, kind, enthusiastic, and talented team. When you hire exceptional people and give them the tools and the freedom to do their best work, you get a place like BuzzFeed.

So one last time, to everyone who made the last five years at BuzzFeed so incredible: Thanks for an amazing ride.

5 Things Before Breakfast.

before breakfast

My first job turned me into a morning person. I worked from 6:30 am to 3:30 pm, but to actually do my job, I needed to wake up around 5:30 in the morning to start updating the KENS5.com homepage. Then I’d eat breakfast and leave home around 7. By the time I showed up at the office, I’d already gotten an hour of work in for the day.

The routine worked for me, and I’ve mostly stuck with it over the years. I’ve found mornings to be a productive time for me. It’s when I get some of my best work done.

Lately, I’ve been tinkering with my morning routine, trying to make sure I’m getting even more out of my mornings. I’ve been testing out a new rule: Every day, I need to get five things done before breakfast.

Those five things could include:

-Writing a new blog post
-Outlining a new project
-Setting up key meetings for the week
-Going for a run
-Making time to read
-Analyzing data for a report
-Handling small tasks (paying bills, cleaning around the house, etc)

I find that if I show up at the office and I’ve already knocked a few things off my to-do list, I’m more likely to be motivated to keep the momentum of the day going. I’ve already gotten a lot done, and it’s easier to tackle big projects at the office once I know I’ve already accomplished a few things that day.

The five things don’t have to be big things, but that’s OK. The important thing is that by breakfast, I’ve already accomplished something, and gotten the day off to the right start. It sets the right intention for the day: Today’s going to be a work day, and it’s already begun.

———

My breakfasts aren’t usually as hectic as the one at the top. That painting is “The Breakfast” by Thomas Rowlandson (British, London 1757–1827 London), Samuel William Fores (British, 1761–1838) via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and is licensed under CC0 1.0.

It’s OK If Your Ideas Suck.

buzzsnow

I want to tell you about a bad idea of mine.

My bad idea happened on December 18, 2012. It was my second day at BuzzFeed. I didn’t know anyone yet, and I didn’t have any idea what I was supposed to be doing. I’d met with one of our designers to build the templates for our brand new newsletters, and it was pretty clear that it was going to be a few days — if not weeks — until we had something that we could actually test out.

I didn’t want to wait that long.

So I decided that I’d create a project for myself: I’d send out an email to our lists wishing them a happy holiday season. The goal was twofold:

1) I’d learn a little more about how to use the email system at BuzzFeed, which was brand new to me.

2) I’d meet some of the people that I’d be working with over the coming months.

This wasn’t the bad idea.

The bad idea was that I wanted to spoof a famous Christmas poem, title the email, “The Night Before GIFmas”, and write the entire thing using GIFs we’d created throughout the year.

It was a very bad, very quarter-baked idea.

I wrote the poem, but never sent it out to our subscribers. An editor stepped in to politely tell me that I might want to re-think the idea of a parody poem in my first week. I scrapped the email.

But as bad as the idea was, the rest went exactly as I’d hoped. I did learn more about our email service provider. I did meet a half-dozen co-workers, figuring out who did what at BuzzFeed and they all fit together within the org. And I even learned how crazy talented the BuzzFeed team was. They could turn a weird request — “Can you add a dancing Santa hat to the BuzzFeed logo?” — and turn it into something neat.

I’ve had a lot of bad ideas over the years — most of my ideas are pretty terrible! But I’ve discovered that what matters most is learning how to do the work and who you can do the work with. Figure those things out, and eventually the good ideas (and good work) will follow.

— — —

The amazing John Gara designed that BuzzFeed logo with the Santa hat, and I really wish we’d had the chance to use it on BuzzFeed.com.

Have You Tried Asking Them What They Think?

Take a second and watch this video. It’s of guitarist Taylor Goldsmith, from the band Dawes, debuting a new song for listeners. And before he starts, he mentions this:

“I’m going to do another new one, and this one I’ve never done before for anybody, so it makes me a little bit nervous. But if it’s no good, make sure to be honest with me, because I need to know how it is.”

If you listen to the song, “A Little Bit Of Everything”, you can understand why he’d be nervous about the new material. The song opens with a verse about a man contemplating suicide — not exactly the material that fans of an indie band like Dawes might expect.

So in this moment, Goldsmith isn’t just playing a song for fans — he’s focus group testing new material. He’s trying to figure out if there’s enough lightness in this song to make it work. And by asking fans to give him feedback, he’s giving the audience permission to react to the material — and readying himself to listen.

This is the thing about making stuff: Making it is only part of the job. You have to be willing to listen to your audience, your readers, or your fans once you put the work out into the world. You have to be willing to pay attention to what they’re saying, and adjust to what they’re telling you.

It’s not always easy to hear what they have to say. Comments can be harsh; surveys can be unkind. But if you’re serious about getting better at your work, you need to listen. If you ask them, you’ll find that your audience has something it wants to tell you.

Enough.

william-stitt-111353

You know enough to start. You don’t have to know everything — in fact, it’s probably a good thing that you don’t. If you knew everything that was coming your way, you might convince yourself that the obstacles ahead were too great. You might decide that what you’re doing is too big, too ambitious, too crazy. Don’t talk yourself out of this. You know what you know, and that’s enough.

You have enough to start. You have good people alongside you. You have good ideas. You have enough resources — not everything you want, but enough. You have enough to do the work you need to do.

You’re good to enough to start. You have the work ethic. You have the right skills. Those will get even better over time — but right now, you’re more than good enough to start.

So start.

———

That photo of a guy at the starting line comes via photographer William Stitt, and was first published on Unsplash.

Success = Work + Luck

feeling lucky?

Five years ago, I wrote about the magic equation for work. It was simple:

Work =
Passion
+ Hustle
+ Skills
+ Time
+ Tribe

If you had passion for what you did, the ability to hustle and ramp up your work rate, the right skills for the job, enough time, and an awesome team behind you, then you could make great work happen.

But great work does not always lead to great success.

If you want that, you need to follow another formula, and this one’s even simpler:

Success = Work + Luck

The output of all your work — your teamwork, your talent, your hustle — doesn’t fully determine success. You can work unbelievably hard on an amazing thing with great people and still fail.

No matter what you’re working on, you also need to be lucky.

Luck can be a combination of things: It can mean a chance encounter or introduction that leads to a breakthrough. It can mean getting the timing right: Working on the right project at a time when your industry is growing, when the tools you need to do your work are readily available, or when your audience/customers are ready for your work. It can mean taking a big risk that pays off. It can even mean making a small decision that accidentally saves you from disaster, like picking the wrong vendor for a piece of software you need.

You still have to put in the work. But to be successful, you’ve got to get a little bit lucky, too.

———

That photo comes via photographer Guilherme Cunha, and was first published on Unsplash.

This 2-Minute Video Features Some Of The Best Career Advice I’ve Ever Heard.


I stumbled across this quick video featuring career advice from Carla Harris, a vice chairman at Morgan Stanley, and I had to share it. If you’re in your 20s or 30s, take two minutes and listen to her advice.

Her three big points:

1) “You will have the opportunity to have four to five careers — not jobs — over the course of your professional journey.” Which means that every few years, you should be evaluating where you are in your career, and whether or not it’s time to switch fields — or merely switch roles.

2) “There is no substitute for the power of relationships.” About this, she’s 100% right — building relationships is the key to helping you move up in your field.

3) “The way you differentiate yourself in any environment is to show that you’re comfortable taking risks, because it says to the marketplace that you’re comfortable with change.” Everyone is going to experience change in their jobs — so prove now to your bosses that you’re willing to lead your team into and through those changes.

Watch the whole video — it’ll be the best two minutes of your day.

A blog for people who want to do great work.