Just Because It’s Hard Doesn’t Mean It’s Complicated.

I’m watching college basketball last Saturday. Clark Kellogg, who’s been doing games for CBS for 20+ years now, is on the call. It’s the Missouri-Florida game, and Mizzou’s on offense. There’s a mismatch: One of the Florida guards is matched up in the post against a Missouri player who has seven inches and probably 70 lbs. on him.

The ball goes into the post, but the Florida defender doesn’t give an inch. So the Mizzou forward kicks the ball out, then reestablishes position on the inside. He gets the ball back, turns, and hits the shot.

“It’s not always easy,” Kellogg says, the replay playing over his commentary, “but it certainly isn’t complicated.”

I’d never heard anyone say something like that before — it really clicked for me. So I paused the game, grabbed a notebook, and drew this up:

Most of the things I work on fall into one of the two categories on the left: Easy + simple or Hard + simple:

Easy + simple — This is the category for things like A/B tests on a subject line, or small tweaks to a newsletter.

Hard + simple — This is for the projects that don’t seem like they should be all that hard — for instance, changing a CTA on our website — but might require a handful of engineers and a complicated series of steps to execute.

A smaller percentage of work falls into the two categories on the right:

Hard + complicated — These are the big picture projects that involve multiple teams and ambitious goals or testing. If we’re launching a new newsletter; moving our email operations onto a new piece of technology; or attempting to shift to a new roadmap, we’re probably operating in this quadrant.

Easy + complicated — There aren’t a lot of things that fall under this heading, but here’s one: Having a really tough conversation with a co-worker, or attempting to get buy-in from your team. Those things seem simple on paper, but once you attempt to factor in all of the relationships, opinions, and egos on a team, things can get complicated quickly.

As your grow in a role, you’ll find that your work tends to shift from the left half of the graph to the right half. You’ll take on bigger projects, with larger goals and more on the line. But there will always be left-half types of projects to maintain. The challenge for all of us: Figuring out ways to handle the little things quickly so that you can stay focused on the big picture.

Here, Listen To This.

I’m a huge fan of James Andrew Miller, the author behind the best-selling oral histories of ESPN and “SNL.” He’s also got a podcast, “Origins,” and the new season focuses on ESPN. I just listened to the episode about “Pardon The Interruption,” the ESPN talk show that changed the landscape for debate on cable TV. If you’re fascinated by the way creative people build things, give it a listen. It has a little of everything: anecdotes about brainstorming segment ideas with dentists; stories about building something from nothing; and even the production team’s list core values for success. (They are, in order: Be different, better, and special. Listen and you’ll also hear the team behind “PTI” explain why a show that was “good but not different” would fail.) It’s a wonderful episode, even for non-sports fans.

Listen to the episode below, or add it to iTunes here.

Three Work Resolutions for 2018.

Last year, I tried making a few work resolutions — things I wanted to do better at work in the coming year. Let’s try this again for 2018.

In the new year, I’d like to do a few things better:

1) I want to do a better job of holding my colleagues accountable — and making sure they do the same for me. That means making sure that the people I work with know what I expect of them, and that they know what they expect from me. It means building a line of communication where they can tell me when I’m not doing my fair share, and vice versa. It means that when goals aren’t met, or when communication fails, everyone feels comfortable standing up and saying so. This is a new job, and I’m still building relationships with my co-workers. I have to keep doing so to succeed in this role.

2) I want to be more assertive. At BuzzFeed, I helped launch the newsletter program. At The New Yorker, I’m inheriting a big, growing program, and trying to build off previous success. That means that I’m also inheriting a lot of processes and systems. For the most part, I’ve spent the first few months at this job listening and asking questions. The next step is being more assertive — actively shaping the vision for our newsletters program and building up the team to work with me to make it real. And it also means being more willing to be selective about what we say “yes” to. I don’t mind working a little harder to make things happen, but with the size of our current team, I can’t take on everything. I’ve got to be more assertive when it comes to saying “no.”

3) I want to be more goal-oriented.(1) My old job was very goal-oriented — we had goals and metrics for everything. At this job, we need to set some ambitious goals for the months ahead — mid-year goals to start, since so much can change in just six months — and get working towards them.

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That photo is by Estée Janssens on Unsplash.

  1. And yes, I do see the irony in adding “being goal-oriented” to a list of goals for the new year.

Everyone Needs A Good Editor.

A few weeks ago, I flew to Australia to give a talk about email, and I flew down on Fiji Airways.(1)

Ever since, I haven’t stopped thinking about the flight map in their in-flight magazine. I’ve always been fascinating by these route maps — I recently discovered a Tumblr dedicated to old airline maps, and wasted a few hours browsing through maps from the past. But the Fiji Airways map was a little different.

At first glance, everything seems pretty ordinary.

But when you zoom in on the North American section of the map, you start to notice something: It’s wrong.

Toronto is basically at the Northwest Passage. Chicago, Indianapolis, and Salt Lake are in Canada. Raleigh is in Baltimore, Charlotte and Phoenix are in the Midwest, and Reno is in Portland. St. Louis added an “e” to its name and moved to the Bay Area.

I don’t know how the map ended up this inaccurate — but it really could have used a good editor.

I used to think that editors were just for catching big mistakes — like the ones on this map. But really great editors do more than that. They can also help shape the projects you’re working on. They’re people to bounce ideas off of, and people who can challenge your point of view. They’re there for typos, yes, but also partners to help turn your work into something amazing.

You don’t have to go it alone. Find an editor, a mentor, a partner — someone to work with on your ideas. Whatever you’re making, a great editor can help you make it better.

As for Fiji Airways: If you need an editor for this map, I’m happy to help. All I’ll need is two first-class tickets back to Fiji and a week or two off work to help you get this one right, OK? :-)

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  1. I should say: Their customer service was excellent. I’d absolutely recommend them if you’re flying to that part of the Pacific.

How To Network The Right Way.

It took me a decade to figure out what “networking” really meant: Meeting lots of people, being kind to them, and staying in touch.

That’s it.

Meet lots of people. Go to events involving people in your field. Reach out to leaders you admire. Talk to friends of friends — the network of people at your level may not be very powerful yet, but one day, they probably will be. Don’t ask them for stuff right away — after all, you just met!

Be kind to them. Write these people thank you notes when they help you out. Send them kind, congratulatory notes when they do something great. Just be nice.

Stay in touch. It doesn’t have to be much. Sending someone a note on their birthday counts. Emailing them a link to a story they might like counts. Reaching out every so often to grab lunch counts.

I know I’m using the word “networking” to describe this behavior, but that doesn’t really get at what I’m actually trying to do. All I’m really doing is meeting interesting people.

Sometimes, I can help these people. Maybe in the future, they can help me. But here’s my advice: Don’t go into this looking for favors — just try to meet as many interesting people as you can. You never know where those relationships might lead you.

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That photo, which, admittedly, is a more obvious stock photo than I usually use here on the blog, is from rawpixel.com via Unsplash.

Direction Is More Important Than Speed.

A co-worker asked me this week: How busy are you these days?

I’ve been at this job for four months, and my co-worker knows that we have a thousand things to do. We have to improve the way we drive newsletter growth. We have to launch new products. We have to improve our existing products. We have to work more closely with our sales and marketing teams to serve their needs. We have to improve the types of data we collect, and find and build better tools to work with.

That’s why my response seemed to catch my co-worker by surprise: I have a list a mile long of things to do… but I’m not crazy busy.

Yes, there’s a lot to do. And yes, I want to get these things done as quickly as I can.

But I can’t make all these things happen at once. I don’t have the team in place yet to take on all these projects, and I’m still getting buy-in from other teams in the office that we’ll need to work with.

Sure, I could try to run through walls to try to get stuff done. But I know I can’t get past those walls by myself. The only way to get through them is with time, teamwork, and money. But I don’t have those things yet — and if I push too hard, too fast, I’m going to drive myself insane.

Instead, I’m trying to work smarter — not faster. I wrote about this last week in my annual Things I Believe post:

“Direction is more important than speed. It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going if you’re headed the wrong way.”

Building something new is going to take time. For now, the best thing I can do is help point the team in the right direction. I’m spending a lot of time meeting with other stakeholders, figuring out what they want and how it lines up with what I want. I’m spending a lot of time asking questions, and a lot of time listening.

We’re not moving as fast as I want to, but that’s OK. We’re starting to move in the right direction, and it’s OK to take slow steps towards progress. If we’re heading the right way, and if we’re working with the right people and tools, we’ll build up speed over time.

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That photo is by Robin Pierre on Unsplash.

I Am 30 Years Old. This Is What I Believe.

Dan Oshinsky talking to the Digital Brisbane podcast

I am 30 years old, and I have so much more to learn. I’ve gotten the chance to work with amazing people at BuzzFeed and The New Yorker. I’ve led teams, launched products, and given talks at conferences. I’ve even been introduced on stage as an “expert” in my field.

But I am definitely not an expert. I’m only just starting to learn how to do this job, and learning how to build and lead teams that can do amazing work. I left my last job partially because I felt like I was no longer being challenged in my role, and I hated feeling like I wasn’t pushing myself to get better. There is a lot I can’t control in my work, but I can control the way I develop my skills and learn new things.

Complacency is the enemy of the work — and I’m determined to keep learning and keep growing.

Over the past year, there are certain things I’ve come to believe hold true. I know that my beliefs will continue to change. I know that I will change.

But here, at 30, is what I believe:

You don’t need to be able to predict the future — but it helps if you can see what’s coming around the corner.

Direction is more important than speed. It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going if you’re headed the wrong way.

The smartest people I know ask a lot of great questions, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

If you’re in a job where everybody else is smarter than you, you’re challenged every day, and you feel like a complete impostor, congratulations! You’re in the right place.

There’s always a way.

Challenge the ideas you hear about. Don’t take other people’s successes or failures at face value. Test them for yourself and see what works for you.

I need to get better at so many things: Not offering unsolicited advice. Asking questions even when I think I know the answer already. Saying “no” when I don’t have the time.

I am not particularly good at anything by myself. Everything I do well, I do with people I love.

One the hardest parts of getting older is deciding what you really want to spend your money and time on, and actually sticking to it.

The best nights out are the most unexpected.

Everything is better shared.

Four magic words that will change the way you fly: “Can you help me?” People can be so rude when they travel. Just be kind, and ask for help. It’ll take you far.

Overcommunicate. Don’t assume that people around you are on the same page. Make sure they know what’s expected of them, and what they expect of you.

Your plan isn’t much of a plan if you can’t get your team to buy in.

When you’re making a big decision, lay out all the options, get all the information you can, and make the best choice with what you have. It won’t always lead to the right outcome, but you don’t have much control over the outcome. Worry about what you can control: the process, and the work.

And most of all: Every day, I try to be a little more: more enthusiastic, more helpful, more loving. I’m so lucky to have married a woman who is all of those things — and, yes, even more. I love you more than ever, Sally.

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That photo at top was taken by the @DigitalBrisbane team.

Something We Tried (And Loved) In 2017: Wishing More People Happy Birthday!

A few years ago, my friend Leslie’s dad died, and she wrote a wonderful piece about him. This one part of her story really stuck with me: Every year, Leslie’s dad would call family, friends, and co-workers on their birthdays and sing “Happy Birthday”:

“The dude had a goddamn calendar full of people he would call on their birthdays. From what I’ve learned in the past couple of months, it numbered in the hundreds. If he knew your birthday, he would call you on it and sing happy birthday. He had what I would call a church choir voice. Which is to say, not great, but he would belt it out nonetheless. If you picked up, he’d sing your ear off. If you screened, he’d sing it to your voicemail.”

And it wasn’t until after he died that Leslie realized how much of an impact those yearly birthday calls had made on everyone who was on the receiving end:

“In the past three months, I’ve had untold numbers of people approach me and tell me they had messages from my dad on their phones singing them happy birthday. Happy birthday to Mark! Happy birthday to Suzanne! Happy birthday to Margaret! Happy birthday to family and friends and to people I don’t know from Adam!”

I loved the idea that one little gesture could matter so much to so many people. I’m not much for singing loudly, so Sally and I made a resolution to try something new in 2017: Sending birthday cards.

We made a calendar of people we love, we got their addresses, and we started sending cards to them. This year, we’ve sent about 75 cards — next year, I hope, we’ll send more.(1)

This has been a strange, stressful year for all of us, but sitting down and writing a birthday note to friends and family reminded us how lucky we are to have such great people in our lives. No matter what’s happening in the world, we have these relationships, and we’re so grateful for them. And every birthday is a reminder that there are always great reasons to celebrate with the people we love.

Here’s to getting older — and many more years of happy birthdays (and birthday cards) to come.

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That’s a birthday card from hellosmallworld on Etsy. They make great cards.

  1. Etsy, I’ve learned, is a great place to buy birthday cards. I love stores like HenPenPaperCo, YeaOhGreetings, hellosmallworld, and lafamiliagreen for original cards.

Talk To Your Fans.

Here’s something I’m trying to do more of: Talk to the people who use our products.

The easy way to do that is to survey them. We’ll send a survey to our subscribers, and promise them that it only takes 2-3 minutes to finish the survey.(1) Or we’ll ask readers to reply to a newsletter with their thoughts. It’s an effective way to get a lot of feedback all at once from readers.(2)(3)

But there’s something even better than getting these online responses from our fans: Literally going out into the world and talking to them.

I can’t tell you how important these IRL conversations have been in shaping the way I think about the relationship between us and our readers. When I start to hear the same themes over and over again from very different people, it’s a clear indicator that we’re either doing something right — or very wrong.

When you’re in the business of creating new products and tools for your fans, it’s easy to lose sight of who we’re actually doing all this work for. But with each of these face-to-face conversations, I remember: These are our fans. These are the people we’re trying to build a better relationship with. These are readers I need to be listening to.

If you can, go out and talk to your fans. You might just be surprised by what they have to say.

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That photo of a very excited crowd was taken by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash.

  1. And we actually time ourselves taking the survey to make sure it’s a 2-3 minute survey. This really matters! Don’t waste your readers’ time.
  2. One more suggestion: Try surveying using the Net Promoted Score method. I like to use it as a gateway to getting further responses. If readers give us a score less than 10, the next question on the survey that pops up is, “What could we do to get a 10 from you?” The responses are always interesting.
  3. And if you do survey readers, first read this post from Gregg Bernstein at Vox. It offers excellent advice about how to ask the right questions.

A blog for people who want to do great work.