Ideas Worth Doing > Ideas Worth Spreading.

“Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is at hand.” —Henry Miller

I had the privilege of going to a TED event last Friday. It was fantastic. Colin Powell gave a talk. So did a guy who marched with MLK. And an opera singer who’s had two lung transplants.

It was an inspiring day. TED promises to deliver “Ideas Worth Spreading,” and Friday most certainly did.

But that’s not what made the biggest impression on me.

No, what made the biggest impression was a conversation I had with a teacher out in the hallway between talks.

It’s a shame, he told me. We’re seeing all these great talks, but what will come from all of this?

And he’s absolutely right. Ideas worth spreading are great, but ideas aren’t worth much.

It’s the action behind them that matters.

What I’d like to see are more TED events that lead to action. Let’s get 10 speakers on the stage to pitch big ideas, and then let’s get the community behind TED to actually make something happen with one or two of the ideas.

“Ideas Worth Spreading” is good.

“Ideas Worth Doing” would be even better.

That photo at top comes via @emtier.

The Haters Have Already Decided What They Think. So What Will You Do?

“Confidence is a little voice in the back of your head that tells you that you belong.” — Michael Gervais

There’s a cartoonist named Scott McCloud. He’s given TED talks and written some really influential books. “Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art,” is revered within the world of cartoonists.

There’s a quote in that book that’s fascinating. McCloud talks about the cartoonist’s challenge. You’ve got a handful of panels in which to tell a full story, which means that you can’t show every action. You’ve got to pick and choose the parts you want to show.

Let’s say you’ve got a cartoon of a man at Starbucks. In panel 1, the man might be picking up his coffee from the counter. In panel 2, the man might be yelling while the coffee burns his lips.

What’s amazing is that the brain is able to put together the middle step — somewhere between panels 1 and 2, the man drank the coffee, and the coffee was too hot — even though it’s never actually shown in the comic.

McCloud explains:

”The phenomenon of observing the parts but perceiving the whole has a name. It’s called closure.”

Basically, if there’s a story being told, and there are loose ends to the story, the brain is capable of closing the loop. It takes the parts it has and jumps to a conclusion.

But what if, in our little coffee hypothetical, what we think happened wasn’t what happened. What if something else happened between the man getting the coffee and the man screaming? We never actually saw the man drink the coffee, after all. Isn’t it possible that something else happened there to cause the man to yell, but our minds had already decided what we wanted to see?

What if our minds closed the loop but changed the story along the way?

So let’s bring this back to you.

If you’re reading this post, you’re someone who’s trying to do awesome work. I salute you, creator of awesome stuff. You’re doing the work we need more of in the world.

But I’m also warning you: The haters are coming for you. Haters love to hate on awesome work.

And your work is no exception.

They’re going to come and see parts of your life’s story. They’re going to see certain things you’ve done or written or said, and they’re going to connects the dots for themselves. This is what McCloud warned us about brains: They like to finish unfinished stories.

You have no control over how they decide to close the loop on your story. It is entirely out of your control.

Haters are going to find reasons to hate. They are going to find ways to close the loop however they see fit.

Here’s more proof that McCloud is right. Jimmy Kimmel sent out a TV camera two weeks ago to document voters’ reaction to the previous night’s debate. There was only one problem:

There wasn’t a debate the night before.

And yet: Here’s 3 minutes of voters responding to a debate that didn’t happen. They took this single bit of information from the cameraman — there was a debate last night! — and whatever preconceived notions existed in their minds, and they closed the loop for themselves:

So here’s what you need to remember: Haters are going to hate. When it comes to your story, they’ve already closed the loop for themselves.

You cannot control the haters, but you can control the work you do.

Focus there. Do the best work you can.

A huge thank you to Ross Nover, who gave a talk last week at Refresh DC that inspired this post. Also: That photo at top comes via someecards.

The Really Easy Way To Tell If You’re Networking The Right Way.

“Poverty, I realized, wasn’t only a lack of financial resources; it was isolation from the kind of people that could help you make more of yourself.” — Keith Ferrazzi

I was folding my laundry on Monday when I realized something: Right there, in that laundry basket, I could tell that I hadn’t hustled hard enough the week before.

All I was pulling out were T-shirts and jeans and sweatpants. There wasn’t a polo shirt or a pair of khakis or anything with a collar. There wasn’t any dry cleaning for me to pick up later, either.

That’s a bad, bad sign.

Like most people, when I’m going to networking events — dinners, talks, conferences — I try to dress the part. Yeah, I’ve got the word “founder” on my business card, but I’m no Zuckerberg. Hoodies just don’t work for most of my networking events.

But if I get to the end of the week and my decent clothes are still hanging instead of in that laundry basket, I know I just haven’t gotten out enough.

I’ve said this many times before: If you want something really big in life, you need an awesome team behind you.

The best jobs, the best opportunities, the best stuff in life — it all comes from working hard and building a network that can support you and push you to the next big thing.

And the best way to grow your network is to do some networking. Great things come to those who show up and hustle.

Last week, I didn’t hustle hard enough. My laundry basket’s gotta look a little better next week.

That photo of laundry machines comes via @fumichika.

How You Know.

Love Letters | Schipul Love Fest 2011

“There’s always better. There’s always faster. There’s always more. But there will never be another now.” — Dustin Curtis

A question I’ve gotten a lot this year:

How do you know?

How do you know when you’re doing something you really, really love? How do you know when you’re doing the work that’s meant for you?

The answer is a strange one: You just kind of know.

Here’s how I knew with At the end of last year, things were starting to ramp up with the project. Then my family asked me to join them out west to go skiing for a few days. I took a week off. And after a few days, I found myself on a chairlift thinking a very strange thought.

That night, I wrote this note to myself:

“I had a weird sensation today. I was on the slopes, skiing. And I realized: I shouldn’t be here. I should be working.

“I actually WANT to be working right now. Rather than skiing.”

It was a strange feeling. It was the first time in my life that I can ever remember wanting not to vacation.

My work, I realized, was just more fun.

The more I talk to people who do work that they love, the more I hear that same refrain: At some point, I just knew. I wish there was a better way to measure it, but I haven’t found it just yet.

When it’s right, there’s something that finally just clicks inside of you.

So if you’re searching for the right work, make sure you listen to yourself. If you find yourself telling friends that you can’t go out for a drink because you’ve got some work you really want to do, then you’re doing something you love.

If you find yourself setting your alarm earlier in the morning so you can squeeze more work into your day, you’re doing something you love.

And if you’re considering flying home from a ski vacation on New Year’s Eve so that you can get back to work — well, you’re definitely doing something you love.

But if you’re not getting that feeling — that sense that what you’re doing is so important and so awesome that everything else should go on hold — then maybe it’s time to start searching for new work.

That photo at top comes via.

How to Survive Living With Your Parents.

Me, Mr. O and Mrs. O

“Because of their size, parents may be difficult to discipline properly.” — P.J. O’Rourke

Right now, I am writing this blog post from a house that is very near and dear to me. It’s the house I grew up in.

It’s the house where my parents still live, in fact.

And for the last five weeks or so, it’s where I’ve been living, too.

That’s right: I’m living with my parents.

And I’m not alone in this. A study released this summer found that one in four young people — defined as those ages 20-34 — have lived with their parents at some point.

This is the second time I’ve moved back in with my parents. The first was two years ago, after I left Biloxi, MS, and tried to figure out the next step for This fall, I’m using this time at home to step back from and figure out what’s next.

But this recent stint at home has been infinitely better than the first one. I’ve learned a lot about how to survive living at home with your parents, and I know there are others out there who are going through similar situations. So I’ve got four big lessons to share with you:

1. Be Around People — As in, people who aren’t your parents. When you’re living at home, you have to get out. Go to networking events. Get drinks with friends. Just spend time working outside of the house — Loosecubes can help you find space to work out of, and the local library or coffee shop are also excellent choices.

As an added bonus, if you’re out of the house, you’ll have to get dressed. I know this from my 2010 stint at home: When you’re living at home and you’re unemployed AND you’re walking around the house on a Tuesday in sweatpants, it starts to feel like you’re never going to get a job ever again.

Get out of the house. Wear pants. You’ll feel better about yourself — trust me.

2. Go To The Gym — I’ve been lucky enough to live in some really amazing places. There’s nothing quite like coming home to your awesome apartment in your awesome new neighborhood.

But when you move back in with your parents, it’s a little depressing.

So that’s where the gym comes in. Join one. It’ll cost you a few bucks a month, but you can go, break a sweat and have a reason to feel good about yourself. You’re going to need places where you can feel confident, and the gym is one of them.

3. Do Something — Having a side project is essential. When I got back to D.C. last month, I launched Tools for Reporters, a newsletter that pairs great tools with awesome reporters. It’s given me a reason to network — at each event, I’m meeting people who actually built the tools that I’m featuring in the newsletter — and it’s given me opportunities to meet the people who sign up for the newsletter.

And certainly, when I open up my MailChimp statistics and see how many people are opening the emails, I’m reminded that, yes, people actually find value in what I do.

4. Have a Plan to Leave Home — This is most important of all. When a short-term stint at home unexpectedly turns into a long-term housing solution, it can feel like a kick to the groin.

You need to have a plan to get out. It doesn’t matter if it’s in six weeks or six months or longer. There just has to be a plan, and your parents have to know what it is. That way, they can support you and you can all work toward what you really want: Getting back out there on your feet.

There’s no shame in living at home. Heck, I’ll admit that I kinda like it. (For instance: My parents do the shopping around here. And sometimes, they’ll even do my laundry. Which is AWESOME.)

But I don’t want to be here for much longer. I’ve made my plan. I’m getting out often. I’m at the gym. I’ve got my side projects. This stint at home has been really productive for me.

Follow that four-step plan, and you too can survive life at home.

At top, that’s me and my lovely parents. They’re very nice people, if you can’t tell from the photo.

Close Just Shows You How Far You Still Have To Go.

“Failure isn’t final. It’s a test – and the difference between those who pass and those who don’t is who gets up and who doesn’t.” — Emily Bennington

I love sports for many reasons, but over the years, I’ve discovered I love it most for one reason: Sports remind me exactly what I need to do in order to be great.

This year, three of my teams had amazing seasons. They did things that they weren’t really supposed to do.

My Missouri Tigers had the best season in school history and earned a no. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. My Washington Capitals shook off a bad funk, made the playoffs and upset the defending Stanley Cup champs. My Washington Nationals finished with the best record in baseball.

But then came the big games.

My Tigers hit front rim on a three pointer at the buzzer and lost by two to Norfolk State in the opening game of the tourney.

My Caps gave up the game-tying goal — one that went off the post — with 6 seconds left at Madison Square Garden in Game 5, and then the game-winner in OT, and went on to lose to the Rangers in seven games.

My Nats were one strike away from the National League Championship Series, but somehow couldn’t get it, and lost, 9-7, to the St. Louis Cardinals.

An inch or two here and the Tigers hit that three. An inch or two there and the puck hits the post and goes out for a Capitals W. An inch or two anywhere and the Nats win their first postseason series in 70 years.

Change a few inches, and this is the best sports year of my life.

Instead, it’s just another year that wasn’t quite good enough. Another year in which my teams were “close.”

Close is disappointing, yes. But it’s also a powerful measuring stick.

Close shows you how far you still have to go.

There are so many things that we want to accomplish in our lives. These things never come as easily or as quickly as we want them to.

But that’s okay. The greats get back out there and keep doing the work. The greats keep going.

I know my teams are already working toward next year. What’s happened is done. What’s ahead is still left to be written.

So here’s the only question that matters: Are you ready to step up and be great this year?

That image at top comes via @hopespaul.

How To Keep Going When Things Go Wrong: Lessons From a Dispatch Concert.

“Introducing a little chaos into your lifestyle is sometimes the only way to get things done.” — Matt Cheuvront

I went to see Dispatch last week in D.C. They’re a band with a fascinating backstory. They’re a New England-based jam band with a Dave Mathews meets Phish meets Paul Simon kind of vibe. In the late 90s, they got big despite releasing their music without a major label. Then, right as they were starting to go mainstream, they broke up.

But last year, they reunited, and this year, they released their first full-length album in a decade.

Live, they’re fantastic. I’ve seen them a handful of times, and I’d put their show up against any. The show is a ton of fun to go to. The crowd jumps up and down, everyone’s singing along — it’s just a really good time.

But last week in D.C., tons of stuff went wrong at the show. The sound went out during their third song, and again during the fourth. Some guitar strings broke. The band had a few false starts on songs.

But the funniest came about halfway through the set. You know it’s not your night when something like this happens:

Chad Urmston, lead singer of Dispatch: “We’d like to call out some friends to join us on this next song.”

[Stage manager runs out and whispers something in Chad’s ear]

Chad: “Uh, apparently our friends are already driving to Atlanta for tomorrow night’s gig.”

So did the band panic? Did they freak out?

Hell no! They called up four strangers to sing backup vocals on the song instead.

Seriously. They grabbed four random people from the crowd, briefly taught them the chorus, and then started playing.

There’s the Malcolm Gladwell idea that you need to hit 10,000 hours to master any skill. But with a band, you need even more than that.

It’s not just your instruments that you need to master. You also need to learn how to play live — because lots of things can go wrong live. A band like Dispatch has spent so many hours on stage that they’ve mastered how to keep doing work even when everything’s going wrong.

Most people want to plan for the road ahead, but you can’t really plan for most of what’s about to hit you. All you can do is have the confidence to get through bad situations.

You have to stay calm and keep putting one foot in front of the other when it hits.

Dispatch did it last week, and they pulled off a hell of a show — even with all the technical difficulties.

Bravo, boys. One day, may the rest of us learn how to keep going when things go wrong.

The Three Things That Separate Those Who Do From Everyone Else.

“Ignore the money and the news. Find good people who make wonderful things, and help them do it.” — Erin Kissane

About once a month, I get an email from someone I don’t know. The email reads as follows:

Hi, Dan.

I’m a huge fan of I’m thinking of starting my own news site devoted to long-form journalism. I was hoping I could talk with you about how to get started.

I have gotten a lot of these emails, and I’ve followed up with almost all of them. Of the people who’ve emailed me, a small number have actually gone on and done something. A much larger number shoot me a couple of emails or maybe spend 20 minutes on the phone with me before deciding not to take on their dream.

This is what I’ve learned from the conversations with all of these people. The lessons here are from the journalism world, but they’re pretty universal themes, I’ve found.

1. People Rarely Follow Their Effort — People tend to think about their own passion first. They’re told that if they care about something, they should focus on that.

But I’m a believer in what Mark Cuban once said:

“Don’t follow your passions, follow your effort. It will lead you to your passions and to success, however you define it.”

Everyone I’ve talked to about starting a long-form project has been incredibly passionate. But only a handful have actually gone through with it.

Why? Because not everyone is willing to put in the time and deal with the pain that comes with starting something great.

I know this: Just proving that you’re willing to do the work is a differentiator in this world.

2. Having a Team Matters — The people who’ve gone forward with these projects always have a team/tribe behind them. Even if it’s just a few readers who are really excited about the project. Even if it’s just a few people who want to copy edit stories.

The people who go forward have always found other people who buy into the dream, too. It’s much easier to quit when it’s just you.

3. Experience Only Takes You So Far — Some of the people I’ve talked to have had lots of experience in the news world. Some have had very little.

But when you’re trying to start something big, experience is only a small part of the equation. I’ve said it before: You also need time to make it happen, and a great team behind you, and a lot of hustle.

The people who say they can’t do something because they don’t have enough experience are usually just making excuses for themselves.

If you want to start something, then do it. But please, remember: Anyone can start something. What counts is that you follow through. That you hustle. That you do the work.

There are people in this world who talk, and there are people in this world who do.

Be the latter. We need more of them.

That inspiration at top comes via @coffeeeater.

This Post Is For People Who Publish Content on the Internet.

Please pardon the brief pause today from your regularly-scheduled work-related post. Today’s blog is about some smart thoughts I heard at a conference last week.

Wise words about work will be back on Monday.


Digital East 2012: The 10 Best Things I Learned.

I attended Digital East 2012 last week, a conference in the DC area with big lessons and ideas for those of us who make stuff on the web. Here are some of my favorite lessons and tidbits from the conference:

Storified by Dan Oshinsky · Mon, Oct 08 2012 15:46:56

1. This Is Excellent Advice — Two speakers really got me excited at Digital East: Alexandre Douzet of The Ladders, and Anthony Melchiorri of “Hotel Impossible.”

Douzet talked about finishing his first Ironman. In his own words:

"Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional"- Alex Douzet/Ladders at #deast12 @DigitalEast Berk
"If aim low, you will land low." via @adouzet #deast12Amir Zonozi
Melchiorri talked about the importance of focusing on your business first. What is it you really do?
Take care of the customer. Don’t worry about how you look online. @anthonyhotels #deast12Vicky Dobbin
key takeaway from @AnthonyHotels keynote: "If your life sucks. You suck. Your business sucks… You suck." #wordstoliveby #DEast12Caitlin Romig

2. We Need To Learn How To Measure Social Media. — Because here’s the simple truth:

A fan is not a business metric #DEast12 #stage1 @MergeRJ
This, too:
"Unicorn farts and magic dust and all of a sudden people are going to share it" ~ misconception of how social content goes viral #DEast12Amanda Klein
What’s the metric you’re actually using to track social? Total shares? Clicks? Likes? Whatever it is, the sooner you settle on it, the better:
Find the "guiding star" that leads your metrics, then track your progress. #DEast12Ifdy Perez
Brands need to 1- move past the fear of negative feedback online and 2- define what ROI means to them — no more mushy metrics! #deast12Joe Gizzi

3. Social Starts With a Big Ask — Too often, we fail to actually engage our fans and followers. So, what’s the solution?

How can you invite/make it easy for people to be part of your brand story? #deast12 Alison
If you want people to engage, give them a task. It makes them feel like part of the community @orihoffer @METRO #DEast12RJ
"@districtjoe: Social Loyalty is about Action + Reward." #DEast12AK Stout
That’s what we’re really working towards: loyalty and trust.

4. YouTube video: Okay. Streaming Video: Better. — Online video is an excellent tool, but streaming video might be an even better one. Here’s a stat that shocked me:

20% of online video views click away from a video in the first 10 seconds or less #DEast12Justin Ihara
But here’s the same metric for streaming video:
#deast12 live video watchers are engaged. Watch 12-14 mins compared to 2-3 mins on YouTube or Vimeo.Casey Higgins
Streaming video has a few other benefits for brands:
#1 reason to stream live media: to amplify a brand event #DEast12 #stage2 @MergeRJ
"@SamKimball: You can’t replace IRL networking but live streaming events leads to a huge opp to deliver to more people." #DEast12AK Stout
RT @jccjhiggins: #deast12 Why not live stream events? Can embed into an FB app or tweet the link on Twitter and it plays within the feed.Jay S Daughtry M.Ed.

5. Rethink Content — This seemed like a simple — but under-appreciated — lesson from the BuzzFeed guys:

Alex Weidlin, BuzzFeed: Content is a gift and you want to share good content with your friends. Yes, yes, and yes. #DEast12Ken ReCorr
The point: People love sharing stories that are relevant, timely and — oh yes — make themselves look cool/clever/awesome.

6. We’re Going Visual — More and more, we’re pushing content that’s visual.

(The speakers didn’t talk about the importance of great design on the web, but I think that’s absolutely worth talking about here, too. Great stories deserve to be presented beautifully.)

“@R2integrated: "90% of info transmitted to the brain is visual" youtube and pinterest are platforms leveraging this statistic #DEast12”AK Stout
@nickschaper says our news feeds are turning into slide shows and wonders how long b4 we stop seeing letters. #DEast12AK Stout

7. Your Fans Aren’t Seeing Your Facebook Posts — Here are two numbers that should scare anyone with a Facebook page:

Brand pages reach 16% of fans each week on average and this will keep shrinking #DEast12Christie Michalec
"@districtjoe: You have 3-6 chances (posts) to get your fans to engage with you before you become algorithmically irrelevant." #DEast12AK Stout
You read that right: If you’re not generating likes/shares/comments with fans in the first handful of posts, Facebook will just stop showing your content to fans. And here’s why that’s especially bad news:
65% of consumer engagement across Facebook is on timeline; 29% in newsfeed, 6% in ticker #deast12Michael Murray
But there’s hope for you on Facebook:
Posts containing imagery/video generate 100-180% more engagement per post on Facebook. #DEast12James Wong
@Fracked says the MOST engaging Facebook posts have under 40 characters text or less with a cool picture #deast12Lauren Ashley Wolfe

8. There’s a Lot We’re Not Tapping Into On Facebook — Three things that we should be talking about: the possibilities of Open Graph (more details here); using complementary colors; and the role of sponsored stories.

"@extoleinc: With the FB Open Graph we move beyond the ‘Like’. Now recommend, bought, claimed, loved, synced, etc…" #DEast12AK Stout
"@Fracked: Orange is a complimentary color to FB’s blue. The brain likes complimentary colors." Need to go find some orange pics. #DEast12AK Stout
"@extoleinc: Sponsored stories are more effective than Facebook ads bc friends endorse brands and provide social context." #DEast12AK Stout

9. SEO Still Matters — Google continues to be a huge driver of traffic to many sites. And the single most important SEO strategy is still this: Create good content. (Yes, it’s that simple, sometimes.) 

Preach! SEO is not just something you tack on at the end of the publishing flow. #deast12Heather Kuldell
Forget CTR. When comes to ads measure interaction rate and interaction time. Better measure of brand awareness. #deast12 Alison
(CTR = Click through rate.)
"@SimonHeseltine: Even no follow links have an impact because Google & other SE’s look at social relevance." #DEast12AK Stout
(The short version here: Google doesn’t place a ton of importance on social, but it has a small role. So make sure people are sharing your content.)

10. Your Email Needs to be Mobile-Friendly — This is something I acted upon the day after the conference, actually. Your email newsletter needs to work on mobile devices. (Mine didn’t, I discovered.)

"@cameronbrain: 30%-40% of email newsletter opens occur on mobile devices." #emailmarketing #DEast12AK Stout
Make your emails mobile-friendly! Approx 70% of ppl who’ll open your email on their phone will delete it w/o reading – @mheinsler

Perspective Matters.

“When you look at the Moon, you think, ‘I’m really small. What are my problems?’ It sets things into perspective. We should all look at the Moon a bit more often.” — Alain de Botton

When I lived in Springfield, MO, I occasionally had to fly other places for work. Getting flights out of the Ozarks isn’t always easy, and it’s rarely cheap.

So twice this summer, I flew instead out of St. Louis. That airport is 227 miles away from where I lived in Springfield.

I am writing this blog post while riding a bus from New York to DC, and I am shocked at how fast this drive is going. I seem to remember it taking longer.

But now I’m checking the length of the trip on Google. The total distance? 225 miles.

So here’s a thought: In Missouri, I’d drive all that way to get on a plane. But if I decided to book a flight out of NYC — and I drove from DC to fly out — I’d be considered crazy. Why is that?

We all like to think of ourselves as creatures with steadfast principles, but the truth is, we’re constantly making decisions based on place, time and circumstance. Perspective matters.

In Missouri, when booking flights, price mattered most to me. In DC, I’ve got plenty of cheap options, so I shift to a new priority: convenience.

The same holds grow for the decisions we make during the course of our work. What matters most in one situation might mean less in another.

There are few decisions in this world that we will make every time, regards of circumstance. There are few easy calls.

Where you are and what you’re doing matters. We’re changing, and our work is changing with it.

There’s no need to fight it. Make the best decisions you can with the information you have in the moment you’re in — and then move on.

Photo of feet via @ishootiphone.