This One-Armed Guitar Player Reminded Me That People Are Awesome.

I saw something last week that I have never seen before, and will probably never see again.

I was in Park City, Utah, for the holidays. Mom had heard on the radio that Robert Randolph & The Family Band would be playing a free show at the base of Park City. We got off the slopes early and headed to the show.

I’ve seen Robert Randolph play a half-dozen times now, and he does a fun thing during some of his shows. During an extended jam, he’ll pick up a guitar and extend it toward the crowd. He’ll give the crowd a look: Anyone out there play?

A few years ago, in Kansas City, I saw a kid — no more than 15, I think — come up and cover “Purple Haze” with the band. If you’ve never seen a teenager jam with a guy on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarist lists, you really should.

Anyway, Robert picked up a guitar midway through the Park City set. A college-aged kid with a big fro came up first, played a few licks. Robert shook his head and sent him back into the crowd.

A second guy — maybe in his early 30s, still wearing his ski clothes — came up, and Robert let him play for two or three seconds before sending him back, too.

Then a third guy came up. Robert’s guitar tech came over with the guitar, and the guitarist whispered something in his ear. The tech brought over a chair, and the guitarist sat down.

Then he took off his right arm.

his-arm copy

And then with the stump of his right arm, he began to play.

And Robert smiled. Because right away, you could tell: The dude with one arm could really play.

Robert jammed with him on a song. And then another. And then another.

When Robert finally said it was time to go, the crowd went insane. A one-armed guitarist holding his own with a dude considered one of the greatest guitarists ever — even a week later, I keep asking myself, Did I really see that?

I walked up afterward to congratulate the guitarist. His name’s Jeremiah Maxey, and he plays in a few Park City bands, including one called — and I couldn’t believe it when he told me — the Right Hand Band.

So here’s to you, Jeremiah. I’ll see a lot of shows in my life, but I don’t think I’ll ever see something quite like the three songs you played with Robert Randolph. Thanks for having the guts to walk up on stage — and for the reminder that people can be pretty amazing, sometimes.

Hurry Up And Wait.

I heard the voice of my mother today while waiting in line at JFK to get through security. I’d hurried through work, and then hurried my way over to the train, and then hurried through check-in, and then… I waited. I waited for 20 minutes at airport security, because that’s how it works.

My mother has a saying for that: It’s the hurry up and wait.

When we were kids, she’d always point out how strange it was to watch people rush to be first in line for something. We’d be on a ferry, and people would rush to their cars. We’d wait on the top deck, holding onto the view as long as we could. What are those people rushing for? she’d always point out. It’s not like they can drive off until the boat docks anyway.

As I get to work with bigger teams on more ambitious projects, I find that the hurry up and wait rule applies there, too. Sometimes, you push and push on a project, only to find that the rest of your team isn’t ready to take the next step. Or that a key piece of technology or code isn’t ready. In the end, you’ve rushed through your work for nothing.

It’s certainly great when you can get your work done efficiently. But the people around you matter — especially the pace at which they do their work. If you’re not all moving together, you’re just hurrying up to wait.

And what good is that?

That photo of airport security comes via Flickr’s Karl Baron.

How One Little Device Changed A Lot About The Way I Work.

pocket-phone

I’ll admit that I didn’t always understand the smartphone. I had a flip phone, and it did pretty much everything I wanted a phone to do. I was happy with it.

And in the first few months of owning a smartphone, I didn’t really change my opinion. It helped me keep track of my calendar, and it helped me find a building or two, but it wasn’t essential.

But then I moved to New York, and I started spending a lot of time on the train. Suddenly, I had these 10- and 15-minute chunks of time to kill.

That’s when it clicked.

I had downloaded this app called Pocket, which lets me save stories to read later — or offline. And it really changed things for me.

I needed something to do on those subway rides, so I started saving stories to read on Pocket when I was on the train. And then I had a little epiphany: I should just stop reading things at work entirely, and save them for the train rides — when I’ll have the time to focus on reading.

Now I’m reading as much as ever — it’s just a matter of changing when I read. And as a result, I’m more focused at work. Before, a new profile or an essay would come across Twitter and distract me, and it’d take an hour just to get back on track. Now I save those for later and keep on going with my tasks.

A little change, but it’s been a big help in keeping me productive at work. And I’ve got my smartphone to thank for that.

Data + Story.

kiyomi and taro shibas, on the couch

Two weeks ago, while I was writing out my annual “What I Believe” post, I had a small epiphany, and jotted this down:

If you can show it in a spreadsheet, you can sell it. And if you can pair that data with a great story, you’ve really got something.

In my job at BuzzFeed, I report to two people: Dao, our director of traffic; and Erica, our managing editor. With Dao, it’s all about numbers. Show her that the numbers are trending upward, and she’ll listen.

With Erica — and any of the other editors at BuzzFeed — it’s all about the story. If you can tell a great story, they’ll listen.

When you pair those together, that’s when the magic really happens. I wrote that when you put them together, “you’ve really got something.” Which is true.

But what I really meant to say is: When you pair them together, you’ve really earned respect. In your work, you’ll have to sell your ideas to others. One of the secrets to sales is being able to pair data and a great story. Get those two elements together, and they’ll not only listen — they’ll follow you where you want to go.

That’s a photo of two shibas, because, you know, BuzzFeed. It comes via Taro the Shiba Inu on Flickr.

Time Off.

A wonderful thing happened on Wednesday:

I had a busy day at work. A ton going on. Lots of new projects and things that I was trying to get done.

And then I left work to head to a dinner party. The whole way there, my mind was still on work — what needed to be finished on Thursday, what I had to focus on first.

And when I got to the door, I took a minute. I promised myself: While I was inside, work was off limits. No thinking about the tasks ahead. No planning out the next work day.

I needed those two hours, to be around friends and to recharge. Work wears on you. I haven’t always been great at making time for life outside of work. But after a few hours with friends, just making time for them, I came back on Thursday really excited and ready to get at my to-do list.

There is a time for work, and a time for play, and after all these years, I feel like I’m finally starting to learn which is which.

That photo at top comes via.

The Opposite.

One of my favorite stories of the college football season came from the University of Southern California. The Trojans had an awful start to the year. They fired their head coach a month into the season. They replaced him with Ed Orgeron — an assistant coach who had previous served as head coach at Ole Miss.

And had lost — often — at Ole Miss.

When he got the new job at USC, he was asked about his time at Ole Miss:

“I was given a good shot, and I was really discouraged that I didn’t make it,” Orgeron said. “I had to look at myself.”

So what happened this time around? He looked at what he’d done at Ole Miss, and he did the opposite. Literally:

Every decision from team meals to whether music played at practice, Orgeron reversed. Fifteen times a day, he says, Orgeron thinks about how he would have done something at Ole Miss and then stops and goes the opposite direction.

Suddenly, a Southern Cal program that was languishing in tension and self-pity has started winning again, having fun again

Under Orgeron, USC finished the year 6-2. And the lesson here is so great: We don’t always do the work the right way the first time. We make mistake in the way we treat people, and the way we try to get things done.

Sometimes, it requires you to make little fixes. Sometimes, you have to make huge changes.

But you can’t be stubborn. If it’s not working — and if the results aren’t there — you have to be willing to be flexible. Change can be a powerful thing.