Before You Take A Leap, Find Your Anchor.

an actual anchor

It can be scary when you make a big life change, like starting a new job or moving to a new city. When you change something so central to your life, sometimes you struggle to find stable ground to stand on. The changes can feel overwhelming.

But I think there are ways to make a big life change without getting overwhelmed. The secret is having an anchor.

An anchor is any source of stability in your life — a constant that stays with you even as you undergo a big life event. It’s a bridge from one stage of your life to another. An anchor could be something like:

A stable relationship with a S.O.

A job you really like.

Strong personal friendships.

Strong relationships with your family.

It could even be a hobby or activity. If you’ve go to regular yoga classes or volunteer on a weekly basis, that could be a strong anchor for you.

The more anchors you have in your life, the less intimidating a big life change will be. The anchors are there to keep you grounded and make sure you feel connected to your true self, even as you make these life changes.

I’ll use myself as an example here.(1) I have a few anchors in my life:

I’m in a wonderful relationship with my S.O.

I have great friends here in New York.

I have several close family members in the city.

I have a really good job.

So let’s say I decided to make a huge life change and move tomorrow to work at BuzzFeed’s Los Angeles office.(2) I’d still have two strong anchors: The relationship with my S.O., and my job. A lot would be changing: I’d be leaving New York, and the relationships with family and friends I have here. But I’d still have two huge constants to help me throughout the move.

Making huge life changes without those anchors is so hard. I did it when I moved to San Antonio. I was single, I was starting a new job in a new field, and I didn’t have friends or family in the city. And looking back, I was so overwhelmed by the move. It was too much to take on all at once. There wasn’t anything that felt familiar to me, and it affected my day-to-day life.

The next time, a big life change will be easier for me. And it can be less stressful for you, too! If you can find an anchor to keep you grounded throughout the change, it makes a world of difference. It might be the difference between you surviving and thriving through the change, or not.

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That photo of a boat dropping anchor comes via photographer Woodrow Walden and Unsplash.

  1. I’m not planning anything big! I’m just an example, I promise.
  2. Again, I’m not! It’s just a hypothetical!

Do It For The Story.

take the leap

A buddy of mine from college got married last weekend. We went to Chicago to celebrate him and his new bride, and to toast good times. We told all of our favorite stories for the thousandth time, and we laughed until the wee hours.

And one phrase of ours from college kept coming up again and again:

“Do it for the story.”

Do it for the story was something we said when we needed a push to try something we knew was going to be hard.

Do it for the story was the motivation to be courageous, even when the odds were long.

Do it for the story was a reason to go for it, just because.

We were a pretty grounded group of guys back in college. 95 percent of the time, we did the reasonable thing.

But there was the 5 percent of us that was a little bit crazy, that was willing to try something maybe that shouldn’t be tried. It was the wild card in each of us, and you never knew when it might come out and make one of us try something unexpected. That 5 percent is the reason I ended up in China covering the Olympics, and the reason I ended up in Biloxi in 2012. It’s the 5 percent that — to quote the immortal words of “Risky Business” — made you say, “What the fuck.”

It’s good to be unreasonable. It’s good to push yourself to do crazy things. When you grow up, you learn that it’s so easy to get caught behind walls of your own design. Sometimes, you need to force yourself outside of your day-to-day and do something big, even if you’re not quite sure why you’re doing it in the first place.

So try something crazy. Do something you’re not supposed to do.

Do it for the story.

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That photo of skydivers taking the leap comes via a Creative Commons license and Flickr user Laura Hadden.

How I’d Revitalize Best Buy With One Simple Fix.

Best Buy

This is a little outside my normal sphere of expertise. OK, a LOT outside that sphere of expertise. But still: I was inspired on a trip to the store to write about a way an entire business could do better work. Here’s what I think.

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A few weeks ago, I did something I hadn’t done in years:

I went shopping at Best Buy.

I’m guessing that a lot of readers of this blog haven’t been to Best Buy in years, either. I used to go often. It’s where I bought my first laptop, and where my family used to go to buy music(1) and cables to connect TVs and other electronics. But now I buy my laptops at the Apple Store, my music is all digital, and those cables can be bought cheaply on Amazon(2).

So what’s left to buy at Best Buy?

The one I went to was — to be perfectly blunt — a gigantic, sad husk of the store I remember. This Best Buy sold everything: Computers, phones, DVDs, music, stereo systems, couches, TVs, and even washing machines and dryers. It was as if the Best Buy staff had realized that they weren’t sure what to sell, so they decided to sell it all.

Last week, I wrote about a question we should be asking more often in our work: What’s the problem? What I saw at Best Buy were a series of solutions in search of a problem. Back in the ‘90s, there used to be a huge problem: It was hard to find trustworthy places that sold expensive or complicated electronics. And Best Buy filled that need well! In any city, you knew Best Buy was a good place to buy a big screen TV or the sound system to go with it.

In 2016, that’s not a problem. Anything you used to buy at Best Buy, you probably buy at a higher end store (like an Apple Store) or online.

So what’s the problem in 2016?

Here was my problem, the thing that brought me to that Best Buy a few weeks ago: My car has an ancient sound system, and it was time to install a new stereo that allowed me to plug in an iPod and connect a phone via Bluetooth. Best Buy, it turns out, is still a trustworthy place to handle such a complicated installation.

Here was my Dad’s problem, the thing that brought him to Best Buy last year: He needed a new, cheap laptop, and he trusted Best Buy to sell him one and give him the customer support to install the software he needs on it.

In both cases, Best Buy has a team devoted to helping customers install and use their new electronics: Geek Squad. And for an older generation that uses electronics every day but doesn’t always understand it, Geek Squad — much like their Apple counterparts at the Genius Bar — can actually solve a problem for consumers. They’re a trusted source of knowledge when it comes to professional installation and help on complicated electronics.

Here’s my fix: Rebuild the entire business based on Geek Squad, and the help they can give customers when making an expensive purchase.

At the Best Buy I stepped into, the Geek Squad was hidden in a corner of a huge store. I couldn’t understand why. The Geek Squad is why you’d step into a Best Buy in the first place! Their desk should be front and center in the store, and everything sold at Best Buy should come with the option for Geek Squad help. They should be holding computer classes on programs like Excel or TurboTax in their stores. You should be able to go to BestBuy.com, buy a product, and have it waiting for you 36 hours in store for pickup, with a Geek Squad employee ready to help you set it up. Or you should be able to have a Geek Squad employee personally deliver it to your house for installation.

There’s an opportunity there for Best Buy in 2016. They’d just have to be willing to recognize the problem their customers actually face, and change their business in service of their problem.

Easier said than done. But there is a way.

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That photo of a Best Buy comes via Flickr, Creative Commons, and Mike Mozart.

  1. Read: CDs.
  2. Amazon even makes the cables themselves!

What’s The Problem?

Major League Baseball’s draft is tonight, which has me thinking about “Moneyball,” the best book ever about the way baseball teams are built. I love this one scene from the movie adaptation of “Moneyball,” where the scouts are sitting around the room, trying to figure out how to replace three key stars from the previous year’s team, and the team’s GM — played by Brad Pitt — has his mind on something entirely different:

Grady: We’re trying to solve the problem here, Billy.

Billy Beane: Not like this you’re not. You’re not even looking at the problem.

Grady: We’re very aware of the problem. I mean…

Billy Beane: Okay, good. What’s the problem?

Grady: Look, Billy. We all understand what the problem is. We have to replace…

Billy Beane: Okay, good. What’s the problem?

Grady: The problem is we have to replace three key players in our lineup.

Billy Beane: No. What’s the problem?

Pittaro: Same as it’s ever been. We’ve gotta replace these guys with what we have existing.

Billy Beane: No. What’s the problem, Barry?

Barry: We need 38 home runs, 120 RBI’s and 47 doubles to replace.

Billy Beane: [Billy groans, loudly] The problem we’re trying to solve is that there are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there’s fifty layers of crap, and then there’s us. It’s an unfair game.

Let me bring this around to email for a second. Every time I get to talk with other email marketers about their programs, I keep coming back to that quote: What’s the problem? When you’re on the inside, it’s hard to see what the problem is. You think the issue is that your open rates are too low, or you’re not growing your list fast enough, or your click throughs aren’t where they need to be, or you’re not getting the results you wanted on that A/B test, or whatever. Doesn’t matter.

You’re lost in the weeds. You’re solving the wrong problem.

And what I usually end up asking is: Are your emails any good? Are you delivering something of real value to your subscribers?

To steal a phrase from Steve Martin: You need to “be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Are you that good?

Don’t worry about the rest of the metrics. First you’ve got solve a simple problem: The work you’re producing probably isn’t good enough, and until you make it really, REALLY good, fixing it is the only problem that matters.

It’s not the wake-up call people want to hear, but sometimes it’s the one you need.

What Happens After The Rocket Ship Levels Off?

The rocket ship levels off

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but: I completely agree with Simon Cowell on something.

You remember Simon, of course. He was the loud, controversial judge from “American Idol”, and the reason even I tuned in to see that show’s finales.(1)

Anyway, he said something in an interview with the New York Times last weekend that got me thinking about the way we define failure. He was asked about one of his other shows, “X Factor”, and he said:

“I read a book once about Coke and Pepsi and it was called ‘The Other Guy Blinked.’ And we blinked. We thought 12 million [viewers] was bad. Now, I’m thinking, ‘Christ, if I could launch a show with 12 million today, I’d be a hero.’ But we beat ourselves up so much about it and we changed so many things. The show became unrecognizable. I blame myself, but we made crazy decisions. We didn’t treat it like a hit. We treated it as a failure. I wasn’t aware the market had gone down to that level so quickly. I was in this La-La Land head space of 30 or 40 million and I thought 12 million feels terrible.”

That last sentence is the big one. What must it be like to launch a huge TV hit and still feel like a failure?

It makes sense if you think about where he’s coming from. Simon’s first U.S. hit, “American Idol” once drew 38 million viewers for a finale. But then the numbers dropped, and never fully recovered. Here’s what it looked like, according to Billboard:

American Idol ratings by year

Even into it’s thirteenth season, the show was still drawing big numbers for finales. But it wasn’t what it had been a decade earlier.

Keep that chart in mind for a second. Now look at this:

Upworthy before

That’s a chart that Upworthy, one of the fastest-growing publishers of the decade, showed off publicly in 2014 as they grew from zero to nearly 70 million unique visitors.(2)

Now let’s zoom out for a second:

Upworthy after

That’s what it looks like when you rely entirely on another entity for success — in this case, Facebook — and then that business changes they way they do business. Facebook changed their algorithm, and Upworthy went from 70 million uniques to 50 million uniques, and kept dropping. Afraid that they could go from 70 million to nothing just as fast as they’d gone from 0 to 70, Upworthy changed their publishing strategy, and then changed it again. Now they’re doing what a lot of media companies — including BuzzFeed, where I work — are doing: Following the lead of distribution channels and hoping that the Facebooks and Snapchats of the world take us all to profitability. We’ll see how that strategy plays out over the next 3-5 years.

But what I’m most interested in is what happens to the people on the inside when a rocket ship like Upworthy starts to level off. That’s where Simon’s quote comes to mind. Read it again:

“We didn’t treat it like a hit. We treated it as a failure. I wasn’t aware the market had gone down to that level so quickly. I was in this La-La Land head space of 30 or 40 million and I thought 12 million feels terrible.”

“American Idol” was a rocket ship, too. It grew from nothing into a national phenomenon. But it didn’t last forever. The numbers dropped, and “Idol” merely became a big and hugely profitable TV show — merely a big and hugely profitable TV show! — not a supernova.

It’s all about perspective, though. What “Idol” built — and “X Factor” did, too — was a huge success, but from the inside, it clearly didn’t feel like that. And when you’re on a rocket ship like “Idol” or Upworthy, or the one I’m still on at BuzzFeed, it’s all about perspective. They’re about understanding that the ride up doesn’t last forever, that leveling off can be a normal course correction, that from where you stand — 12 million viewers, 50 million unique visitors, whatever — you’ve still built something impressive. You might feel like you’re losing ground because you’re not meeting your own expectations, and then you look around and realize where you actually are.

Maybe it’s not the up-up-up ride you thought, but you’ve still reached rarified air.

One last anecdote, from one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Todd Snider. I saw him tell a story once about Hootie and the Blowfish, a band he opened for back in the ‘90s. He talked about how their first album sold 16 million copies. Their second sold 3 million. Their third sold a million. They were a rocket ship that burned out. People called them a failure.

And it’s at this point in the story that Snider said, “Their third album still sold a MILLION copies! Sign me up for that kind of failure!”

It’s worth saying again: After “Idol” started to fail as a show, it still ended up running for 15 years. Simon Cowell launched two more hit shows. Upworthy is one of the biggest publishers in the world. Hootie sold several million albums. Darius Rucker went on to win a Grammy.

Yeah, sign me up for that kind of failure.

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That photo of a rocket comes via SpaceX and Unsplash.

  1. I still stand by my Ruben Studdard vote.
  2. I’m going to pick on them for a second not because I dislike them — I actually think they’re doing really good work! — but because their last 4 years have been so well documented.