Make It Work.

oscar-nilsson-13605

If you don’t have all the money you need to build something, you can still make it work.

If you don’t have all the knowledge you need to build something, you can still make it work.

If you don’t have all the time you need to build something, you can still make it work.

It won’t be perfect. It might be far from perfect, to be honest. But find a way to get started. Find a way to make it work.

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That generic desk photo comes via Oscar Nilsson on Unsplash.

A Good Test Starts With A Great Question.

science experiment

Perhaps you’ve run an A/B test before. You wanted to see which would result in more clicks: Headline A vs. Headline B. A red “Click Here!” button vs. a blue “Click Here!” button. A photo of a cat vs. a photo of a dog.

What you’ve done is an optimization test. It’s a simple form of testing — you’re tinkering with the variables to try to find the best possible combination of content.

But when I talk about testing, I’m talking about something different. A test is more than just tweaking stuff at the margins.

A good test starts with a great question.

Right now, I’m asking two really big questions at work:

1) How can we build a big, highly engaged audience through email?

2) How can we convert those readers into paying subscribers to our print or digital editions?

These are complicated questions. To get the answers, we’re going to run dozens of experiments over the coming months. We’ll test out new sign-up funnels to grow our audience; build new designs for our existing newsletters; create original content to live in our emails; launch entirely new newsletter products; and test all sorts of calls to action to see how, when, and why a newsletter subscriber might be willing to pay for access to our premium products.

But it all starts when you ask clear questions. Those questions help set the boundaries for your work, and make clear what you should be focusing on, and what you shouldn’t.

And a few months down the road, once we’ve used these tests to build out the framework to answer these questions, that’s when we’ll get into the nitty gritty of optimizing. We’ll run all sorts of little tests — button colors! subject lines! cats and dogs!(1)— to get to that optimal version.

But first, we have to answer these big questions.

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That photo, “Science experiment” by Zyada, is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

  1. OK, maybe not this one.

My OOO Misadventure.

email ooo

A few months ago, I started thinking about ways to handle email while out of the office. I was getting a lot of email while I was on vacation, and I wanted to figure out a way to, A) Reduce the number of emails in my inbox, and B) Make sure that my co-workers weren’t sitting around and waiting forever for a reply.

That’s when I read this story about a company in Germany that auto-deleted emails sent to employees on vacation. It seemed a little intense, but intriguing. Maybe there was a way, I thought, for me to shut off the email spigot on vacation.

So I dug a little deeper. I read about Huffington Post trying a similar email strategy, and other leaders adopting this auto-delete strategy. They all raved about it. Communicate what you’re going to do, they said, and how you can help them when you get back from vacation. And then try it.

So I did. I reminded my team that I’d be on vacation and not checking email. I wrote an out of office reply explaining that I was on vacation, and declaring email bankruptcy. I’d be deleting my entire inbox when I got back, I said. So I asked co-workers to email me again on a specific date — the day I was returning to the office — and promised that I’d be able to help them quickly if they emailed me on that date.

I turned on the out of office reply, and I went on vacation.

And I got feedback pretty quickly: People hated it. They thought I was acting like a jerk.

And honestly? I couldn’t blame them.

Here’s what I believe: What matters most is not what you say — it’s what others hear.

What I thought I was saying was: Please help me maintain my sanity! Email me when I’m back at work, and I can help you then.

What my co-workers heard was: You clearly don’t value my work or my time.

And they were right! My OOO reply came across as rude, and borderline hostile. Instead of pointing people towards someone who could help, I was shutting the door on them entirely. And at a big company, where I was getting emails from people in other offices (and sometimes in other countries), there were a lot of people who were asking for stuff who didn’t really know me. This might have been one of their first interactions with me — and this was how I was treating them?

The “auto-delete” strategy seemed nice in theory, but at a big company, it didn’t work. (I sent a lot of “I’m so sorry” emails afterwards to apologize to co-workers. I probably spent more time apologizing than I would have spent just replying to my normal, post-vacation inbox.)

So I’m doing something different now. Now, the email you get from me says, “I’m out of the office until (this date). If you need to reach me, text or call my cell at (xxx) xxx-xxxx.” Then I list the contact info for colleagues who can help, and I explain how they can be helpful.

Here’s what I like about my new OOO reply: If someone desperately needs my help, they’ll reach out directly. But most people see it and think, “This can wait.” And they do. If not, they can reach out to a co-worker to get the answers they need. It’s an OOO that’s designed to make sure that others can get the help they need as soon as they need it.

As for the emails: Sure, they pile up a little. I have to take an hour on that first Monday back in the office clearing through my inbox. But if my OOO does its job, most of the emails are about issues that were sorted out while I was gone. I get my vacation, and the office keeps moving forward. That’s a win-win.

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That photo at top, “Email” by Aaron Escobar, is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Here, Read This.

A few weeks ago, I wrote, “When They Zig, You Should Zag”, about trying to find opportunities hidden in plain site. And with that in mind, I wanted to share this fantastic piece from The Ringer about the unusual lessons that the Atlanta Falcons have learned from a cycling team. It’s a fantastic example of how a team is making small improvements — in the way their players sleep, eat, train, and learn — to get better at their work.

>> How a Cycling Team Turned the Falcons Into NFC Champions — The Ringer

After A Disaster, Give Money. (And Only Money.)

I’ll be back soon with the normal blog fare, but for now, here’s a PSA:

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, here’s something to keep in mind: If you want to help those in need, the best way is to donate money.

CBS’s “Sunday Morning” did a fantastic piece about the mountains of donations that arrive after a disaster. After hurricanes, tornadoes, or even mass shootings, donors send water, clothing, toys, and other goods to needy areas. The issue is: There’s nobody to sort through everything once it arrives, no systems to distribute it, and nowhere to store it.

Which is how you end up with relief workers burning piles of donated clothes on the beaches of Indonesia, or officials in Newton, Conn., trying to figure out what to do with 67,000 donated teddy bears.

Here, just watch the story:

If you want to donate to communities in need after Harvey, NPR has an excellent list of places that could use your help.