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.