All posts by Dan Oshinsky

Keep On The Sunny Side.

It’s that time of the year when I’m spending a lot of my time watching playoff hockey. I write about it pretty much every year. Last year, I wrote about how every new opportunity gives us an opportunity to rewrite our story. The year before, I wrote about chasing the action, and learning when to find space for yourself to work. The year before that, I talked about learning how to go 100% in everything you do.

And while the hockey post changes every year, one thing never seems to change: The results for my favorite team, the Washington Capitals.

To put it simply: We’ve lost in more painful ways than I care to recount.

And yet, as I wrote last fall: I’m a sports optimist. Even tonight, with my Caps in a make-or-break game on the road, I believe.

It’s just what I do. I’m the kind of guy who looks at a bad situation and tries to see the opportunity, not the let down. Even in rough times, I try to find the upside.

I’ve found it to be a powerful way to live. From optimism springs joy — and nothing in life is quite as wonderful as those brief moments of joy. I’m not sure I’d be able to recognize those moments if I didn’t stay so positive.

That’s not to say I don’t get frustrated or upset — I do. But I’m always looking for the sunny side. Experts say there’s even a health benefit to positivity: Positive people may actually live longer.

The New York Times has a few good ideas for turning from a negative thinker into a positive one, including:

  • Do good things for other people.
  • Develop and bolster relationships.
  • Learn something new.
  • Practice resilience.
  • Practice mindfulness.

I’d add to that: Learn from the past, but leave it there. Failure gives you experience; letdowns breed humility. But you can’t let the past burden you forever. If you can stay positive, you might just find a way to move on and seize the next opportunity.

Which, as far as my hockey team is concerned, means one thing: Tonight, and always, I’ll believe.

Just Tell Me What’s Going On.

airplane sunrise

Here’s something I’ve discovered about managing a team that I learned at — of all places — the airport:

We’ve all been on a flight that gets delayed. Maybe you’re at the gate, still waiting to board. Or you’re on the plane already, and there’s going to be a delay. I’ve discovered there are two types of airline crews in that situation:

1) The Crew That’s Vague About What’s Happening — They tell you, “It’ll just be a minute” or “We’re just waiting on one thing, it shouldn’t be that long” — even if that’s not really the case.

2) The Crew That’s Overly Transparent — They tell you exactly what’s happening (sometimes in great detail, even if most of the passengers don’t understand the airport-speak) and how long it’s going to take before you get moving.

And 100 times out of 100, I’d prefer the second crew.

Why?

At an airport, transparency means one thing: Knowing what shit is about to hit the fan before it hits.

It means that if there’s going to be a delay due to weather or mechanical failure, you want to know what’s happening and how it’s going to affect your plans. With the second type of crew, you’re informed: You know that you’re going to be stuck on the tarmac for an extra 20 minutes because the pilot said, “We’ve gotten moved to 15th for departure, so it’s going to be a 20-minute wait,” and then he checked back 15 minutes later to say, “We’re 5 minutes away, sorry for the delay!” I’ve been on that flight before — even though they’re upset about the delay, passengers usually seem pretty calm when they know everything that’s going on.

I’ve also been on a flight where the crew is way too vague — and I’ve seen how panicked and frustrated passengers can get when they feel like they’re not being told the whole story.

Here’s what it means for a leadership role: In most cases, if you can be overly transparent, you should be. Just by saying, “This is something that might be hard to hear, but I’m going to share it with you anyway because you should hear it from me first”, you’re accomplishing two goals: You’re building trust with your team, you’re making sure your team isn’t surprised by bad news.

Don’t let shit hit the fan first. Get out in front of it — even if it’s an uncomfortable conversation. When everyone has all the information they need, it’s much easier for all parties to talk about what happens next.

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That photo,“#sunrise #tampa #airport”, by Mighty Travels is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Don’t Forget To Enjoy The Ride.

A post shared by BuzzFeed Marketing (@buzzfeedx) on

There are days at BuzzFeed when I have to stop to remind myself: Can you believe you’ve been a part of this thing?

We’ve grown so much and we’ve grown so fast — from 30 million unique visitors to more than 200 million, and more than a billion page views per month. I’d argue that we’re one of the most successful media startups ever. And somehow, I ended up with a seat on this insane ride.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get to work at a place like BuzzFeed again. How many times can you step onto a rocket ship just before it takes off? I’ve been lucky to work with smart, curious, and talented people. I’ve gotten to work with leaders who’ve been able to see what’s around the corner in media just a bit faster than everyone else. I can’t even believe how much I’ve grown in my 4+ years here.

Which is why I have to remind myself to enjoy it. There are days when I get bogged down in work or politics. There are days when I don’t feel the joy of coming to the office. There are days when it’s just another job.

And those are the days when I have to remind myself: Dan, you’re working at one of the most remarkable places in media. You’ve been a part of growing this thing into the company it is today. And who knows if you’ll ever get to be a part of something like this ever again?

So: Enjoy it. Pitch big ideas. Work with people you may never get to work with again. Ask for what you want.

Enjoy it, because the ride will end one day — and you don’t want to look back and wonder if you left something undone.

Five People You Meet In Every Office.

lego firefighters

Baseball season begins next week, and there’s buzz around the league about one player and his potential impact on the game.

The player is Andrew Miller, a relief pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. Miller is one of the best in baseball: He’s unhittable on the mound, and teams rarely eke out runs against him. For decades, a pitcher like Miller would have been moved into the closer role. With the Indians winning a tight game in the 9th inning, Miller would have been the one to get the final three outs.

Except that in Cleveland’s run to the World Series last fall, Indians manager Terry Francona didn’t use Miller as a closer. Francona realized what statisticians had been saying for years: that you want to use your best pitcher at the moment when the game is most in doubt. It’s what’s known as a high-leverage situation. If it’s the 5th inning, your team’s up by 1, but the opponent has runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out, the next few pitches might decide the game. Instead of holding your best pitcher for the 9th inning, use him right then, when the game’s on the line.

Baseball has a term for pitchers who enter games in those middle-inning pressure situations: The fireman. If you desperately need to get outs, and there’s no room for error, bring in the fireman, and let him put out the fire.

And it’s not just baseball that has that sort of job. Every office has a firefighter — and one of these four other roles, too:

The Politician — They’re the ones building coalitions at your office, trying to use their networking skills to launch big projects. They’re in every meeting, talking, listening, and trying to broker deals. They’re the ones who get the credit when their teams bring something to launch, and they’re the ones who might get the axe if things go south. Great politicians can inspire teams to take on huge challenges; bad ones leave turmoil and confusion in their wake.

The Firefighter — They’re the ones who get called in to put out the biggest fires at an office. If a deal goes horribly wrong; if a team goes off the rails; or if turf wars sprout up, they’re the ones who come in to handle the problem. They’re fixers. They can keep a bad situation from escalating even further, and they’re the ones who can put an end to something when you need it most.

The Garbageman — There’s always grunt work to be done at an office, those unglamorous tasks that just need to get finished for a team to complete a project. It’s nobody’s favorite work to do, but if it doesn’t get taken care of, the work piles up and nothing big gets done. The garbageman is always there to make sure those tiny-but-important tasks get done.

The Construction Worker — Taking an idea and turning it into something real takes a lot of labor. The construction workers are the ones who build the systems and processes to make those visions a reality. They put in a lot of work and are often most responsible for making things happen — even if the politicians get most of the credit.

The Teacher — Every office needs someone who can help teams get better at their jobs. For employees to improve their skill sets, or for managers to grow into leaderships role, you need teachers to develop those skills. Teachers come in all shapes — mentors, coaches, managers, leaders — but no office can grow without teachers to aid in that development.

If you look around your office, you’ll notice these roles in action. Think for a second: Who’s the woman at your office who always knows how to handle the diciest situations? Who’s the guy who takes care of the little tasks on a project? Who’s the one who’s always there to offer coaching and support?

Now think: Which one are you?

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Those Lego firefighters are from the photo “Fire brigade” by mac_filko, and licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Everyone Has Ideas.

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 9.30.33 PM

I have a lot of ideas. They’re not always good ideas — but I always have ideas.

I wrote about my approach to ideas back in 2012:

“The challenge, it turns out, isn’t coming up with good ideas. It’s deciding which of them is worth pursuing and working on.”

In that same post, I laid out 25 ideas I had. A few were pretty good. Some were ideas that I never actually expected to try out, like this one:

TV Dinners That Were On TV — A website featuring recipes that you saw your favorite characters make on TV. Kevin’s mom on ‘The Wonder Years’ and Betty on ‘The Flintstones’ always seemed to be cooking up awesome dishes, and here, we’d try to figure out how to make them.”

Fast forward five years, and I’m scrolling through my feed when this headline pops up:

binging with babish headline

This guy on YouTube had the same idea — but executed on it so much better than I ever could have. His videos are simple in concept, but produced in a way that’s almost hypnotic. They’re really fun to watch.

I’ll confess: The first few times I saw someone launch an idea that I’d also had, it was maddening. Why didn’t I make that? I’d ask myself. Why wasn’t I first?

But as I get older, I realize that what I wrote back in 2012 is still true: The challenge with ideas is deciding which ones to build or produce. As I wrote back then: “Ideas are only worth so much. Execution’s really what matters.”

You can’t make everything. But it is fun to see someone else turn a weird idea into something so fantastic. I’m adding “Binging with Babish” to my YouTube subscriptions — I hope he’ll be cooking up one of those “Flintstones” brontosaurus ribs soon.

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The day after I published this post, Animal Planet announced that another one of the ideas from that 2012 blog post — a weight loss show for pets — was becoming a reality, too. (These things come in threes, so if someone launches the I’m On Dayquil Gmail plugin next week, please let me know.)

Ask For A Little More.

salary negotiations

Last week, I wrote about a big mistake I made when I was first interviewing at BuzzFeed: I didn’t talk to colleagues and mentors about the role, so I incorrectly estimated the value of the job. In the end, I accepted an offer for less money than I should have.

And a few days after writing that post, I realized that I left a key part of the negotiating process out. So let’s discuss it here:

Let’s say you’re about to get the offer. You’ve talked to your network. You’ve figured out what you want to ask for. You’ve done some research online for salary ranges. You’ve asked for your number, and you’ve gotten the offer.

You should go back and ask for a little more.

That HR lead you’re dealing with? They’ve been authorized to give you more money already. It’s probably not a ton of money — depending on the size of the offer, it might be anywhere from 5-10% more. But if you ask for a little more, you’re likely to get it.

How do you actually approach that conversation? You could try an approach like this:

“I’m really excited to work here, and I know that I will bring a lot of value. I appreciate the offer at $58,000, but was really expecting to be in the $65,000 range based on my experience, drive and performance. Can we look at a salary of $65,000 for this position?”

Or:

“I’ve done some research and I see the salary range for comparable positions is $45,000 to $55,000. I think what would be fair for me is $50,000.”

Or:

“I realize you have carefully considered how much you think this job is worth. As we discussed in our interview, I believe I can do this job [more profitably, more efficiently, more quickly, more effectively] by doing [such and such]. For these reasons, I believe my contribution on this job would be worth between $X-$Y in compensation…. Are you open to discussing this?”

Several of my co-workers even referenced Sheryl Sandberg in their negotiations, and got more money.

Yes, it can feel a little awkward asking for more. But they’re almost certainly not going to pull an offer because you asked, and in most cases, they’ve already built in a little wiggle room to offer you more. So go back and ask.

And if they genuinely can’t offer you more: Ask for something else! Ask for more vacation days. If the company offers stock options, ask for more stock. You can even ask to do your next salary review on an advanced timeline. At BuzzFeed, I negotiated my first review 6 months into the job — and ended up getting a five-figure salary bump at that mid-year review.

Ask for a little more. If you don’t, you’re leaving money on the table.

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That drawing at top is called the “Payment of Salaries to the Night Watchmen in the Camera del Comune of Siena, anonymous, 1440 – 1460” by anonymous. It’s licensed under CC0 1.0.

Talk To Your Friends.

“Two men in Conversation”

We’re interviewing candidates for a new member of my team right now — exciting, I know! And that’s gotten me thinking about what I wish I knew when I was on the other side of the table, trying to get that offer.

I’ve written before about things recent grads should be doing to get an offer:

Let’s add another to this list: Utilizing your network of peers.

When I was interviewing at BuzzFeed, I was wading into brand new territory. I’d never worked at a start-up like that before. I didn’t have a good sense of how much they’d pay, what my hours would be like, or whether or not their offer of stock options was something I should take seriously.(1)

I’d made this mistake once before: In the final months of my senior year at Mizzou, I’d been offered the chance to run a blog network, and I turned out it down without talking to my network. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized the size of the opportunity I’d refused. As I wrote back in 2012:

What I’ve learned since is the importance of a really good conversation. You need people who can advise you, guide you and — most importantly — ask the kind of questions that will help lead to you the right answers. When you have an opportunity, talk about it with smart people. It’s amazing how a good conversation can really open your eyes to your full potential.

I made a similar mistake with BuzzFeed. I talked mostly to my family during the interview process, and I accepted BuzzFeed’s offer. But I ended up accepting an offer for less than I was worth.

What happened? I didn’t utilize my network correctly. I should have also been talking to:

1) Colleagues a few years older than me — They could have told me more about what to expect from a growing company like this, and helped me understand how to approach a difficult salary conversation.

2) Peers my age — They could have told me more about what they were making doing similar jobs in the same city, and made sure I understood how much I really needed to make to live in New York.(2) That would have helped me set a salary floor for the negotiations.

Why didn’t I talk to my network? Honestly, I was just a little nervous about bothering people. I was worried that it might sound like bragging if I told them about the exciting new offer I had on the table. I was scared that they wouldn’t want to open up about their personal experiences.

I was wrong on all counts.

Five years later, let me offer this simple advice: You should always ask for help. Utilize every resource you have to make sure you get the best offer at the right company.

This is your career. You should never be afraid to ask for the help you need to get it right.

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That drawing at top is called “Two men in Conversation” by Hans Schliessmann (German, Mainz 1892–1920 Vienna). It’s part of The Metropolitan Museum of Art collection, and is licensed under C0 1.0.

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  1. Looking back, I definitely should have.
  2. More than I ever would have guessed!

Write It In Reverse.

jamie-saw-26902

The class of 2017 is going to graduate in a few weeks. They’re going to be ambitious, and they’re going to be ready to go from 0 to 60 in their careers. (I know I expected to hit the ground running.) But careers don’t move quite that fast.

When I talk to recent grads and explain the first decade of my journalism career, it makes a lot of sense:

  • In 2008, I covered the Olympics for a big paper and did a ton of blogging.
  • In 2009, I graduated and started working on the digital side at a TV station.
  • In 2010, I quit my job to build Stry.us and write about the five-year anniversary of Katrina.
  • In 2011, I got the fellowship at Mizzou to keep growing Stry.us.
  • In 2012, I launched a bunch of new projects, created my first newsletters, and grew the Stry.us team.
  • In 2013, I used that experience launching newsletters to start a career at BuzzFeed as their first newsletter guy.
  • In 2014, we grew newsletters, built out a marketing strategy, and started growing the team.
  • In 2015 and 2016, we launched a ton of new projects, kept hiring, and really figured out the marketing side of things.

And looking back, there’s a very clear path! There’s the big arc: I’m a guy who launches digital projects and grows teams. There’s the common thread through every year: Being able to use my writing skills, whether it’s for telling stories, writing newsletters, or creating good marketing copy.

But I’ll tell you this: In real time, my career didn’t make sense at all. I had no idea where all of this was taking me, and definitely never expected to land here at BuzzFeed. That I’ve gotten here is a wonderful, happy accident.

I’ll quote you Joe Walsh, the guitarist for the Eagles, who — quite surprisingly, I should say! — explains this phenomenon well:

“You know, there’s a philosopher who says, ‘As you live your life, it appears to be anarchy and chaos, and random events, nonrelated events, smashing into each other and causing this situation or that situation, and then, this happens, and it’s overwhelming, and it just looks like what in the world is going on. And later, when you look back at it, it looks like a finely crafted novel. But at the time, it don’t.’”

And he’s right! In real time, it’s chaos. It’s only in looking back that it makes sense.

So here’s my advice to the class of 2017: Think about writing your career in reverse. Visualize where you want to be in five years, and ask yourself:

What would I need to do in year 4 to be able to make the leap to that dream role in year 5?

Would would I need to do in year 3 to get to year 4?

What about in year 2?

And ultimately: What do I need to do in that first year after graduation to get started on that path?

I had no plan, so I stumbled around and accidentally ended up here. (I’ve said it before: I’m lucky to be lucky.)  But maybe you can work smarter: Start with the dream role, and then reverse engineer a potential career path to get to that dream. Create the mile markers you’ll use to measure success. And don’t get frustrated when you career veers in a different direction — things never go as planned!

No, you’re probably not going to get that dream job as a reporter at the big daily paper or website just yet — but maybe you can in five years. Instead, start planning out the path, and then get working to take that first step on your 5-year plan.

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That photo of stairs — the path upwards, I suppose — comes via Jamie Saw and was first published on Unsplash.

Try Not To Be Stupid.

charlie-munger

I’ve written lovingly about Warren Buffett before(1) — I’m a fan. And any follower of Buffett’s will tell you that they’re also a fan of his right-hand man, Charlie Munger. Munger has been as important to the rise of Berkshire Hathaway as Buffett himself. And he might be an even better quote than Buffett.

A friend sent me one the other day, from Munger’s 1989 letter to shareholders of the Wesco Financial Corporation.(2) In it, Munger dove into the idea of taking risk. He said that taking big risks for short-term gains — particularly by acquiring other companies — is a foolish move:

“Wesco continues to try more to profit from always remembering the obvious than grasping the esoteric. It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.”

That’s not to say Munger wouldn’t ever take risks. He wrote:

“Wesco would cheerfully invest $75 million tomorrow, with a 60% chance of total loss, provided the pay-off for winning was large enough to cause statistical expectation to provide a handsome return.”

So what’s the lesson here? Understand who you are and what you do best, and manage risk. It’s okay to bet big sometimes — as long as you understand the size of the opportunity and the amount of risk involved.

Otherwise, Munger’s advice was simple: Try not to be stupid! Yes, he wrote, it’s a strategy that “is bound to encounter periods of dullness.” But it also works in the long-term.

Munger wrote that letter in 1989. Today, he’s worth $1.48 billion. Maybe we should heed his advice.

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That photo of Munger was taken by Nick Webb, and re-used here thanks to a Creative Commons license.

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  1. See here, here, here and here.
  2. Berkshire owned them, though Munger served as CEO and Chairman of the board.

The Rules Don’t Apply.

3-dots

Imagine you’ve got a pencil in your hand, and I give you this challenge: Using four continuous straight lines, without picking up your pencil, what’s the best way to draw a line through every one of those nine dots?

I’ll give you a second.

If you try to go around the outside first before cutting to the middle, that’s five lines. If you try starting in the top left, then going to bottom right, and then up and over and… well, that’s far more than four.

The issue most people have with this puzzle is that they — without even realizing it! — try to stay within the boundaries of the dots. But there’s no rule against going outside the dots. Nobody’s going to stop you from trying something like this:

3-dots-4-lines

And if there really are no rules(1), who’s to say you can’t solve the puzzle with just three lines, like this?

3-dots-3-lines

The challenge isn’t in thinking outside the box — it’s thinking entirely without a box! It’s about thinking without any boundaries or rules. Nobody’s going to stop you from trying something unexpected or different. The solutions you’re looking for don’t have to be elegant — they just have to work.

Here’s your permission to break a few rules today. There’s always another way to do the work you want to do.

  1. Channel your inner Ferris Bueller! Only the meek get pinched!