All posts by Dan Oshinsky

You Can Quit When You Have A Good Day.

On Saturday, I was in midtown for a Cycle for Survival ride.(1) I heard some incredible speeches that day — including one from Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Nastia Liukin.

She told this great story. She said that when she was a kid, she’d come home after a bad day and try to quit gymnastics, but her mom wouldn’t let her. “You can quit,” her mom would say, “but you can’t quit until after you’ve had a good day.”(2)

So she’d go back to the gym day after day, until she finally had a good day. And on that good day, she’d come home, and her mom would see the smile on her face. ”OK,” her mom would ask her. “Do you still want to quit now?”

Of course, Liukin wouldn’t — and she went on to become one of the most decorated Olympians in U.S. gymnastics history.

I listened to that story and nodded along the whole time. You’ve probably experienced it, too: Things are never as quite bad as they seem on your worst days, and never quite as good as they feel on your best days. But sometimes, when you’re in a lull, you find little ways to dig yourself out and get back to a better place. It’s easy to want to give up when things are bad. It’s much harder to be resilient enough to keep pushing through with the work you need to do.

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That very shaky GIF was the view from my bike at last week’s Cycle ride.

  1. If you’ve got the chance to be a part of one, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It was SO inspiring.
  2. Both of her parents were gymnasts, so they may have known a thing or two about tough days at the gym.

Things Change Quickly.

I’m just old enough to remember the artifacts of the recent past. I remember computers with MS-DOS and floppy disks. I remember the first time I saw an iMac in my elementary school’s computer lab. I remember the dial-up sound. I remember when the librarians at my middle school showed us how to use Google. I remember my first iPod (2005), my first Kindle (2008), my first iPad (2010), and my first iPhone (2018 — I was a little late to the game). I remember standing on a street corner in Pittsburgh in 2016 and seeing one of Uber’s driverless cars drive past.

Of course, I also remember where I was in 2004, the last time Justin Timberlake played the Super Bowl halftime show: at home, watching with a group of friends on the couch. I remember that only two of us actually noticed the famous moment with Timberlake and Janet Jackson: My friend, Ani, and my mother, both of whom immediately said, “Did anyone else just see her nipple?” (I completely missed it.)

And here’s the thing about 2004: We didn’t have a DVR or a TiVo at the Oshinsky house. (I don’t think we had a DVD player yet, tbh.) There was no social media to confirm what we’d seen. There was no YouTube — watching video on the internet was still a pretty rare thing. There were no TV replays, obviously, of the moment, and it would have been a while before any news organization had a story online about the moment. (Also, fun fact: This particular halftime show was sponsored by AOL!)  I remember was my mother calling her friends on the phone, asking if they’d seen what she had seen, and then reading about it in the paper the next morning, and then watching “PTI” the next night, knowing that they’d probably be the only place that would be talking about the moment and showing (highly censored) video of it.

That was 14 years ago. Why does it feel like forever ago?

I wrote about that phenomenon last year, in a post about smartphones and Shazam:

“If you would have told me in 2005 that one day, there would be a magical, mobile device that could listen to and identify songs on the radio, I would have been amazed. That was something that could only happen… in the future!

The future, it turns out, is happening right now. In the dozen years since I couldn’t remember the name of a ZZ Top song, nearly everything that exists in our day-to-day lives has changed. The technology, the tools, the resources — it’s all changed.

In just a dozen years.

And I cannot imagine what we’ll have at our fingertips in the year 2029. The changes, I’m sure, will astound all of us.”

If the “wardrobe malfunction” had happened today, we would have known immediately. We would have replayed it on our TV. We would have gone on Twitter to see GIFs of the moment. We would have read nearly instantaneous reactions and commentary on the web. By the time the game was over, we would have logged onto Instagram to see memes of the moment — and targeted ads selling T-shirts about it, or his-and-her Halloween costumes featuring Janet and Justin.

I have no idea what will happen tonight, but I’m sure of this: Whatever does happen, a decade from now, we’ll look back on it the way we look back on 2004, and wonder: Was that really how things were back then? What happens in 2018 will soon feel like forever ago, too.

Make The Hockey Assist.

Here’s something I love about team sports: Credit’s given not just to the person who scores, but also the players who set up the score. In basketball, an assist is only given to the player who makes the pass that leads to a basket. But in hockey, there’s also a secondary assist, given to the player who makes the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the goal.

Here’s what it looks like in action, as illustrated by my Washington Capitals:

The whole play is set up by #19, Nick Backstrom. He draws two defenders to the center of the ice, then makes the pass to #8, Alex Ovechkin. But because Backstrom’s already drawn the defense in, the goalie and defense have to be extra aggressive in defending against a shot from Ovechkin. Instead, Ovi surprises everyone by passing back to the middle of the ice, where #2, Matt Niskanen has a tap-in at the empty net.

It’s a beautiful goal — but none of it is possible without the play from Backstrom. The pass that led to the pass set up an easy goal.

I love the hockey assist. It’s a reminder that the big play often isn’t possible without a lot work first to set things up.

When you’re a manager, a lot of your job is making hockey assists, and trying to set up the conditions for success. That might mean getting your team the resources — technology, money, additional team members — do to work. It might mean setting the goals or giving your team the training so that they can do their work. It might mean figuring out a way to divvy up tasks so that your team can focus on doing something big.

You might not get the credit for your team’s win, but that’s OK. Being a manager isn’t about getting credit — it’s about putting your team in position to do its best work.

So make the  hockey assist — and set your team up for success.

5 Tips For Anyone Graduating From College This Year.

So you’re graduating in May, and you’re not ready for it. I remember the feeling — I wasn’t ready when I graduated from Mizzou in 2009. I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for in a first job!

But now I’m on the other side of the table. I’ve hired entry-level employees at both BuzzFeed and Stry.us — young reporters and editors just like you. Here’s what I’ve learned that might help you get that very first job:

1) Buy your own domain name — When someone gets your resume, the first thing they’re going to do is Google your name. And if you’re pitching an organization on your digital skills, you need something better than yourname.wix.com. Go to domainr.com and search for your name. If you can buy yourname.com, do it. If that’s taken, try something that fits your career aspirations: yournamereports.com, byyourname.com, yournamestories.com, etc. Build a website that showcases your reporting, and make it easy for someone to contact you. (You wouldn’t believe how many people build websites with no contact information!)

2) Launch something — Whatever you’re passionate about, build something around it. It doesn’t matter if it’s good — in fact, whatever you try probably won’t be very good at first — but that’s OK! Create an Instagram around your original photography. Partner with a friend and launch a podcast. Create a TinyLetter around stories you’re reading, and send it every week to your family and friends. Just make something.

3) Make sure your resume doesn’t suck — If you’ve got a skills section, go ahead and get rid of it. (Otherwise, I’m going to ask you about your expertise in the Microsoft Office suite, and you better have a mind-blowing PowerPoint presentation you can send me on the spot.) Instead, go build those skills into every bullet on your list. I want you to tell me about the stuff you’ve done and the stories you’ve told. I want to see numbers: The number of stories you published at a particular outlet, the impact you had an organization. “Handled social media” is an OK line on a resume; “Helped grow our Twitter presence by 10,000 followers” is far better.

4) Start scheduling some 15-minute coffees — When you’re in a city with reporters, editors, producers, or leaders you respect, send them a quick note. (hunter.io is a great tool for finding professional email addresses.) Tell them you’re a college student, you’re going to be in their city, you’re a big fan of their work, and you’d like to bring coffee to their desk and ask them 3-4 questions. (Make sure you have really good questions!) You’d be surprised how often people will say yes when they know that, A) Their time won’t be wasted, and B) They don’t have to leave their office.

5) Buy stationery, and send thank you notes — When you’re done with a coffee, send that person a written thank you note. Not an email, not a DM — a thank you note. It’s a small gesture, but it’ll be noticed.

Good luck, soon-to-be grads. You’re graduating into a strong job market, with so many new tools that can be used to tell stories. You’re going to have some incredible opportunities ahead of you. It’s up to you to do something with it.

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Thanks to Cole Keister for making that graduation photo available on Unsplash.

How To Do Better Work, Faster.

Here’s something I’ve been told: You can do work well, or you can do work quickly — but you can’t do both.

I don’t think that’s true.

I believe you can learn how to do quality work with speed. The way to get there is through process.

If routines are the habits that individuals use to get through their day efficiently, then processes are the series of routines that a team uses to accomplish a goal quickly. Think of those processes as an assembly line of tasks — each member of the team has a specific set of responsibilities within that process. The goal is handle those tasks as quickly as possible, and move things along to the next person to handle their role. If everyone does their job, good work gets done quickly.

When you’re building out a team, you’re doing more than just hiring. You’re actually building out the processes for that team to do its work. And every time those processes get put into action, you start to see the gaps — what isn’t covered, what needs refining. There are always holes to plug, and always ways to move through the tasks more efficiently.

When things go wrong, sit down with your team and talk about your setbacks: What happened last time? What got lost in the process? What do we need to do better? Who can own those new tasks?

Over time, by creating these processes and putting them into practice, and by tweaking the processes when things go wrong, you start to accomplish quality work quickly.

Here’s what I believe: You can’t go fast when you’re working alone, and you can’t go fast when you’re working with a group but not truly working together.

But when you build out those series of steps to work together, you can do quality work, and you can do it with speed. That’s the power of process.

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That photo of a crew team — each with a key role in the process to make their boat move as fast as possible — was taken by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash,

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.

Everyone Needs A Good Editor.

A few weeks ago, I flew to Australia to give a talk about email, and I flew down on Fiji Airways.(1)

Ever since, I haven’t stopped thinking about the flight map in their in-flight magazine. I’ve always been fascinating by these route maps — I recently discovered a Tumblr dedicated to old airline maps, and wasted a few hours browsing through maps from the past. But the Fiji Airways map was a little different.

At first glance, everything seems pretty ordinary.

But when you zoom in on the North American section of the map, you start to notice something: It’s wrong.

Toronto is basically at the Northwest Passage. Chicago, Indianapolis, and Salt Lake are in Canada. Raleigh is in Baltimore, Charlotte and Phoenix are in the Midwest, and Reno is in Portland. St. Louis added an “e” to its name and moved to the Bay Area.

I don’t know how the map ended up this inaccurate — but it really could have used a good editor.

I used to think that editors were just for catching big mistakes — like the ones on this map. But really great editors do more than that. They can also help shape the projects you’re working on. They’re people to bounce ideas off of, and people who can challenge your point of view. They’re there for typos, yes, but also partners to help turn your work into something amazing.

You don’t have to go it alone. Find an editor, a mentor, a partner — someone to work with on your ideas. Whatever you’re making, a great editor can help you make it better.

As for Fiji Airways: If you need an editor for this map, I’m happy to help. All I’ll need is two first-class tickets back to Fiji and a week or two off work to help you get this one right, OK? :-)

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  1. I should say: Their customer service was excellent. I’d absolutely recommend them if you’re flying to that part of the Pacific.