Tag Archives: advice you didn’t ask for

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!

Is There Anything Else I Haven’t Asked About?

ask more questions, by Jonathan Simcoe

There’s a trick that I learned in journalism school that more people should know about. It’s simple: If you’re interviewing a source, ask your questions. Listen carefully, and ask follow-up questions.

And before you end the interview, ask one final question: Is there anything else you want to discuss that I haven’t asked about?

You’d be shocked at how often people say yes. Sometimes, they really want to get something off their chest, but they’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to speak up. So it’s up to you to open the door for them.

This works outside of interviews, too. I’ve found that as a manager, in a 1-to-1 check-in with a direct report, it’s always worth asking, “Is there anything else going on that you want to talk about?” They don’t always have something to say. But when they do want to talk, it’s often something important. And you can use this technique in larger meetings, too, to make sure teams are talking about things that matter to them.

The lesson: Keep the conversation going a little bit longer. You don’t know what you’ll discover until you ask.

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That photo at top was taken by photographer Jonathan Simcoe, and first published on Unsplash.com.

Take Care Of Yourself, OK?

dog

We’re dogsitting this week for a neighbor’s dog. Her name is Lexi. She is — and I have told her this about 10,000 times already — a very, very good girl.

This happens to be a particularly good week for us to be taking care of a 10-pound ball of fluff who basically only wants to chase a tiny Chewbacca toy around the house. She does not care what happened last week with the election. She does not care about any sort of stress in my life. She wants to play fetch, and she wants to have her belly rubbed, and she wants to nap.

Just having her around the house these past few days has made me feel so much better. I love having routines and sticking to routines — but in a week like this, it’s been nice to break my routine so I can adjust to Lexi’s schedule. She wants to be walked early in the morning and late at night, and getting out at odd hours has given me lots of time to think. It’s been really wonderful.

Most weeks, I write about work and productivity on this blog. I don’t usually write about self-care. But self-care does matter. If you’re going to do great work, you need to find ways to take care of yourself.

I’m far from an expert on self-care — but luckily, my co-workers on the BuzzFeed News team can help. I wanted to share a few things they’ve written in the last 10 days that might help you, too:

• 17 Resources For Anyone Who Isn’t OK Right Now

• 8 Ways To Challenge Your Anxious Thoughts And Actually Feel Better

• 10 Tips From Psychologists About Coping With Your Anger Right Now

And if you’re looking to do something for others today: 27 Productive Things You Can Do If You’re Upset About The Election.

There will be more days to do the work. But this weekend, take care of yourself, OK? You owe it to yourself.

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That’s a photo of Lexi the dog. (Good girl! You’re such a good girl!)

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!

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.

Always Trust Your Cape.

I don’t get worked up much when musicians die. But Guy Clark — a wonderful country singer/songwriter — died today, and I went digging for a great song of his, “The Cape.” Specifically, this lyric:

Well, he’s one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith /
Spread your arms and hold your breath /
And always trust your cape

I love that so much — it’s so full of hope, isn’t it? I remember hearing that song for the first time years ago, driving somewhere in Texas, and absolutely hanging on to the idea. I wasn’t sure that what I wanted to do was the right thing, but I needed to hear from someone else that it was OK to take the leap anyway. And then that song came on the radio, and I clung to that fortune cookie of a chorus.

Thanks for that, Guy. We’ll miss you.

It Takes A Lot To Know A Little.

I’m obsessed with learning about the habits of people I respect.(1) It’s no surprise, but: Great people often have awesome habits.

Take my favorite sports announcer, a guy named Bill Raftery. If you’re a college basketball fan, you know his catchphrases: “Onions!” “With a kiss!” “Send it in, big fella!” Watching a game with him is like watching a game with an old mentor: He knows everything and sees everything, but there’s never a moment where’s he not trying to make you feel comfortable.

The wisdom isn’t just an act. A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal did a profile on Raftery where they revealed the secret behind his madness: A yellow legal pad stuffed with game notes and scouting reports on every team he covers:

Produced while he watches a half-dozen tapes of each team he’s assigned to cover, Mr. Raftery’s one-page, double-sided reports are written in capital letters and a tiny, crowded scrawl. But his 60-odd team reports are also meticulously structured and filled with countless diagrams, notes on player tendencies, strategic predictions and statistics that could only be the work of a person whose life is set to the rhythm of balls bouncing on wood.

The reports “are like the random etchings of John Nash from ‘A Beautiful Mind,’ ” said Ian Eagle, the CBS play-by-play announcer who has worked alongside Mr. Raftery for years. But, Mr. Eagle added, “because his personality is so strong and effervescent, his basketball preparation often gets overlooked.”

This spring, CBS aired a documentary on Raftery, and they showed off his game notes. I couldn’t believe the detail in them.

Bill Raftery's game notes

If anything, the Journal article understated how in-depth he goes with his game prep. His print is tiny, and he squeezes notes into every square inch of those yellow pages. If you watch a Raftery-called game, he won’t bring up 95% of the stuff in his notes.

So why does he do it?

“I think it takes a lot to know a little,” he said in the documentary. “You try and know everything that they do, not to be a know-it-all, but just to be aware.”

It takes a lot to know a little. How great a motto is that? You study and prep for any situation. Most of the prep work will go unnoticed, but that’s OK. Whatever happens, you’ll be ready.

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Now Now NOW.

I’ve written before about one my favorite habits: Sending occasional, out-of-the-blue “Congrats!” or “Thinking of you!” emails, or even calling old friends when I’ve got a free minute just to say hi.

I was thinking of that today while reading an oral history of Prince’s famous guitar solo at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 2004. Says Tom Petty (bolding mine):

It’s funny because just a few days ago, he was in mind all afternoon, I was thinking about him. And I had just been talking with Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles — he wrote their “Manic Monday” song. She was telling me the story of that, of how she came to have that song and meet Prince. And I was thinking about him a lot that day, and I almost told myself I was going to call him and just see how he was. I’m starting to think you should just act on those things all the time.

Say it NOW, do it NOW. You never know.

Little Things You Can Do To Be A Better Team Player.

Office life, Vladimir Kudinov

I got coffee the other day with a friend who’s maybe a year out of college, and we were talking about how her work was going.

You know, she said, I just didn’t understand how hard it would be to adjust to working at an office.

And that’s a common sentiment! I know didn’t understand it either when I started my first job. Working at an office is a little different than working a service job or in education. At an office, you have to learn how to operate within a team and what kind of etiquette is required in the workplace.

Here are seven things I’ve learned over the years about being a good co-worker:

Be on time. — Everyone has the one co-worker who shows up 10 minutes late for everything. Don’t be that co-worker. Being on time means showing up at the assigned time if you’re meeting someone in your office, and 5-10 minutes early if you’re meeting someone outside your office.(1) And if you’re late — make sure to send the email 5-10 minutes before apologizing for your lateness.

Prepare people before the meeting. — Nobody should show up for a meeting and not understand what they’re meeting about. Make sure everyone’s on the same page — and has the necessary documents — before they walk into the meeting. And follow up with actionable next steps after the meeting, too!

Respond to emails/calls within 24 hours. —
If someone writes in asking you to take a specific action, you’ve got 24 hours to respond. After that window, I find that emails sit in the inbox for days and days, and projects stall. Respond quickly, and you’ll become someone co-workers actually want to work with because you have a track record of getting things done quickly.

Deliver on deadline. — This goes hand-in-hand with responding quickly. Be a “get shit done” kind of person, and be someone who sticks to deadlines. When you find out that a co-worker doesn’t finish their work on time, you might be less willing to work with them in the future.

Send friendly emails. — The occasional “Congrats!” email goes a long, long way towards setting a tone for your work. Send those friendly emails!

Ask great questions. — I love working with people who are curious and ask great questions. They’re people who think critically about issues and can push work in interesting and unexpected directions. I always try to work with people who love to ask “Why?” and “How?”

Be honest. — You can earn my respect by doing the work every day. But you can earn my trust by sitting down to have the tough conversations. If you do both, I’ll run through walls for you. Being honest with someone — even if you’re saying “I don’t know” when you don’t have the right answer — is the first step towards building that trust.

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That photo of an office — as viewed from the outside — comes via Unsplash and photographer Vladimir Kudinov.

  1. This is really hard to do, and I’m still trying to get better at it myself.