I stumbled across this quick video featuring career advice from Carla Harris, a vice chairman at Morgan Stanley, and I had to share it. If you’re in your 20s or 30s, take two minutes and listen to her advice.
Her three big points:
1) “You will have the opportunity to have four to five careers — not jobs — over the course of your professional journey.” Which means that every few years, you should be evaluating where you are in your career, and whether or not it’s time to switch fields — or merely switch roles.
2) “There is no substitute for the power of relationships.” About this, she’s 100% right — building relationships is the key to helping you move up in your field.
3) “The way you differentiate yourself in any environment is to show that you’re comfortable taking risks, because it says to the marketplace that you’re comfortable with change.” Everyone is going to experience change in their jobs — so prove now to your bosses that you’re willing to lead your team into and through those changes.
Watch the whole video — it’ll be the best two minutes of your day.
Ladies and gentlemen, faculty and staff, distinguished guests, graduating students from the class of 2017: I’d like to tell you a story about a simpler, more honest time in American history.
The year was 2005.
I remember it like it was… well, about 12 years ago. Was it really only 12 years ago? It feels like longer.
I want you to imagine a young Dan Oshinsky. He’s a senior at a suburban high school outside Washington, D.C. He’s heading soon to journalism school — one day, he’ll write for newspapers! He’s yet to discover hair product. He’s driving his maroon Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight down the highway.
When a song comes on the radio. (Again, it’s 2005.) It’s a song that he knows, and loves.
He can’t remember the name of the song.
But he loves the riff. It goes: Dah-NUH duh duh duh duh dah-NUH nuh nuh.
The song ends, but the radio DJ does not say the same of the song.
So young Dan drives down the highway in his Oldsmobile, singing the riff over and over again, trying to remember the name of the song. He sings: Dah-NUH duh duh duh duh dah-NUH nuh nuh.
But he cannot, for the life of him, remember the name of the song.
He gets home, and he finds his mother, who grew up loving rock music in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Surely, he hopes, she’ll know the name of the song.
Dah-NUH duh duh duh duh dah-NUH nuh nuh, he sings.
And she recognizes the riff immediately… but fails remember the name of the song.
So they call their neighbor, Matt. Matt grew up in rock bands. Still plays in one, in fact. Plays guitar, knows everything there is to know about rock music.
They get Matt on the phone — on his house line, naturally. (Again, the year was 2005.)
Matt, they say, we heard this riff on the radio but can’t remember the name of the song. Do you know it?
And loudly, on speakerphone, they begin to shout: Dah-NUH duh duh duh duh dah-NUH nuh nuh.
And Matt says: Yeah, I know that song! That’s “La Grange”, by ZZ Top.
Matt was right:
I tell you this story tonight, Class of 2017, for a simple reason: That story, from 12 years ago, makes 2005 feel as far away as the the 1980s. It feels like a story from an entirely different era.
In 2005, I was driving around in an Oldsmobile — a car company that no longer exists — with a tape deck — a technology that barely exists — with a flip phone — a product I haven’t used in years. The iPhone wouldn’t exist for another two years, and I wouldn’t discover a music discovery app called Shazam for another five. At that point in my life, I’d never owned an iPod, and the idea of high-speed data being transmitted to cell phones was years away.
So 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.
But there’s the flip side to all this change: Just thinking about the unknown ahead of us can be frightening. How do you prepare yourself for a future you don’t recognize? What are the right careers for such a future? What are the right choices?
I wish I had the answer for you — but I don’t.
Instead, Class of 2017, I have a challenge: No matter what happens in the years ahead, invest in yourselves. College may be over, but push yourself to keep learning. Read a lot. Try new products. Learn new skills. If you work at an office that has a Learning & Development team, take their classes. Don’t be afraid to keep growing your skill set.
In the dozen years ahead, everything in our lives will change again. So don’t be afraid to keep learning — it’s the only way to change with whatever the world throws at us next.
Congrats, Class of 2017, and in the words of ZZ Top: Have mercy.
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.
“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.
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:
And if there really are no rules(1), who’s to say you can’t solve the puzzle with just three lines, like this?
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.