Tag Archives: brief moments of genius

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.


People + Things.

There is a quote that I’ve been carrying around for a few years now. It’s one of the few core things I believe.

My little manifesto goes:

“In this life, find things you love, and people you love, and make time for both.”

Everywhere I’ve gone, it’s worked for me. It’s not exactly the most complicated formula, but it makes sense. And as long as I’ve stuck to it, I’ve been happy.

The “people” part is something that everyone gets. But it’s the “things” part that people misunderstand.

Things have to be passions or hobbies. They have to active. Not necessarily physically active — one of my things is seeing live music, and I see a lot of it — but it has to be you, out in the world, doing something.

If you try to replace activity with the other type of things — your possessions, your stuff — the formula doesn’t really work.

Shopping might make you happy. But just having clothes? Probably not.

Owning a big TV doesn’t really do much. But inviting friends over for movie night on your flat screen? That’ll do.

Look: Good things happen to those who actually do stuff. So be active. Make time for the things and the people you love.

It’s not exactly Gandhi-level thought, but I promise you, it works.

Too Late/Too Soon: The Break.

When do you know that it’s time? The sixth in a month of posts about how I learned to stop worrying, buck up and do the work.

The big break probably came in April 2011, when the University of Missouri decided to award me a fellowship to work on Stry.us. They gave me money to keep working on it, and they gave me time to work on it.

Finally, I felt like I had permission again to work on this big thing. I had the money, I had the time. I had new resources at my disposal. I had no excuses.

The problem, of course, was that I still had no idea what Stry.us was, or what I wanted out of it. Money? Experience? An opportunity to lead?

So the real break came later, when months of idling had brought me to a better realization: I had the time to do whatever I wanted, but I wasn’t going to do it alone. I wasn’t ready to do it alone.

Looking back, I’m amazed that I went so long without help. I can’t believe I tried to do it alone like that. I can’t believe I was crazy enough to try.

I just didn’t know any better, and I was stubborn enough to believe that I could pull it off by myself.

But eventually, time showed me that I had to have others onboard with Stry.us. If I really wanted to do the work, I had to bring other people on board and chase a single goal.

That realization was a huge, huge break.

I’m so thankful for what happened next. Without my team, I’m not sure where the heck I end up. Not here, I’d bet.

Photo of those two paths comes via.

Three Reasons Why Jimmy V’s ESPYs Speech Is Such An Amazing Display of Public Speaking.

“Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” — Jim Valvano

I have seen Jim Valvano’s speech at the ESPYs 100 times now. Maybe more. Probably far more, actually.

I’ve seen it on TV, and I’ve watched it for inspiration on my laptop. I once saw it played on the JumboTron at Madison Square Garden — even the beer vendors stopped for 10 minutes to watch.

It is, simply, one of the most marvelous, most inspiring, most deeply human things I have ever seen.

And for people like me — namely, people who enjoy public speaking — it’s a speech that can be watched over and over. I’ve studied it. I’ve wondered: How does he command a room like that? How does he deliver a speech like that?

Three things stand out to me about the speech:

1. His Poise on Stage — People forget this, but at the start of the speech, Jimmy V tells an opening joke about Dick Vitale — and it bombs! But he presses on. His facial expressions, his voice — they never waver in this speech. He demands attention with his voice, and he commands the stage by moving left to right, pointing at the crowd, throwing his arms around. He owns that stage. He’s got a few scripted lines ready, but mostly, he’s talking off the cuff. That really resonates here.

And when the ESPN cameras try to get him off the stage, and he tells them to screw off? That’s a raw moment in which Jimmy V wins the room. That’s the moment when the speech tips from great to epic.

2. His Use of Rhetorical Devices — He does two great things here. The first is his use of the Rutgers anecdote. It takes up the middle chunk of the speech, but it’s got a killer closing line, and it really humanizes him. For a few minutes, you get to forget that this is a guy who’s dying of cancer. For a few minutes, he’s a coach — speaking to a room of athletes and coaches, and a nation of fans watching on TV.

He also breaks out two great sets of three: “If you laugh, you think, you cry, that’s a full day,” and “[Cancer] cannot touch my mind. It cannot touch my heart. It cannot touch my soul.” Orators know: If you want to connect with someone, do it with a series of three.

3. The Call to Action — And here’s what so many speeches miss. So many speakers deliver great moments. They make the audience laugh. They make the audience think.

And then they walk off.

Jimmy V doesn’t. He closes with the biggest thing: A call to action. Donate, he says, to my new foundation. Help us find a cure. It will not save my life, but it may save yours.

Who could say “no” to an ask like that?

A great speech needs an equally great call to action — something that the audience can take on once the speech is over.

The call to action is the reason why ESPN can play this speech every single year during their Jimmy V Week. Every year, even though us sports fans have seen the speech more times than we can count, Jimmy V asks us to donate.

Nearly twenty years after he first gave the speech, we still can’t say no to Jimmy V. The speech is just that great.

25 Ideas That I May or May Not Decide To Do Something With.

Ideas never run out

“Start where you are.” — Danielle LaPorte

Five words I don’t ever expect to say again:

I don’t have any ideas.

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

I have a list where I keep all these big ideas I’d like to work on one day. Some of them will get acted on in the coming months. Some of them will get executed in the coming years. Some will never make it past this list.

And then I decided this week to put all of these ideas down on the Internet. This scares the crap out of me. Maybe one of these is a million dollar idea, and I just don’t know it yet.

But then I realized: Maybe you’ll see something on this list that you’d like to work on with me. Maybe you can help point me towards the ideas that are really great.

No reason to keep this list secret. So here they are: 25 big ideas that I’d like to work on one day.

Got advice or help to offer on one them? In that case, shoot me an email or a tweet. Let’s talk.

Stuff That Could Actually Happen In 2012.

1. Wiki 2.0: Tools For Reporters —> A revamp of jstart.wikispaces.com, my giant list of journalism resources. I’m going to relaunch this as an email newsletter specifically geared toward journalists, and show them tools that can help them do better work. I’m launching this next week.

2. The Student Guest Blog project — The big challenge for college students with blogs is finding an audience. I’d like to open up my blog to any student who wants to write about how to do better work. I’d be able to offer editing help and blog advice to those students, and they’d be able to use that post on “Good. Better. Done.” to help pitch future guest blogs elsewhere.

3. The “Almost Famous” blog challenge — I love the movie “Almost Famous,” but I always wondered what the main character’s final story for Rolling Stone would look like. So I’m going to write it up myself — a 3,000 word piece about the fictional band, Stillwater — and I’m going to invite others to submit their own versions of William Miller’s story.

4. The Good. Better. Done. Newsletter — A weekly update from yours truly about doing better work and links/awesomeness that can inspire such work.

Stuff That Could Actually Happen In The Next 1-3 Years.

5. The Indecisive Man —> This is a manifesto I started writing in early 2012 dedicated to shaking self doubt and getting to work on work that matters.

6. Belly Challenge 2.0 — Belly Challenge 1.0 — between my father and I — was a huge success. Each of us lost 20+ pounds over the course of the year. But I’d like to invite others into the Challenge, and to create a small network of people who push each other to work out and improve their lives through regular exercise. When trying to lose weight/get in shape, having a team behind you makes a huge difference.

7. Guide to Startup Journalism — Using what I’ve learned from Stry.us, I’d create a guide to the initial steps in starting up a journalism business. I’d focus on the things that don’t often get emphasized: The importance of getting the right business structure set up; finding a payroll service; launching a website; etc.

8. 1000tinysteps.com — A blog devoted to all of the little steps someone can take to get moving on a project, an idea or an adventure.

9. The Monday Morning Work Podcast — I’ve found that I’m always more excited when I start the week with a good conversation. So I’d like to start hosting a live podcast each Monday morning — 15 to 30 minutes long — about doing work and getting inspired. Each podcast would be built around a single conversation.

10. The College Graduate’s Guide to Getting a Job — I really want to help people who are about to go through early career decisions. I’d love to start by helping walk students through the basic career steps — how to network, how to build a portfolio site, how to do better interviews — in an online class.

11. The “How Can I Help?” sessions — A block of time each week in which I make myself available via phone to early career journalists (and other young people) to help in whatever way I can — from career advice to resume help.

Stuff That Would Be Awesome But That I’d Need Lots of Help On.

12. “30 Conversations” — One of the things that I loved about Stry.us was that we gave people who otherwise wouldn’t have a say the opportunity to get their voice heard. I’d love to have 30 conversations with Americans in the days leading up to a big event — i.e. an election — about the issues that are on our minds.

Dayquil13. The I’m On Dayquil Gmail hack —> When I get sick, I go straight to Dayquil, and I get a little loopy on those orange pills. But I still try to send out email and do work when I’m sick. I really need a Gmail hack so that I can add something to my email signature when I’m on Dayquil, something that says, “Dan’s sick and on Dayquil. If this email makes less sense than usual, that’s the reason why.”

14. Dog and their Owners, Losing Weight Together: A reality show — I think that done right, reality shows can produce some really amazing stories. This would be one about dogs and their owners, losing weight together. It’d be a show about companionship, a show about trust — and a show that inspires. Done right, it’d tell some amazing stories about Americans and the role that pets play in our lives. Some reality shows are trashy, but I think this could really break the mold — again, if done with care.

15. ReadLocally.com — A site featuring great, original long-form journalism produced for specific local communities. It’d be for newsrooms at the intersection of hyper-local and long-form — think projects like Stry.us for Springfield.

16. TravelGoesWrong.com (or: WhenTravelGoesWrong.com) — A site devoted to first-person testimonials about horrifyingly bad travel experiences.

17. The Big Book of Sleep — For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with sleep. What most people don’t realize is that sleep is a multi-billion dollar industry in this country. That includes the money spent on beds, sleep aids and sleep-related research. And if you count work hours lost to exhaustion, I bet the number would be several billion dollars higher. I’d love to write a book on the industry and how important sleep has become in America.

Stuff That’s Probably Never Going To Happen

18. The Plus-1 Network — A small email listserv for young professionals who love going to weddings. When someone on the listserv needs someone awesome to come along as a plus-1 to a wedding, the listserv would step up.

19. ThisFuckingJob.com — A site devoted to helping people escape cubicle life and find meaning from their work. Also: The most memorable name of any domain I’ve ever purchased.

20. 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.

21. Body By Thin Mints — A few months ago, I made my dad a joke T-shirt with the slogan “Body By Thin Mints” on it. He wears it everywhere. I’d love to turn this into a line of joke clothing for fellow Girl Scout cookie lovers, but I’d also like to not get sued by the Girl Scouts.

22. UsuallyAlways — Last year, a friend caught me responding a question of hers with the phrase, “Usually always.” I liked how it sounded, and I’ve decided: If I ever start a production company, Usually Always will be its name. Of course, first I have to figure out what the hell “usually always” means. (Also, I need to learn what a production company does.)

23. Start my own community newspaper — I’m not sure why I don’t see young career journalists trying this, actually. Go to a small town. Buy a paper — they’re selling for almost nothing. And see if you and small team of really dedicated young people can experiment and hustle your way to success. With a really amazing team on board, I might consider this. But after Stry.us, I also know how crazy you have to be to attempt something like this.

24. Why Choose News! —> A list of reasons why people should read news sites every day. The entire idea is based around one fake poster I made earlier this year. (See right.)

25. SeeDanGo.com — A site dedicated to my personal travels — you know, once I make the first billion and dedicate my life to world traveling. :-)

So that’s what I’ve got. Maybe there’s something on here you’d like to work with me on? Shoot me an email or a tweet.

Maybe there’s something you’d like to steal for yourself? That’s cool, too.

Because here’s what I know: Ideas are only worth so much. Execution’s really what matters.

Photo of the lightbulb via here. Indecisiveness via here. Dayquil via here.

Devour The Moment.

“Now is the time to go for broke.” ― Jeff Goins

It became an unofficial life motto of mine about two years ago. I was having a conversation with my friend, Ryan. We were talking about moments. I was about to leave my job to start Stry.us. He was about to finish his master’s degree and get a job.

There was a big moment ahead of us, we agreed. We should enjoy it. That was what people kept telling us. Enjoy it. Savor it.

But then we had this little breakthrough. We didn’t want to merely savor this moment ahead of us.

We wanted to devour it.

Savoring is for little moments: the ice cream cone that’s slowly melting away, the card rush at the Bellagio’s blackjack tables.

But this is life we’re talking about, and you have to devour it whole. You have to take it on. You have to squeeze out everything that you can. You have to take big leaps, big risks, big action.

Work matters. Hustle matters. Love matters.

For nine years of my life, I’ve been a reporter. I’ve been lucky enough to report everywhere from Biloxi to Beijing. I’ve gotten to see some things that most people don’t get to see. I’ve done this job long enough to see the spectrum of what exists in our world: the pain, the joy, the frustration, the hope.

This whole thing is so fragile.

And in a fragile world, there isn’t time to do anything less than go all the way. The moments come and the moments go. We don’t get back time; we have it now, and never again.

So show up and go hard. Smile. Laugh. Work.

Wake up in the morning and devour your moment. This is your time. This is our time. Let’s use it to do great things for our world.

That ridiculous photo of the hippo at top is via @bebopbebop.

Good Teamwork Starts With Bad Adventures That Go Slightly Wrong.

The full Stry.us team has been down in Springfield for about two weeks. And we’ve been getting along really nicely — as well as I could’ve hoped, actually.

I was worried about this, actually. We’re putting six reporters into a confined space — we’re all living together — and asking them to work together for a summer. The chance of disaster(1) is high.

But I thought back to three personal experiences where a group of disparate individuals bonded in a strange way:

1. The trip I took with Mizzou to China
2. My Birthright Israel experience
3. My freshman year dorm

In all three, bonding was formed around a single thing: Minor disaster. In China, that meant all-day bus trips to really random places that the Chinese wanted us to see — most notably a sewage treatment plant. With Birthright, that meant the six-hour flight delay we sat through at Newark.

With the dorms, it meant dealing with our ancient, rusting dorm.

What I noticed is that when people are miserable, they come together to share that suffering. In all three experiences, I got much closer to people I’d hardly known days earlier. No matter what happens after that experience, I found, we’d always have that story about the the time we lived through (insert miserable experience here).

I wanted our team at Stry.us to get along, too. So here’s what I did: The day after the last member of the team arrived, we all drove 90 minutes north to Ha Ha Tonka, this beautiful state park in Missouri. It was about 90 degrees. There were lots of mosquitos. And the park is super hilly.

I hiked my team up and down that park for 2.5 hours — at the end of which everyone got a little grumpy and a lot sweaty.

And then they started talking.

Then we grabbed some beer and went to an epic bluegrass concert.

And by the end of the night, our team was exhausted, tired and maybe a little confused at what they’d seen. But they were also talking. They finally had something in common.(2)

There are a few things we’ve done right with this project. But making our team hike in excessive heat and then listen to two hours of bluegrass was maybe the single best thing. It brought us together in a very real way.

The beer also probably didn’t hurt.

Kudos to @dcallies68 for the awesome photo of Ha Ha Tonka.

  1. i.e. fighting, conflict, bickering, smashing of Apple laptops, etc.
  2. Besides the fact that they work for Stry.us and like stories.

We, The News Industry, Are Still Searching For Our Can Opener. But It’s Coming. (Eventually.)

There is a lot of frustration in the news industry right now. We have this amazing distribution system called the web. We’re entering a golden age of storytelling. Every year, more and more people are taking time for stories.

And we’re still not making money.

But consider the following:

The can was invented, and then it took 48 years to invent the can opener, which made the can truly useful.

This is what I’m talking about.

We invented the web. We haven’t figured out how to fully open it up, though.

We’re still learning about this amazing thing we’ve created. What we know is, with the web:

-We can build amazing tools.
-We can build amazing communities.
-We can learn amazing things.

We don’t know much else.

Journalism is searching for this big, magic answer to our problems. We want things fixed now.

They’re not happening now. They’re happening slowly. Eventually.

Not now.

That’s no consolation for the mid-career professionals who are really struggling in today’s journalism market. But its the truth. It’s going to take a long, long time to sort out the business models. Decades, probably.

But we will figure it out. We will invent our can opener.

In the meantime, all of us need to get cracking at this thing we’ve got on the table. We have something wondrous on our hands. It lets us tell amazing stories.

Let’s keep building, let’s keep doing.

We’ve created the can.

Now let’s figure out how to open it up.

Want to Know The Secret to the Perfect NCAA Bracket? Pick By Storyline.

It’s that time of year when everyone’s breaking out their brackets. And everyone’s got their methods. Some pick based on reputation. Some turn to the computers for advice. Some pick based on the cuteness of a school’s mascot.

I’ve got a new system this year, and I think it’s a winner:

I pick by storyline.

That’s right. Forget the percentages or the seedings. Who’s got the best story?

Because that’s what it’s been about the last few years. Look at last year’s bracket. We had four great stories in the Final Four:

1. Kemba Walker’s amazing one-man run through the tournament
2. John Calipari — the villain of college basketball — tries to win it all with a team of guns-for-hire
3. Shaka and 11th-seeded VCU shocks the world
4. Butler’s unbelievable repeat Final Four trip

We love great stories in the tournament. Jimmy V’s Wolfpack were a great story. Juan Dixon’s Terps were a great story. George Mason’s Final Four team was a great story.

This year, I’ve made it my motto: If I can’t envision the movie being made about a team’s performance in the NCAA Tournament, I won’t pick them.

So, yeah, I’m picking Missouri. They were left for dead back in the fall, defied all odds, somehow worked their way into a 2-seed, and in the Final Four, they might have to go through Kentucky — future SEC foe — and Kansas — the once-and-forever rival. I’d watch that movie about the underdog Tigers gunning for their first title.

I’m also picking Harvard. The Ivy League team that can actually play? Denzel’s already lining up for his role as Harvard coach Tommy Amaker in this one. Harvard’s been seeded in the East, and that region’s road to the Final Four runs through Boston. I’d pay to see the Spike Lee joint about Harvard, fair Harvard, suddenly playing for keeps in front of a rowdy hometown crowd(1).

Or maybe I should pick Purdue. They’ve got Robbie Hummel, a sixth-year senior. Two ACL surgeries later, he’s finally back in the Big Dance. He’s “Rudy” crossed with “Rocky” — a movie just waiting to happen.

Or what about New Mexico? They’ve got Demetrius Walker, who’s already got one hell of a story out about him in print already. Or South Dakota State, the underdog tale of a tiny school in a tiny state taking on a Monstars-sized Baylor team? Or Gonzaga, the former Cinderella who’s become a giant of college hoops?

I’m looking at my bracket, and all I see are great stories: Stories about underdogs, about dreams, about greatness.

The kind of stories that just might help me win an office pool.

  1. Spoiler alert for the film: Jeremy Lin comes back to give the team the inspirational speech before their Elite Eight game.

I Cannot Codify Entrepreneurship, And Neither Can You, And Here’s Why.

337.365 - December 3, 2010

There was a point not all that long ago when I was pretty sure I could codify entrepreneurship. I’d heard plenty of stories, and talked to plenty of entrepreneurs, and I was seeing a lot of the same themes repeat. I thought that if I could just ID specific points along the way, I could explain how to master this thing.

Then I discovered that this isn’t a board game. There aren’t logical, sequential steps. There are common themes, but there isn’t any sense to how this works. Entrepreneurship is a cross between a Choose Your Own Adventure book and Mad-Libs — it’s weird, and deeply personal, and subject to both non-sequitors and randomness.

I read this fantastic quote from KissMetrics’ Hiten Shah that reminded me of just why that is. It’s in a post about how to find the right mentors. He writes:

“That’s the thing about mentoring that people need to understand: It’s about the strength of the individual to weather the unrelenting storm that is entrepreneurship, not acquiesce to some rigid timeline of entrepreneurial life milestones.”

Spot on. Entrepreneurship is this mix of all the stuff I love about life — it’s risk, and chance, and success, and failure, and this quest to be unrelentingly awesome — just condensed into something tangible. It’s the venue through which I’ve chosen to explore the world, and nobody’s going to be able to tell me what the right path is, or where the milestones are.

The only path is the one I choose, and the people I surround myself with have to be capable of helping me answer the questions I need to answer along the way. I need to find lots of people who can challenge me, and who I can listen to. But ultimately, they’re not going to be able to tell me if I’m doing this thing the right way.

The only way to figure that out is to do it and see what happens.