Tag Archives: people matter

United, We Stand.

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This is something I’ve written about before — waiting for permission, as opposed to just going out and doing stuff — but I had a funny moment last week that made me think of it again:

I went to a show at Lincoln Center here in NYC. It was a free show, and one of my favorite New York bands, the Lone Bellow, was playing.

And everyone there — EVERYONE — was seated.

No matter what the band did, they couldn’t get the crowd to stand up. They asked, and they implored, and they stomped around and played. They never got mad about it, but having been to a Lone Bellow show before, I’m pretty sure they would have been happier had everyone stood up and danced.

And then with three songs left, a few people walked up to the front of the stage and started to dance. Ushers let them stay. And then more people walked up. And then from the back, I could see people pointing and gesturing: “Hey, let’s go up there, too!”

By the end of the show, there were a few hundred people in front of the stage, dancing.

I’m not sure why people didn’t go up earlier. I’m not sure what they were waiting for.

But beyond the matter of permission, there was another thing: When these fans were all seated and spread out, it was tough to tell how many true fans there were at the show. But when they all got together in front, it was obvious: The band had a big following.

Just the act of bringing those people together — a few groups of friends here and there joining to make a pretty big crowd — made a huge difference in the way the rest of the audience reacted to the show. Others started dancing. And when the show ended, the band got a standing ovation.

All those people coming together to enjoy the show made a huge, huge difference.

When you’re putting fans behind a piece of work, I think there’s a lot to learn here. Get those fans organized. Give them something to get excited about. And let them be visible — together is always better than alone.

Four Things To Ask Yourself Before You Start.

Before you start the work, you’ve got to ask yourself:

Are you willing to struggle? Because you’re going to struggle with this. The work is going to kick your ass, and just when you think you’ve made a breakthrough, it’s going to kick your ass again. You are going to ride that struggle bus for a long, long time.

Are you willing to feel stupid? Because you’re not going to know everything — not by a long shot. You’ve got so much to learn, and it’s going to get to a point where you feel like you don’t know ANYTHING. It’s actually a good thing. It means you’re growing your skill set and pushing yourself into brand new areas. But it’s also really, really hard to cope with the fact that at times, you feel pretty dumb.

Are you willing to find the best people? Because you’re not going to get anywhere without the best people. You’re going to have to find people you love to collaborate with, and people who will push your work into brand new areas, and also people you wouldn’t mind getting stuck with in a room at 2 a.m. (Because, btw, you probably will be stuck in a room with them at 2 a.m. at some point. It happens.)

Are you willing to keep going? Because after all this, you have to be willing to push on and keep doing the work. You have to be willing to launch stuff that isn’t quite perfect, and then go back and make that work better. Above all else, you have to be willing to keep stepping out there and pushing your work into the world, because it’s the only way to do it.

So are you willing to do all that? Because if you’re not, you’re not quite ready to start.

That photo of a state fair comes via Flickr’s Omar Bárcena.

A Funny Thing I Learned Along The Way.

People have short memories.

I used to think that when I screwed up, people would remember forever. Or, at the very least, for an extremely long time. A long enough time that it might as well be forever.

But what I’ve found is just the opposite: When I’ve really messed up, I spend a little while kicking myself, and then a little while longer getting my ass kicked by others… and then things start to get better. Friends show up and offer support. Things get talked out.

And then more work comes along, and there’s another chance to get it right. If it’s a small mistake, it’s forgotten a day or two later. If it’s pretty big mistake, it lingers for a week.

But then it passes. People forgive. The biggest mistakes I’ve ever made — the biggest goofs — are things that friends and old co-workers now use as punch lines during happy hours. You remember that thing you did, Dan? Man, what a screw up!

Oh, the other part: You learn a lot about the people you work with when you screw up. Because what I’ve described is what happens when you screw up in the company of great people. They forgive you, and even help you move past your mistakes.

Not everybody is like that, though. There are workplaces that don’t forget mistakes — that punish you for them, that constantly remind you of them.

What I’m saying is: Screwing up is pretty good way to find out what kind of place you work at, and whether or not you want to be working with people who’ll punish you for screwing up.

That image of a small mistake comes via Flickr’s @tehlonz.

Acknowledgements.

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I know this is the kind of thing people usually save for an awards speech or a published book. But I just finished a good book yesterday, and then I watched the Oscars, and now I’m in the mood for saying “Thanks.”

Who says I can’t offer a few acknowledgements just because?

So to start:

Thanks to the people who believed at the start: Myron, Don C., the Drake, Steve M., Bill and everyone at the Star, Dan and Howie, too. To Richard for the Redskins gig. And Uncle Donald for telling me to send that email to Ted Leonsis. Funny how that all worked out.

To the guys at the Rocky — thanks for a great summer. Sorry again about almost getting deported.

To Jan and Greg at KENS, for that first shot. And for standing up for me too many times to count.

To the 2k5ers, who always gave me a place to come home to. Especially those who always made time to listen: Gerf, Lizzy, Ani, Emma, and all the boys — Jason, LK, Tom, Dinner, Shoe, Kurt — I owe you for that.

Thanks to everyone at Mizzou who believed. Most of all, to Keith, Amy, Randy, Dave, David, Jen, Dorothy, and Paul. To the NewsFoo guys, who opened doors for me, and let me tell that story about Mrs. Claus.

And of course, to the Tigers who told me to keep going: Ryan, Dan, Beth, Sarah, KVo (and fam!), Teresa & Luke. Won’t soon be forgotten.

To Jordan and the Stry.us team, who came along on an absolutely crazy ride and made it unforgettable. (Still so proud of you guys.) And to everyone in Springfield who pitched in — especially the amazing team at the library.

To my bosses at BuzzFeed: Ben, Scott, Doree, Dao, and Erica, for believing in all of this, and to my co-workers who do work that impresses/inspires/wows me every single day. To Allison, too, for convincing me that New York would be fun. (You were right. It is.)

To everyone who let me tell their story: Thank you. Biloxi and Springfield, thanks for letting me share your stories, too.

To my parents: Thanks for teaching me to always do the work.

To Ellen and Sam: Thanks for always being there to kick my ass when I needed my ass kicked.

And to Sally, the queen of superlatives. You are The Silliest, and The Best, and The Most Wonderful. You make this all work. Love you.

That photo at top comes via Instagram’s @papajm25.

A Photo On The Wall.

I went to a funeral last weekend. At 87, my Bubbe — my mom’s mom — died suddenly. Two days later, I found myself in her old house, surrounded by loved ones as we mourned. I’ve been in that house hundreds of times, but I’d rarely gone downstairs.

And walking around downstairs, I stumbled into a room I’d never paid much attention to. It was my grandfather’s office, and it was filled with diplomas and awards and pictures.

This one photo especially caught my eye:

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It’s a photo from 1939. It’s from my Great-uncle Leon’s bachelor party. (Leon’s the big guy front and center.)

Look at that photo for a second. That’s not a wedding — that’s a bachelor party.

I write a lot on this blog about the importance of having great people in your life. They’re the people who will support your work, who will be there for the low moments and the high. It is almost impossible to do the work without those people.

But sometimes it’s tough to visualize how many people it takes to support someone doing great work.

So here’s your visualization. That’s the support system it took to help Leon Gordon do his work. (He was a scientists.) That’s one man, and one body of work. They were there when he needed pushing, and when it was time to celebrate, well, they were certainly there for that, too.

That’s Uncle Leon. What will it take to make your work happen?

Hurry Up And Wait.

I heard the voice of my mother today while waiting in line at JFK to get through security. I’d hurried through work, and then hurried my way over to the train, and then hurried through check-in, and then… I waited. I waited for 20 minutes at airport security, because that’s how it works.

My mother has a saying for that: It’s the hurry up and wait.

When we were kids, she’d always point out how strange it was to watch people rush to be first in line for something. We’d be on a ferry, and people would rush to their cars. We’d wait on the top deck, holding onto the view as long as we could. What are those people rushing for? she’d always point out. It’s not like they can drive off until the boat docks anyway.

As I get to work with bigger teams on more ambitious projects, I find that the hurry up and wait rule applies there, too. Sometimes, you push and push on a project, only to find that the rest of your team isn’t ready to take the next step. Or that a key piece of technology or code isn’t ready. In the end, you’ve rushed through your work for nothing.

It’s certainly great when you can get your work done efficiently. But the people around you matter — especially the pace at which they do their work. If you’re not all moving together, you’re just hurrying up to wait.

And what good is that?

That photo of airport security comes via Flickr’s Karl Baron.

Jealousy Is A Really Lousy Color.

A thought about power and money and jealousy, and what it all means for your work:

Here in New York, there are two types of power I see: Power from money, and power from crowds. The first is obvious: You see a friend or big name making it big, and it’s easy to wonder, Why them? Why not me?

The second is all about influence, especially when it comes to the social web. How many followers do I have? How many likes did this get? Why does so and so have so much more power than I do?

This kind of mentality — looking around and wondering what other people have and why you don’t have it, too — it’s pretty destructive. It doesn’t move you forward; it only defines limits that you think are good enough, and keeps you inside them.

What gets you and your work moving? By paying attention to others, sure — but even more by listening to them and asking lots of questions. Information is a powerful thing. So are relationships with people who want to help lift you up.

Pay attention to what the successful are doing, sure — but don’t let what they do define you. Go out, listen, learn, and do your thing.

That is a truly powerful thing.

The Search For The Secret.

“When you feel like your work is not that good, you’re right there — you have to keep pushing. — Ike Edeani

 
You don’t want to hear this, but… tough. You’re gonna. Deal with it.

When I meet people who are trying to do something new in the world, I hear one thing over and over: They’re looking for the one thing that unlocks their world. The thing that unlocks their creativity. That unlocks doors and unlocks opportunity.

And the dirtiest, scariest, most terrifying secret is this:

There is no one thing. It does not exist.

People matter. Work matters. The willingness to learn matters. An ability to put up with weeks and months and maybe even years of sucking — that matters.

But there is not a secret thing that successful people know. There isn’t.

Successful people do the boring stuff well, and successful people surround themselves with other people who want to help.

That’s all. No secret spells. No secret ingredients.

It’s no magic at all, really. Which is reassuring, I think. The gap between where you are and where you want to be isn’t nearly as big as you think it is. There is nothing you’re missing.

Just the work and the people to get you there. And that’s there for anyone who wants to find it.

That awesome photo at top comes via @zimagin2000.

Get Ready. Get Going. Get Yours.

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“Life is a story, if you wouldn’t read the one you’re telling, write a different ending.” — Jonathan Fields

 
I went to the World Domination Summit last weekend. (1) And what I heard were a lot of great stories about how people do work:

I heard some people saying: Start! You have all you need to start right now!

I heard some people saying: Wait! Give yourself time to recover, to ripen, to grow.

I heard some people saying: Just tell me the secret thing that successful people do and I’l do it! Tell me! (There were, admittedly, a lot of these.)

And at the end of the weekend, here’s what I really heard: As long as you make time to listen, and make time for your community, you’re going to do just fine. The work follows people who are patient, persistent, and surround themselves with great people.

There is no right time for the work you want to do — just your time.

So get ready. Get going.

And get yours.

Ultimately, it’ll be there — something remarkable, something amazing — when you’re ready to put in the work.

  1. Strange name for a conference, but powerful stuff.

Why Money Doesn’t Buy What Matters.

“Joy is repeatedly being reminded that you believed in the right kinds of people.” — Dharmesh Shah

 
In 2011, three psychologists released a study about money and happiness. The title of their report summed it up nicely: “If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right.”

They dug in further:

“Wealthy people don’t just have better toys; they have better nutrition and better medical care, more free time and more meaningful labor—more of just about every ingredient in the recipe for a happy life. And yet, they aren’t that much happier than those who have less. If money can buy happiness, then why doesn’t it?”

And then they came to heart of their research: Money gives people opportunities. It gives people the chance to have resources and possessions and experiences that those with less cannot have. But money does not guarantee that the people with money will spend it in a way that will actually make them happy.

It’s not hard to guess what we think will make us happy: Just watch an hour of TV around Christmas-time, and see what the advertisers are selling. That fancy sweater. That new car. That dream home.

But what the psychologists found is that the happiness from those things doesn’t really last. We get excited about that new car, and then we sit in a traffic jam and forget all about it. We buy that new home, and special wood floors to match, and then we have to spend money on upkeep.

So what actually makes us happy? The psychologists point to two things in particular:

1.) Experiences: Going on trips. Spending money on an interesting new restaurant. Seeing a show. You’ll enjoy it in the short term, and even months later, you’ll think about something you saw or ate, and you’ll smile. (Think for a second about a restaurant you love or a concert you enjoyed, and you’ll understand.)

2.) Giving: Giving your time to charity. Volunteering. Any sort of helping — from mentoring to listening to a friend for a few minutes — tends to come back to you. Even giving gifts can make us happy. When we’re spending time and money on others, we’re usually happier than when we’re spending money on ourselves.

Of course, this all leads back to three simple questions: What matters to you? What do you actually care about?

And are you going to spend money on it, or not?

Photo at top via @russeyler