The Bad Idea Notebook.

I have a lot of ideas — and most of them, frankly, are bad. But having bad ideas is OK — as long as you develop a filter to decide which ideas are worth working on, and which ideas should move to the scrapheap.

I know I’m not along in having bad ideas. I read a story recently about Dr. Seuss, and learned that he was full of bad ideas, too!

In 1939, at the age of thirty-five, Theodor Seuss Geisel was tinkering with an invention that was doomed to failure. Geisel had published a few books under the name Dr. Seuss, but he was hoping that a device he had patented, the Infantograph, would be a money-maker at the techno-utopian New York World’s Fair, which was opening that year. “If you were to marry the person you are with,” the banner that Geisel designed for his pavilion asked, “what would your children look like? Come in and have your INFANTOGRAPH taken!” In the tent, a couple would sit side by side; a double-lensed camera would blend their features together, then plop a composite mug shot atop an image of a baby’s body. “It was a wonderful idea,” Geisel insisted, but, as a feat of engineering, it was more of an evocation of outlandish, off-kilter Seussian machinery than it was a functional prototype. After much fiddling, he scrapped his plans, admitting, “All the babies tended to look like William Randolph Hearst.”

Knowing when to kill your bad ideas is crucial. I run a lot of my ideas through the Shower Test to see if they’re sticky enough. But I’ve also started doing a new thing: Writing my bad ideas down in what I’ve been calling my Bad Idea Notebook.

The Bad Idea Notebook is what it sounds like: a small notebook full of truly terrible ideas. There are ideas for products, for TV shows, and startups in there — all ideas worthy of the scrap heap. Every time I have a quarter-baked idea , it goes into the Bad Idea Notebook.

And sometimes, when I get really excited about an idea, I’ll pop open that notebook and scroll through my list of terrible ideas. It’s a reminder for me: Yes, Dan, you’re excited about this idea right now — but just remember, 70 percent of your ideas are truly terrible. Give it some time, mull over the idea a bit. Think through what it would really take — time, team, money, work — to put this idea into motion.

Often, a few minutes later, having started to think more clearly through things, I’ll realize a few flaws in the idea — and pop open my Bad Idea Notebook to add a new entry. I have lots of ideas, and lots of work already in the mix. The next idea — a better one, often — typically comes around soon enough.


That photo comes via Unsplash and AP x 90.

Here, Read This: “Decades after life took them down one path, these women are reinventing themselves.”

The Washington Post profiled eight women who’ve done amazing things in their careers after age 50, and it’s a story absolutely worth reading:

When women turn 50, the world starts to tune them out. Employers see them as less valuable and are more likely to discriminate against them, according to research. Hollywood disproportionately portrays them as unattractive, unfriendly and stupid. Many women describe a sense of invisibility.

But something else happens as women leave their 40s behind. “[For] everyone I know around my age, there’s this major energy shift in being able to ask the question: Well, what do I want now?” writer and cultural critic Heather Havrilesky, 49, told The Washington Post. “Without feeling totally cowed by what you should want, what seems selfish.” The world may tend to forget older women, but they feel freer than ever.

For American women in middle age and later, that might mean returning to ambitions set aside years ago to raise a family or follow a spouse’s career. It might mean finding ambitions they never had before or reaping long-overdue success. “Our culture tells us a story that we’ll lose and lose and lose as we get older,” says Havrilesky. “And it’s not true.”

Read the entire piece here — it’s a great reminder that it’s never too late to chase that big dream.

Outwork and Outnetwork.

A few weeks ago, The Athletic published a piece on Buzz Williams, the new head coach for the Texas A&M men’s basketball team. Buzz used to coach at Virginia Tech, and before that, Marquette. Everywhere he’s gone, his teams have had success — in 11 seasons of coaching at Marquette and Virginia Tech, he’s taken his teams to the NCAA Tournament eight times. So what’s his secret?

The Buzz standard is a no-nonsense, no-excuses approach. He climbed the ladder in coaching by outworking and out-networking everyone. On the back of his calendar is a monthly contact list. There are 58 people in a column labeled personal and 31 apiece for a Texas A&M column and a grassroots/high school basketball column. The people he has contacted are highlighted in yellow. Halfway through May, he had already knocked out 46, 11 and 17, respectively.

Williams is trying to meet daily with a person important to the process at A&M, and similar to a presidency, he believes the first 100 days are critical. Relationships have always mattered most to him — and why he’s successful.

There’s a lot in there to unpack, but the one thing that stood out to me was this phrase: Outwork and outnetwork. So much of the success of a coach like Williams depends on relationships. If you have the relationships in place, a scout or a coach might give you a heads up about an under-the-radar talent. If you’ve established trust with a source, you might be the first to know about a new method for developing players. And a strong network within a college campus might make all the difference when it comes time to getting the funding you need for your team.

Nobody does it alone. It takes hard work — and a network — to help you achieve your goals.

But building that network is simple: Meet people, be kind, and stay in touch. Do those three things, and do it for a long time, and you’ll slowly build the network you need.

Here’s a great example of that, from Phil Knight’s “Shoe Dog,” a wonderful memoir about how Knight built Nike. In it, he tells the story of Jeff Johnson, Nike’s first employee. Johnson, turns out, was a lot like Buzz Williams. Writes Knight:

He worked seven days a week, selling and promoting Blue Ribbon, and when he wasn’t selling, he was beaverishly building up his customer data files.

Each new customer got his or her own index card, and each index card contained that customer’s personal information, shoe size, and shoe preferences. This database enabled Johnson to keep in touch with all his customers, at all times, and to keep them all feeling special. He sent them Christmas cards. He sent them birthday cards. He sent them notes of congratulation after they completed a big race or a marathon. Whenever I got a letter from Johnson I knew it was one of dozens he’d carried down to the mailbox that day. He had hundred and hundreds of customer-correspondents, all along the spectrum of humanity, from high school track stars to octogenarian weekend joggers.

Those relationships, writes Knight, were the key to Nike’s early success. Those early fans told their friends about Nike shoes. They came back as repeat customers. And they gave Nike feedback about the shoes that the company then used to test and improve their product. None of it would have been possible if not for that network — and that wouldn’t have been possible if not for Jeff Johnson and his daily letter writing habit.

I’ll say it again: Meet people, be kind, and stay in touch. Pair hard work with a powerful network, and you never know where it might take you.


That photo was taken by Samuel Zeller for Unsplash.

Introducing Inbox Collective, a New Email Consultancy.

In a few weeks, I’m leaving my job as the Director of Newsletters at The New Yorker.

Why would I leave a dream job, you might be wondering?

Well, I’m opening up a little consultancy to help brands with email.

I’ve been working in this space since 2012, when I became the first Newsletter Editor at BuzzFeed. When I first started working in email, it was hard to find anyone in the news space who had expertise in email. Now, most news organizations and brands are investing in it.

But there’s still more work to be done! Ever since I started Not a Newsletter back in January, I’ve been getting notes from readers, telling me about their email goals and aspirations. So many of them have told me that they need help with all parts of their email program — from content strategy to growth, from monetization to deliverability.

And at some point, I realized: The work I’m doing with Not a Newsletter isn’t enough. I can do even more to help this community.

So I’m starting up a consultancy. It’s called Inbox Collective, and it’s here to help news organizations, non-profits, and other brands grow audiences, build relationships, and get results via email.

Interested in working with me? You can read more here.

Just Go.

Colonel Sandurz: Driver, prepare to move out.

Dark Helmet: What are you preparing? You’re always preparing! Just go.

Colonel Sandurz: Just go.

About a decade ago, I went to a Startup Weekend event for the first time. The idea was simple: Over the course of a weekend, some people with big ideas would attempt to start up a company. They’d get access to mentors, investors, and resources — and by the end of the weekend, if things went well, they’d be well on their way to being able to start a new business.

On the first day, anyone who had a startup idea came to the front of the room to pitch their idea. I remember one pitch — I believe it was an idea for a new app. The guy pitching the idea told the group that he’d been doing research for five years, reading everything he could on the subject, and having conversations with leaders in the space.

The organizers of the event asked: So, in those five years, what have you done with that knowledge? What have you launched or made so far?

He said: I’ve just done research. I wasn’t ready to start yet.

And one of the organizers told him the hard truth: The knowledge you gained from all those books and all those conversations is nothing compared to what you’ll learn from actually starting something. If you’d started five years ago, you’d have so much to show for it: a functional product, lessons of success and failure, knowledge about what actually works for your app. The research and the ideas aren’t worth anything — everything valuable comes from doing the work.

And it was painful to watch as the guy at the front of the room realized: I just wasted five years of my life, and I don’t have anything to show for it.

The secret is: You know enough to start. You have enough to start. And you’re good enough to start.

So don’t overprepare. Get started as soon as you can.

Just go.


That photo and quote at top comes from Mel Brooks’s classic spoof, Spaceballs.”

Keep on Learning.

It’s been a decade since I graduated from college. I thought that when I graduated — after all those years in school — that the learning would stop there.

Turns out, that was just the start.

As you go through your career, you’re always going to be working to learn new things, and discovering new ways to learn them. You’ll find that you can:

Ask something to learn something.

Make something to learn something.

Meet someone to learn something.

Whatever you do, keep learning. There’s always going to be more to learn.


That illustration is by Katerina Limpitsouni for unDraw.

Here’s One Way to Put Your Customers First.

At the bottom of every New Yorker email, there’s a message to readers: “We’d love your feedback on this newsletter. Please send your thoughts and suggestions to”

Readers do write in — sometimes with thoughts about the newsletter, but also with questions, complaints, comments, and pitches. And we try to reply to every single one. (The only exception: If a reader is extraordinarily rude. But we don’t get many of those.)

In fact, replying to our readers is the first thing I do in the morning. I wake up, open the reader mail inbox, and work my way through the messages. By making it my first task of the day, I’m always making sure that the needs of our fans, readers, and customers are met first.

This simple act — putting them first on my to-do list every day — has completely changed the way I think about our readers. I know that if we make a big change in the newsletter, I’m going to hear about it from them. And when I’m thinking about what they might say or how they might react, it means I can include their voice in the conversations we’re having and the decisions we’re making at work.

Does it take a lot of time? Certainly. It’s a task that usually takes at least 20-30 minutes a day, depending on the volume of emails. But it’s also an opportunity to build a personal connection with a reader. My hope is that in the long run, a reader who got a personal note from us will be more likely to have a positive impression of us and renew their subscription. And someone who isn’t a subscriber might be willing to open their wallet and pay for a year of the magazine.

Lately, more members of our team — editors, designers, product folks — are asking if they can be looped in on these conversations with readers. The more of us involved the process, the more likely we are to build a magazine and a website that truly represents the needs of our customers.

We couldn’t make The New Yorker without these readers. So it makes sense that they should come first — quite literally.

Here, Read This: “Our Top 6 Pieces of Career Wisdom for New Grads.”

I loved this post from First Round Review highlighting six pieces of career wisdom — aimed mostly at new grads, but useful for anyone in their career. Their six pieces of advice are:

1.) Picture your career as a painting, not a ladder.

2.) Nurture your rookie spirit. It will serve you for your entire career.

3.) When you make tenacity a part of your identity, it can help you tune out the naysayers.

4.) Before you reach out to a potential mentor, be specific about what you want out of mentorship.

5.) Take ownership of your career by proactively managing your manager.

6.) You’re allowed to quit when you’re unhappy. But make sure you’re not quitting because you’re impatient.

Take a few minutes and read the whole post here.

Make Time for You.

If you’re the bride or groom at a wedding — or if you’re just the host of a big party — here’s something I’ve learned: You have to make time to eat.

Sure, you spent a lot of money on the food at your party. You did a tasting. You thought carefully about what you wanted to serve. You were really excited to actually eat that one dish on the big day!

And then the big day comes, and you don’t eat. It’s your party, which means that every guest knows you, and every guest wants to come over and chat. It doesn’t leave you much time to actually eat.

The secret is: You have to make time to eat. You need to carve out time for it, separate from the party. (On our wedding day, Sally and I took 20 minutes after our ceremony to go into a private room to eat dinner, just the two of us. It was one of the best decisions we made all weekend.)

The same thing holds true for taking a managerial role at a company. There are going to be big, ambitious projects you want to take on — that you suddenly won’t have time for. You’ll have 1-on-1s, stand-ups, big meetings, calls, etc. Your time at work becomes your team’s time. Your week will be filled with meetings, and the stuff you want to do will end up getting pushed off to another day.

The challenge is figuring out how you want to make time for yourself and for the things you care about. At, I made the mornings my time — anything between 6 and 9 was my time to write, plan out strategy, or work out. I’ve seen co-workers carve out big chunks of their week, adding two-hour blocks on their calendar where meetings can’t be scheduled and work can get done. Or maybe you want to limit your meetings to certain days — no 1-on-1s, let’s say, on Mondays, so you can get ahead on your tasks and projects for the week ahead.

Whatever you do, just remember: You have to make time for these things. Don’t be the person who didn’t get to enjoy the ice cream sundae bar at their own wedding — and don’t be the manager who never gets to work on their favorite projects because they couldn’t find a spare moment for it.


That illustration is by Katerina Limpitsouni for unDraw.

Write Out Your Bullets.

Here’s one way to decide what you should work on next:

Think about the work you’ve been doing in your current role, and write out the bullet points you’d include if you were putting together your resume today. What projects have you completed? What work are you most proud of? Make sure you explain the impact of your work — how much you’ve actually done in your role.

Then think about the work you’d like to brag about on a resume. What are the projects you’ve been dreaming of launching? What are the things you’d want to tell a future employer about?

That’s the work you should be prioritizing on in the months ahead.


That illustration is by Katerina Limpitsouni for unDraw.