Do It Again. Make It a Little Better.

A few weeks ago, we tried making pizza at home for the first time. It wasn’t even close to being from scratch — the pizza dough was purchased at the local market, and the tomato sauce was from the jar — but we broke out the pizza stone and a bunch of toppings and gave it a go. The result? Not bad!

But there was room for improvement. The cheese was nice and bubbly, but the crust was a little soft on the bottom.

So we decided to try again, really trying to get the crust right. This time, we rolled out the dough a little thinner, and put it on the pizza stone for about seven minutes before adding on the toppings and cheese. An improvement — but still not perfect!

So we started asking around to friends who do this: What’s your secret? How do you get the crust right?

And one friend suggested: Have you tried putting the stone in the oven in advance for 30 minutes first to get it nice and hot, and then adding the pizza to it?

We’d never thought about that before.

So we’re going to keep trying. Every time we make this thing, we’re trying to make it a little better. A small tweak here, a slight adjustment there. It’s never going to be perfect, but we’re going to keep working to do better.

It could be pizza, it could be your work. Just keep working to make things a little better, bit by bit, until you get it right.


That’s a photo of our first pizza — not bad for a first attempt!

Don’t Get Stuck on Repeat.

I first heard of ghost repeaters through a songwriter I love, Jeffrey Foucault, who has a song — and an album — called “Ghost Repeater.” As Foucault explained in the liner notes:

“Ghost Repeaters are empty radio stations scattered around the country to re-broadcast demographically tailored playlists, endless echoes of American market culture, from thousands of miles away.”

I remember my days at BuzzFeed when we’d try a new idea — quizzes, video, email — and then dozens of copycats would spring up, seemingly overnight. I remember being at The New Yorker, seeing other sites realize that our subscription strategy was working, and then watching other news organizations across the country try to copy it. Some of these places put their own spin on things, but many were just ghost repeaters — copying even the tiniest details and formats.

Original ideas are hard to come by. When I look around the media landscape and beyond, I see a lot of the same ideas, repeated over and over again.

But the thing is, what works for one place might not work for you. When I give talks about my work at BuzzFeed and The New Yorker, I always say: My team had success with these sorts of ideas, products, and tests. But don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself. See what works best for you.

And one more thing: Focus on your unique audience — who are they, and what do they need that only you can serve? Focus on delivering value for them every day. Focus on being the best version of you — with whatever it is you do best.

Celebrate the Little Victories.

My Washington Nationals are — and I can’t believe I’m typing this — heading to the World Series. They’re a remarkable story. On the morning of May 24, the Nationals were 19-31, with just a 22.2% chance of making the playoffs, according to FanGraphs. You can see what happened next, in the playoff probability chart above. They turned the season around, going from 12 games under .500 to finishing 24 games above .500. On Tuesday, they’ll begin a series vs. the Houston Astros for the championship.

How’d they do it? A lot’s been made of the chemistry on the team, or the positive attitude of manager Davey Martinez. But here’s another wonderful anecdote from MASN reporter Byron Kerr:

There is a long hallway between the coaches’ and manager’s offices and the training area next to the Nationals clubhouse on field level at Nats Park. Along this wall is a collection of baseballs positioned on a long single shelf that runs down the hallway. Each ball represents a win the Nats enjoyed so far in 2019.

Written on each baseball are the names of one or more players who, in the estimation of manager Davey Martinez, were the most valuable in each of those victories.

And as Martinez later mentioned in the piece:

Martinez’s players would come by during the season and pick up each ball and reminisce about that particular victory during their turnaround run.

“Every now and then, I see guys just going in there, staring at each ball and dates,” Martinez said. “And what we’ve done and how we did it. I could tell that they really appreciate it. You hear them say, ‘Oh, man, I remember this. Strasburg was dealing this day.’ Or, ‘(Gerardo) Parra. Grand slam this day in L.A.!’ They all talk about it and remember it. It’s pretty cool to hear ‘em call each others’ names out, knowing they all participated at some point.”

A baseball season’s 162 games long. Opening Day was nearly seven months ago. There are so many games, and it’s easy to forget about all the little moments that led to this one big opportunity. But I love the idea of the wall of baseballs. Every day, the players walk by that shelf and think about those daily achievements — the wins and the contributions that got them there. They’re a public reminder of the work that’s been done over the course of a season.

There are so many ways to bring an idea like this to your office:

      • Have an award that’s given out weekly/monthly to an outstanding teammate (and give out a physical trophy or prize that can sit on their desk)
      • Shout out a big achievement in an email to the larger team
      • Hold a regular all-hands meeting to celebrate team victories
      • Make a public space in your office to highlight teammates who’ve done great work
      • Stop by a colleague’s desk to privately say thank you for their effort

However you do it, celebrate those little wins. When your colleagues make a difference, make sure they know how much you appreciate it. You never know what a difference it might make.


That graph at top is off the Nationals’s playoff odds throughout the season, as charted by FanGraphs.

Here, Read This: “The Marlins Are Sending Everyone to Spanish Class. Even Derek Jeter.”

I’ve written before about how important it to invest in your teams, and how one of the secrets of BuzzFeed’s success was the company’s learning and development team. Here’s a great example of that from an unexpected source: The Miami Marlins baseball team:

Teaching English to minor league players from Latin America has understandably become commonplace. Nearly 30 percent of players in the major leagues — and even more in the minors — were born in that part of the world. The Marlins, however, are among the few teams also doing the inverse: conducting Spanish classes for English speakers throughout the organization, from players to coaches to top executives….

So when [Derek] Jeter, 44, took over the Marlins, he and Emily Glass, 25, who oversees the team’s education efforts, made it a goal to address this weakness. He called for an overhaul of the club’s player development program, including a focus on life skills — from cooking to financial planning to language classes.

Read the entire story here.

Everyone Gets the Chance to Make Their Own Mistakes.

I’m on a bus on the New Jersey Turnpike, heading home. I’d say we’re driving north, but that’s not quite right — we’re not moving. There’s a huge crash on the road, and traffic’s stopped. What should be a four-hour drive from Washington to New York will take nearly six.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Whenever I take the bus home, I keep an eye on Google Maps. I’m not driving, so I don’t need to know the best route home, but I do like knowing when we’ll arrive. The bus is fine — it’s cheap, and it gets you where you need to go, but it’s not the most comfortable way to travel. Still, I find that as long as I know when it’ll all be over, I can maintain a level of sanity. Sure, it’s a little too hot in here, and the people two rows up are talking a little too loudly — but there’s only an hour left!

On this trip back, though, I saw something I’d never seen before on Google Maps: a warning that we were about to drive into the massive traffic jam caused by the crash that we’re now stuck in. Google Maps made it pretty clear: We had to get off, or we’d end up in this jam. It suggested multiple alternate routes, any of which would save us upwards of 75 minutes. Just off the bridge, I watched as dozens of cars in front of us suddenly veered to an exit, guided by Google Maps to a better route. On the Turnpike, signs above the roadway warned: “CRASH AHEAD — SEEK ALT ROUTE.” Soon after, more cars — clearly noting the sign, and having opened up Google Maps — found the exit ramp.

Our driver plowed onward — into the jam.

All of this has me thinking about the mistakes we make in life, and what we learn from them. When you’re young, you’re going to make mistakes. Small ones, big ones, dumb ones — you’re going to make them all. You’re going to do things that make you look back and go, What was I thinking?

There will be people in your life who try to steer you away from those mistakes. Often, you’ll ignore them, and make them anyway. Some lessons you just have to learn from experience.

But what I’m most curious about is how you react to those mistakes. It’s OK when you screw up — that’s going to happen! But what happens next? What do you do differently next time? What conversations do you have next to help you learn from the mistake? Do you own the mistake, or not?

I’m here in the back of this bus, wondering what our driver — and what the rest of the folks stuck on the Jersey Turnpike — will do next time. Will they change their driving routine? Will they do some research into apps (Google Maps, Waze, etc.) that might be able to offer them a better route? Will they pay more attention to road signs that warn, in giant letters, “SEEK ALT ROUTE”? Or will they blame it on bad luck, on bad drivers, and stick with the habits that got them into this jam in the first place?

Everyone gets the chance to make their own mistakes. But when you make them, accept the blame — and find ways to learn from them.


Those are screenshots of one of the routes Google Maps suggested — and the one we took.

Here, Read This: “Inside the secret team dinners that have built the Spurs’ dynasty.”

When I was in San Antonio, I covered a fair number of Spurs games. Occasionally, I’d wander into the post-game interviews, and try to sneak in a question to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Popovich is legendarily cranky with the media, but he’s also one of the most interesting voices in sports — if you can get a peek behind the curtain.

And this week, we got a peek. has a great feature on Popovich, and his secret to building a franchise that has won five NBA titles. The key? Frequent team dinners:

“Dinners help us have a better understanding of each individual person, which brings us closer to each other — and, on the court, understand each other better,” former Spurs guard Danny Green says. On the road, whenever possible, the Spurs tend to stay over and fly out the next morning. “So we can have that time together,” former San Antonio center Pau Gasol says. “I haven’t been a part of that anywhere else. And players know the importance of it as well — and how important it is to Pop.”

Says one former player: “I was friends with every single teammate I ever had in my [time] with the Spurs. That might sound far-fetched, but it’s true. And those team meals were one of the biggest reasons why. To take the time to slow down and truly dine with someone in this day and age — I’m talking a two- or three-hour dinner — you naturally connect on a different level than just on the court or in the locker room. It seems like a pretty obvious way to build team chemistry, but the tricky part is getting everyone to buy in and actually want to go. You combine amazing restaurants with an interesting group of teammates from a bunch of different countries and the result is some of the best memories I have from my career.”

(Personally, I like the idea of wine and long dinners more than my 2012 theory: Good Teamwork Starts With Bad Adventures That Go Slightly Wrong.)

Read the whole story here — it’s fantastic.

The Opposite of Division Isn’t Unity. It’s Collaboration.

A few months ago, Sally and I saw Dar Williams play in the city. Dar’s a wonderful musician (“One of America’s very best singer-songwriters,” The New Yorker once wrote, but what do they know?), and she’s had a fascinating career. She’s performed solo and in groups, championed environmental causes, and even wrote a book about rebuilding small towns in America.

When we saw her, she talked a little about what she learned from the book. She said, and I’m paraphrasing here: I’ve been to a lot of towns across this country. I know our country is divided. But the opposite of division isn’t unity — it’s collaboration.

Dar was talking about political division in this country, but I’ve been thinking a lot about that quote in the context of the modern workplace. So many offices seek to present a united front — a “we’re all on the same page” mentality. But it’s not enough to know what else other teams are working on. The best work comes from getting incredibly smart people in the same room, asking great questions, and looking to discover new things from one another. Or, as Dar once put it: “Where does magic come from? / I think magic’s in the learning.”

That’s where the best stuff happens: When teams aren’t just working in parallel, but start working together. That’s where you go beyond being aligned on goals, and start building something truly special.

The Shower Test.

I come up with lots of ideas — some good, most bad — and over the years, I’ve figured out a few different ways to determine if an idea is actually worth pursuing.

One of my favorites is also one of the simplest: The Shower Test.

Quite simply: If I come up with an idea in the morning, and I hop in the shower to get ready for work, do I keep thinking about that idea? Or do I get tired of it?

I find that when I’m truly excited about an idea, I keep working through it. I’ll think about what else I could do with the idea — who I could work with on it, what else I could build from it, what success would look like for it. Often, I’ll find myself rushing out of the shower to jot down a few more ideas on a notepad.

The shower is a great space to work through ideas. Everything in the shower is routine — how often do you put a lot of thought into your shower? — which leaves time to think. I know that if I step into the shower thinking about an idea, and I’m still working through it five or ten minutes later, I might be onto something.

Maybe your Shower Test is a different quiet space: a few minutes in the car on the way to work, an afternoon coffee break, or time cooking dinner alone. Give yourself a few minutes to think through those new ideas. The ones that stick with you might be worth trying.


That photo of a shower comes via Abigail Lynn on Unsplash.

No One Knows What Happens Next.

There’s a famous “Today” show clip, from 1994, about e-mail. You’ve probably seen it. Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric are sitting on a couch, trying to figure out how to correctly read an email address, but get tripped up by the @ sign. (“That little mark with the ‘a’ and the ring around it” is how Gumbel describes it.) And then Gumbel adds the kicker: “What is Internet, anyway?”

That clip turns 25 this year. So does this New Yorker story — one that paints an equally fascinating picture of the internet in 1994, but from a very different perspective. The story is “E-Mail from Bill” — Bill, as in Gates — and it’s a profile of the Microsoft founder. Some of the passages in the piece are eerily prescient. For instance:

But all Gates’ influence and success are small potatoes compared with the influence he could have and with the opportunity that now lies before him. The computer, which in twenty-five years has evolved from a room-size mainframe into a laptop device, appears to be turning into a new kind of machine. The new machine will be a communications device that connects people to the information highway. It will penetrate far beyond the fifteen per cent of American households that now own a computer, and it will control, or absorb, other communications machines now in people’s homes: the phone, the fax, the television. It will sit in the living room, not in the study. The problem of getting people to feel comfortable with such a powerful machine will be partly solved by putting it inside one of the most unobtrusive objects in the house: the set-top converter, which is the featureless black box on top of a cableconnected TV set (the one the cat likes to sit on if the VCR is occupied).

Think about that: Computers did eventually come to most American homes. The computer did eventually absorb the phone, fax (!), and TV — and then kept going.  Today, even refrigerators and cars can be connected devices. In 1994, this prediction was spot on: The big opportunity ahead was figuring out how to power all of our devices.

Here’s another section:

At Microsoft’s main office, in Redmond, a suburb of Seattle, I saw a demo of an early version of the company’s operating software for the information-highway machine, in which the user points at the TV screen with a remote control, clicks onto icons, and selects from menus. I heard a lot about “intelligent agents,” which will at first be animated characters that occasionally appear in the corner of your TV screen and inform you, for example, that President Aristide is on “Meet the Press,” because they know you’re interested in Haitian politics, but will eventually be out there on the information highway, filtering the torrent of information roaring along it, picking out books or articles or movies for you, or receiving messages from individuals. As the agents become steadily more intelligent, they will begin to replace more and more of the functions of human intelligent agents: stockbrokers, postal workers, travel agents, librarians, editors, reporters.

Again: That’s basically right! It describes a web-based TV service (TiVo, Roku, Apple TV), 1.0 versions of what became digital assistants (Siri, Alexa), and the decline of several careers (travel agents, in particular).

OK, here’s another, from John Seabrook, who wrote the piece:

When I was ten, I would sit around with my friends watching it snow, and someone would say, “I wonder what the deepest snowfall ever was,” or something like that, and someone else would say, “Yeah, it would be cool to know that.” It seemed that there should be this giant, all-knowing brain, which could answer that kind of question.

We were just a few years away from putting a name to that all-knowing brain: Google.

Last one:

In twenty years what now takes a year of computing will take fifteen minutes. We have no idea what we are going to do with this power, but it will exist whether we want it to or not.

You could lift that sentence, exactly as written, and place it in a 2019 story about Elon Musk or quantum computing, and it would be just as true as it was 25 years ago.

You should read the whole piece. There are so many unusual moments that only make sense now that we know what happened next. It refers to AOL as “an information service.” It discusses an anti-trust suit that helped give Google a chance to grow — even though the web browser at the heart of the eventual decision (Internet Explorer) did not exist in 1994. It quotes a leader in the tech industry who says that an introvert like Gates “is not the kind of person you want building the social network of the future.” Even Gates himself, when asked about the legacy of leaders such as Steve Jobs, says, “I don’t think any of us will merit an entry in a history book.”

But what I find most incredible is this: it’s a 12,000-word story that does not use the word “internet” once. (The word that Gates and others use, repeatedly, is “information highway.”) It helps to be able to see around corners, to know what’s coming up ahead — Gates clearly could. But no one knew exactly what would happen next, or even what they’d call it when whatever’s next arrived. In 1994, AOL was an experiment, Google was a dream, the hosts of one of America’s most-watched TV shows had no idea what email was, and Bill Gates wasn’t calling the internet “the internet” yet. Remember that. There are times when you’ll feel like you have no idea what’s happening, or what you’re supposed to do next, but you’re not alone. No one knows — we are all just figuring this out as we go along.


That photo of Bill Gates is by Thomas Hawk and is used here thanks to a Creative Commons license.

“Believe In What Is Possible In Life.”

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my Washington Capitals, and their improbable run to the Stanley Cup. “It’s OK to believe,” I wrote. And because 2018 is relentless, here’s a nearly identical story from the world of sports, this time from the World Cup. This week, England beat Colombia in a penalty shootout — the first such victory for England ever at the World Cup, after three previous heartbreaking losses in penalties. Their manager, Garrett Southgate, was part of a famous penalty shootout loss, at the 1996 Euro championships, when he missed one of the penalty shots that cost England the game.

But as manager, Southgate took that experience and tried to face it head on. The Guardian explained how in an article this week:

Make no mistake, this shootout success belongs to Gareth Southgate. He is unlike every England coach who has faced a penalty shootout in the past: the only one to have missed a penalty for England, and the only one to accept that the penalty shootout is not a lottery; that taking penalties is about performing a skill under pressure; and that penalties can be trained.

Not for him the arrogance, incompetence or fatalism of England coaches past. “You can never recreate on the training ground the circumstances of the shootout,” said Glenn Hoddle in 1998. “When it comes to the pressure we are not good,” said Sven-Göran Eriksson in 2006. “You can’t reproduce the tired legs. You can’t reproduce the pressure,” said Roy Hodgson in 2012.

Southgate turned the trauma of his own experience in 1996 into a vindication of five months’ work preparing for the prospect of a shootout. Funny how we heard similar excuses from the Spain coach Fernando Hierro — “it’s a lottery and we were unlucky” — and Denmark’s Åge Hareide — “unfortunately it was decided by a lottery” — after their shootout defeats at the weekend.

Southgate talked to his players about owning the process, and he worked on the players’ individual technique and team dynamics. He even recreated “the tired legs”, with Kieran Trippier admitting that players had “practised and practised and practised” penalties, taking spot-kicks while fatigued at the end of long sessions. Twenty-eight years of World Cup penalty hurt and all it needed was a bit of practice. Who would have thought it?

They even practiced ways to avoid screwing up the timing of their routines. Here’s one wonderful nugget:

[England goalie Jordan] Pickford also handed the ball to each England player on his way to the spot. This is owning the process, and ensured that [Colombia goalie] David Ospina would not disrupt any players’ routine by making them walk to get the ball.

England won the shootout, 4-3, and advanced to a quarterfinal game tomorrow versus Sweden.

And as much as I love the preparation that Southgate put his team through, his quote after the match was just as fantastic — and reminded me so much of what I heard from the Caps this spring:

“We’ve spoken to the players about writing their own stories. Tonight they showed they don’t have to conform to what’s gone before. They have created their own history, and I don’t want to go home yet. Missing my penalty [at Euro 96] will never be ‘off my back’, sadly. That’s something that will live with me forever. But today is a special moment for this team. It’ll hopefully give belief to the generations of players that will follow. We always have to believe in what is possible in life and not be hindered by history or expectations.”

Well said. I’ll be rooting for England tomorrow. It would be an amazing thing to watch a team defy history and win it all — again.


That photo comes via Unsplash and photographer FuYong Hua.