We lose focus slowly

You’d be tricked into thinking there are most often big, grand moments of obvious distractions that you as a leader can turn down.

We lose focus, in our projects, organizations and efforts, not at once, but by slow trickle. You can’t stay focused with a single no, it takes constant vigilance. Lost focus comes with a 1,000 small questions no reasonable person would say no to.

A leader has to have a clear destination in mind and constantly remind herself of it. Sometimes, it will take grand moments of cleansing to undo many small moments gone unnoticed.

Because it is not something that comes naturally to me, I think often of focus. In 2009, I was thinking about how to fine-tune a focus on this very blog. In 2011, I made a resolution to focus, after a flurry of experiments. I did something similar when I turned 30. Entrepreneurial leaders have always advocated for obsessive focus, to be the absolute best and most powerful in one clear way, to strive for monopoly.

(Photo of Focus by Stefan Cosma via Unsplash)

Predicting the future isn’t as hard as predicting when that future will come

On a long enough timeline, you might be right about plenty.

The cars might drive themselves. The software might generate itself. The transited American “inner cities” might become wealthy hubs segregated from poor inner-ring suburbs.

You could make predictions for days. Looked indefinitely, there are few trends I’d challenge. If a bet is a tax on bullshit, it’s not the idea I’d be as quick to challenge as the timing. That’s because, of course, it’s easier to predict the future than it is to predict when that future will happen.

Predicting the future is difficult because it’s easy to expect that future to look too similar or too different than the past. That stays tricky because

Look at predictions about 2019 that Isaac Asimov made in 1983. It’s difficult. But he just might have gotten the timing more wrong than the content.

It’s worth remembering that the very reason our memory can be faulty may be a consequence of our evolved ability to imagine a future.

(Photo by Naomi Tamar via Unsplash)

Real Life Local News Revenue Experiments: ONA19 session

Powered by a decade of pursuing local news revenue models, I got together a few friends doing similar work and hosted a session during the 20th annual Online News Association conference, in New Orleans, on Thursday.

The session was called Real Life Local News Revenue Experiments That Aren’t Advertising. Building on a 2016 lightning talk at the same conference, I published an essay a few days before the session to gather related thoughts and spark conversation.

My big takeaway: journalism is a strategy, not an industry. Or put another way, it is an approach to competing in any number of business models. For local journalism to thrive in the future, we need to find and experiment there.

Find notes, slides and more below.

Continue reading Real Life Local News Revenue Experiments: ONA19 session

‘Journalism Thinking’ doesn’t need a business model. It needs a call to arms

I originally posted this on Medium here. It received considerable endorsement, including here, here and here.

Early professional news networks in the 14th and 15th centuries were couriers on horseback, informing warlords and merchants. Even competitors saw the value in shared professional news gathering, when there wasn’t a state-owned alternative. Subscriptions, then, subsidized the first foreign affairs and business reporters.

Over the next 500 years, innovations in distribution and in printing and paper technology shaped professional news-gathering into the 20th century model we most recognize today: advertising revenue subsidized relatively low unit costs to ensure widely available mass media (albeit almost exclusively from a white male perspective, but that needs its own post entirely).

Today we’re well into the first generation of the digital transformation of news-gathering and distribution. Yet we as journalism practitioners are still managing to underestimate how dramatically things have changed.

Continue reading ‘Journalism Thinking’ doesn’t need a business model. It needs a call to arms

Here are a bunch of rules to live by from other people I love

Short, sweet, meaningful rules to live by are a delight.

Last year I shared my own, inspired by the book, and it became a talking point among friends and family for much of the year. I love hearing anyone’s rules; even if I don’t agree with them, they’re telling of that person and a worldview. They make me think.

So, without naming any names, below I share a few sets of rules I heard from others because I just think these are so much fun. I’d love to hear yours too.

Continue reading Here are a bunch of rules to live by from other people I love

Authenticity is having no other choice

Is that pizza authentic? What about that neighborhood? Or the clothes they’re wearing? Or the slang they’re using?

To my ears, authentic doesn’t mean famous or even necessarily good. Authentic is not having a choice. Or not even being conscious of the choice.

Someone is authentic when they are true to themselves; they haven’t conjured up some sense of self. Rather, they’ve remained more or less true to their experience. A product or service or idea or experience is similar. It’s doing a job without being overly aware of itself.

Authenticity is having no other choice.

A few things I’ve learned and love about whiskey

Whiskey is my alcohol of choice. That’s a preference founded on years and perfectly-me nerdy intention, as you might have read.

For most of the last decade I’ve casually tried to learn more about the culture, stories and experience. Below I share a few concepts that have stood out to me as most interesting.

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Little ways an organizational leader can show her team she cares about them as people

Pay them a competitive salary. Protect against mission and role creep. Give something clear to work toward and a strategy to employ to get there.

As an organizational leader, these are the foundations of developing a healthy relationship with your workforce. I’ve found there are other signs of an empathetic organizational culture that you can develop, without excessive budget needs.

These are examples of ways to show your team that you actually care about them as people. It goes a long way to develop the relationships you need to take on a big challenge, particularly without a pile of money.

Continue reading Little ways an organizational leader can show her team she cares about them as people

Notes from reading ‘Sapiens,’ a brief history of humankind

Our species, Homo sapiens, first grew powerful by banding together through myth-making. That self-deception is our strength and our curse.

That is something like the thesis of Sapiens, a kind of pop anthropology anthology that has — like all books that generalize heady issues — caught both praise and derision. Written by Yuval Noah Harari, it was first published in Hebrew in Israel in 2011 and in English in 2014. I was gifted a copy by a collaborator of mine, Deborah Diamond and I ready it in a couple weeks. I’m sharing here some of what I got from reading it.

Public intellectuals seem to face a harrowing choice. Either dive deeply into their subject matter to influence their peers but risk their ideas remaining obscure, or focus on translating and synthesizing for a broader audience, and attract scorn from those deeper situated in the academic. Harari is squarely in the latter category, garnering a 2018 New York Times profile focused on the adulation he’s received from tech executives, despite his criticism of their work.

Like a breakout hit in linguistics that I read, I approach these books with neither extreme. I find them fun, discover ideas to dive deeper into and often get inspiration. That was my experience with Harari’s book — even though I found myself ignoring extended passages of his extrapolation. I enjoyed it.

Continue reading Notes from reading ‘Sapiens,’ a brief history of humankind