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March 15, 2016 | Issue 18
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the morning shakeout by mario fraioli
the morning shakeout
Take a seat, stay awhile. instagram.com/mariofraioli

¡Buenos días! Here are five things I'm fired up about this week:

Ask the right questions.

I really enjoyed this recent New York Times article by reporter and author Charles Duhigg explaining how the “Five Whys” method helped him and his wife get to the root cause of why they weren’t able to eat dinner with their kids at night. 

What is the “Five Whys” method? It’s “a process of continually asking questions until you get to the root cause of every activity performed,” according to The Harvard Business Review. In the Duhigg’s specific case, they discovered that an inefficient morning routine threw off the rest of the day, which made it difficult to have dinner as a family at the same time.  

Duhigg’s piece is a good reminder that asking the right questions is a necessary first step toward solving any problem. “Whys” are certainly a good place to start (ask any reporter!), but some well-timed “whats” and “hows” can go a long way in putting you on the path to finding better solutions to problems—especially those with multiple root causes.

“Productivity isn’t about running faster or pushing yourself harder, but rather, about working smarter and paying a bit more attention to what is really going on,” Duhigg writes. Substitute “productive training” for “productivity” in this line and the same holds true for athletes and coaches. How many runners, after a breakthrough race (or more often, after a disappointing race(s)), decide they’re going to take it to the next level (or break out of their funk) by running faster workouts and/or piling on miles? I see this all the time—and often with adverse results, injury or some combination of the two! Pay closer attention to what’s going on in your training (or your athletes’ training), ask the right questions so you can uncover the root cause(s) that might be affecting performance (positively or negatively), and make the right decisions based on what you learn.  

Meldonium’s got (at least) 99 problems.

I’m getting tired of reading about doping on a daily basis, but since I mentioned meldonium in this space a week ago and predicted a “drug-popping avalanche,” this follow-up is a necessary one. Last Friday, the World Anti-Doping Agency confirmed that there have been 99 positive tests for the drug since it was added to the banned substance list on Jan. 1 of this year. NINETY NINE. That’s more than 1 pop a day on average so far this year for a drug that very few people had heard about until just a few weeks ago. How many of those are track and field athletes? Time will tell, but given Meldonium’s purported benefits—enhanced endurance and improved recovery—along with the fact that 2013 world 1,500m champion Abeba Aregawi has already been busted for it, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess it’s a fairly high percentage. “Never seen anything like it,” Max Cobb, the chief executive of U.S. Biathlon, told the New York Times on Sunday. “It’s definitely shocking and disturbing for me personally because I think it’s probably not the only pharmaceutical being used to enhance performance.” Translation: The “gray” zone of what some athletes will do/use to improve performance is a lot wider than most people think.

Will you pay up?

Here’s a question for you, my loyal readers: Would you (if you don’t already) pay a nominal subscription free (say $1-10/month) for access to content from your favorite website or newsletter? No, I’m not asking this to serve my own interests—your subscription to the morning shakeout will always remain free, no worries—but it’s a question publishers small and large (like Wired) across the web are pondering in an age of changing business models, diminishing banner ad revenues and an influx of branded content. “A subscription model rewards investing in the trust of your readers,” writes Ernst-Jan Pfauth, co-founder of the free ad-free subscription-based journalism platform The Correspondent. “An advertising model does not. When selling ads, you have to decide how far you want to go in fooling your readers. How big will I make that native ad label? Should I package this photo series in a slideshow just so it will lead to more clicks? Should I make the question in my headline more click-worthy, even if the article doesn’t really answer it?” I’m not sure I fully agree with Pfauth’s stance, but his article made me think of a recent podcast I listened to with host John Gruber of Daring Fireball and guest Ben Thompson of Stratechery, two full-time bloggers in the tech space with drastically different business models. Beginning 28:30 into the podcast, Gruber and Thompson discuss Twitter, Facebook and the state of online advertising, along with their own strategies for making a living on the web—Gruber sells one exclusive weeklong sponsorship on his site alongside a small, nonintrusive ad unit from The Deck, while Thompson goes ad and sponsor-free, offering subscriptions to exclusive content for $10/month or $100/year. Granted, Gruber and Thompson are independent niche publishers and not massive media companies but they’re proof that both models can keep the lights on when you produce consistently good content for a loyal audience that trusts and values what you have to say. And whether you're an advertiser or a reader, that's something worth paying for. 

Dream your way out of it.

Maria Konnikova makes her second straight appearance in the morning shakeout for this excellent New Yorker piece on beating writer’s block. The trick? When all else fails, try getting out of your own head and putting your thoughts in a dream diary. “Such escapes allow writers to find comfort in the face of uncertainty,” Konnikova writes. “They give writers’ minds the freedom to imagine, even if the things they imagine seem ludicrous, unimportant, and unrelated to any writing project.”

Respect the Silver lining. 

NBA commissioner Adam Silver is a smart guy and he's a major reason the league is thriving on a number of levels right now. Now, imagine if track and field could get a leader like him to take charge, increase transparency and communication, innovate in a number of different areas and move the sport forward...on second thought, let's save that discussion for another day. For now, check out Silver's top-20 digital insights about the NBA from South by Southwest. Number 2 (“Most people won’t sit down and watch a two-and-a-half hour game. They are going to watch highlights.”) and number 13 (“Whether millennials pay for cable as we know it, I think they pay for great content.”) stood out to me the most, and I think the commish's main messages here can be applied to different types of media, in particular longform writing. There’s a reason curated newsletters (such as this one) are thriving—most people won’t sit down to read an entire 2,000-10,000-word story—but I also know there are readers who will pay to read great original writing, whether it comes in digital or physical form. Note: See “Will you pay up?” above. Finally, along the lines of what I've written and shared about BuzzFeed in past weeks, the NBA is embarking on a full-court press in regard to how they cover different aspects of the sport and distribute content to fans. They're far ahead of the other professional sports leagues, much l ike BuzzFeed is outpacing many other publishers. You could say that Adam Silver is the Jonah Peretti of professional sports—or maybe it's the other way around. 

That’s all I’ve got this week. If you liked what you read here, please forward this to a friend and encourage he or she to subscribe. If you didn’t like it, share it with your enemies and/or chew me out by replying directly to this email.

Thanks for reading,

Mario

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