P003: Minimum Viable Process

Mind The Gap

Ira Glass is the host and producer of the hugely influential weekly radio show This American Life, but that wasn’t always the case. In 2008, he recorded a four part interview with Current TV detailing his growth in the arts that resonated so completely with creative people worldwide that it is being referenced and built upon to this day. In a section of the interview dubbed “Closing the Taste Gap,” Glass takes two minutes to expertly distill the doubt and exasperation that surely afflicts anyone who is just starting and prescribes a way forward. Last week, videographer Daniel Sax gave that quote a vibrant typographic treatment that elevated the entire concept. I beg you to take a moment and enjoy:

The Gap on Vimeo

While the idea that you can brute force your way to proficiency is not unique, a question that is left unanswered is what to do with the substandard work being produced before your reach proficiency? Is it possible to make an impact with your work before your skills are fully formed?


Perhaps the most confusingly-named concept in the world of lean startup tactics is the Minimum Viable Product, or MVP for short. In a nutshell, a MVP measures enthusiasm for a product while minimizing the up-front development time of said product, allowing for the message to be molded and refined in response to the market. Perhaps the canonical example would be the landing page announcing a new product or service that encourages you to “sign up for more information.” Of course at this point, the product doesn’t exist any more than the Photoshop comps required to build the landing page. Following a modest paid-media campaign, development will start on the product only if enough people express interest. If this all sounds horribly cynical to you, then congratulations: you are a human being. But maybe we can find a way to reconcile MVP and brute force creative iteration?

Try Minimum Viable Process

If we accept that there are no shortcuts to creative competency, then we must find efficiencies elsewhere at the start. By refining your process and stripping away the overhead, you get out of the gate quicker and simplify the revision and refinement cycles. Some target areas to consider:

  • Manage expectations. Don’t just stamp the word “beta” across your logo. Communicate directly with your audience and let them know that this is a work in progress. Create tight feedback loops that trades the polish of the finished product for a sense that the reader is being heard.
  • Skip the big launch. Do you have a website and a Twitter account? No? That’s cool I’ll wait here for the 5 minutes it takes to set that up. Once you do, put the absolute bare minimum on each. Launch with a default website template and an Egg Twitter icon and put the focus on your work.
  • Reserve the right to pivot. For example, if you realize you don’t really care about adding week-in-review-style links to your email newsletter, then stop doing it in the third issue.
  • Listen, listen, listen. Google Analytics isn’t enough. Create a dialog with your audience and value their response. By minimizing your overhead at the start, you can iterate against user feedback without backtracking over months worth of work.

By setting limitations on the secondary BS, you can force yourself to focus on producing the work. If the work turns out to be great, no one is going to remember that you launched without a proper logo.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron


P002: A Really Big Shoe

Objects in Motion

The practice of free writing is one where the author sits and writes continuously, heedless of spelling and grammar, on the subject at front of mind. By focusing on the quantity of words rather than the quality of the prose, the author can break free from stasis and build momentum.

If the stated goal of a publication is to examine the value of repetition and schedule, inertia must be given due consideration. Its two components, starting and sustaining, should be familiar to anyone who has read a self-help manual. But while seemingly the entire tech industry worships at the alter of the start, precious little is made of the maintenance. Turns out there are few page views to be had extolling the virtues of dogged enthusiasm for repetitive tasks.

But in 2014 you still have major publications writing about the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Few would disagree that Beatles are icons, but why is this performance so fondly remembered? My theory: by 1964, the Ed Sullivan Show had been on the air every Sunday night for sixteen years. He had a devoted audience that trusted his enthusiasm for this band. And when seventy three million Americans laid eyes on the four lads from Liverpool that night in February, what was already a pop phenomenon became a full-scale invasion. The Beatles didn’t need anyone’s help by 1964, but Ed Sullivan didn’t become a cultural institution just by getting his show on the air. He got it by grinding it out every Sunday for more than two decades.

Fresh Starts and Modest Changes

The Back to Work podcast will be recording its 156th episode today (3 years!), but the one you need to know is #47: Utter Failure and Hotel Steak. Unless of course you have stuck with your New Years resolutions? For the rest of us, this gem of an episode can help you set reasonable goals and realistic expectations.

Just Ignore the Paragraph About How David Carr Was Ahead of His Time in 2001

Ezra Klein has left The Washington Post and will be running a new site at Vox Media. Carr eulogizes Old Media while writing for the New York Times and I kept waiting for him to break into Dogespeak to establish cred. Very Masthead. Such CMS. Wow. Anyway: I liked this move better the first time, when it was done by Nate Silver.

Two In The Can

Thanks for your time as I figure out this thing, and thanks to everyone who filled out the survey. If you didn’t get a chance, you can always reply to his email if you have feedback. Make sure to stay tuned as I incorporate (co-opt) some of your great ideas.

Periodically yours,
Bob Sherron



P001: This is Periodically

Forward-Looking Statements

Today I’m going to write several hundred words about email newsletters. Next week, I’m going to do the same thing, and the weeks to follow as well. As the weeks go by, I intend to forge a mutually beneficial relationship with you, Dear Reader. What has begun as a buffalo-sauced beta test will (hopefully) bloom into a long-running, bi-directional exchange of opinion and information about how people communicate today.

It’s my belief that publishing on a regular schedule to an audience that has proactively subscribed to your work yields a deeper connection than other methods. Together, we’re going to see if that’s true.

While in beta, I’ll be twerking the form and tone, but you can expect one brief “think piece” (can we get a better name for that?) and a few news items. Thanks, in advance, for your time and attention.

Changing Horses Mid-Stream

Last month, Alexis Madrigal wrote a fantastic piece for The Atlantic titled 2013: The Year ‘the Stream’ Crested. In it, Madrigal makes the compelling argument that the real-time, never-ending nature of the web has exhausted it’s most enthusiastic participants. Instead, we are seeing a shift towards content with natural boundaries that allows for completion and, ideally, reflection. While I, for one, welcome our new #longform overlords, the real appeal is in a hybrid approach: get the broad strokes of the latest issues from the stream, then let someone like Dave Pell sift through the noise to find the definitive take in his always excellent NextDraft.

The Magazine: The Book, The Kickstarter

Glenn Fleishman is no stranger to regularly scheduled content. The publisher of the biweekly iOS newsstand app The Magazine, freelance journalist for The Economist and prolific podcaster (among many other things) recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to collect the best works from the first year of The Magazine into a hard bound volume. Hear that story on the latest episode of his show, The New Disruptors. Oh, did I mention he recently started an email newsletter?

Steamy Newsletter Gossip

Today in Tabs, a snarky, link-heavy list of hatereads that got swallowed up by Newsweek (of all places) recently got dragged into the middle of some sort of drama scene. Turns out calling “dibs” doesn’t actually do anything in the internet? As with everything best suited for the E! Network, the Gawker recap is the only link you need.

Bye For Now

Thanks again, Dear Reader. Look for Periodically on Tuesday mornings. If you have any feedback or suggestions of newsletters for me to follow, just reply to this email.

Periodically yours,
Bob Sherron