Buzzfeed’s Kismet Engine that Drives Deliberate Focus

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People often hold this ideal about how great work gets done through serendipity, as if brains to stumble upon each other like characters in a romantic comedy. More often, the spark happens when we create the conditions for it to do so. If you really want lightning to strike, you don’t just mosey along empty-handed, you go out there with a lightning rod.

Jon Steinberg, president and COO of Buzzfeed found his lightning rod system, what he calls his “kismet engine.” That fateful engine is Snippets, a surprisingly simple productivity system that originated at Google.

How Snippets works at Buzzfeed is this:  employees send Jon a weekly email by the end of the workday on Friday identifying what they’ve been working on and what they need help with. Everyone can also subscribe to each others’ snippets. As for Jon, he reads his compiled snippets over the weekend and then responds with feedback and questions.

He explains, this makes it possible to “connect dots and people on things I wouldn’t otherwise know about.” Voilà, facilitated kismet.

With Snippets showing Jon and the growing team at Buzzfeed where all the dots are, they get a sense of the layers of individual details and multitudes of dots that help create the big impressionistic picture. The result is that:

“Snippets … forces me to review my week and tell the whole company what my contributions and challenges were for the week. Some weeks it feels great, other weeks not so much. On the weeks it feels disappointing, it’s a great forcing function to prioritize and focus.”

Depending on what’s going on, that kind of transparency may show you something wonderful or ugly or what’s sticking out. Getting a view of the picture’s composition is revealing and full of insight. And it’s a good deal better than the alternative of merely having a random, vague sense of what’s going on, only seeing some percentage of the whole.

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This kind of process is essential given how — as Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, suggests with great wisdom — “if you don’t take the time to think proactively you will increasingly find yourself reacting to your environment rather than influencing it.”

Oftentimes, in the workplace, we don’t take time to think, reflect, and situate ourselves. So we try to connect the dot when it’s actually someone else calling out Twister directions and end up entangled and mired.

The ironic thing is that thinking — no matter how proactive it is — looks like you’re doing nothing. And maybe this explains people’s reluctance to put reflection and review into real, meaningful practice.

Yet embracing that appearance of doing nothing and taking the time to think is integral, psychiatrist T. Byram Karasu explains, “for previously unrelated thoughts and feelings to interact, to regroup themselves into new formations and combinations, and thus to bring harmony to the mind.” And tuning in, Dr. Karasu says, ultimately creates rather than takes away, because you build a better sense of reciprocation.

By being in touch with the internal, you establish links with the external world. Tuning in, not just on an individual but team and company level, is how you connect, sync, and plan, enable kismet instead of waiting for lightning, influence rather than react.

Images:[1] Scott Beale / Laughing Squid; [2] Lisa Plummer