Buzzer Management

On Monday, Seth Godin returned to The Moment with Brian Koppelman for another riveting, wide-ranging conversation that touched on mentors, expectations, and something new he calls "buzzer management." 

It's been nearly a year since his first appearance on The Moment—one that I listened to four or five times. That conversation helped me learn crucial lessons about myself, both personally and professionally, and re-orient my outlook on important elements of my life. It launched me into an exploration of Godin's work and reinvigorated a meaningful intellectual pursuit.

Why did I react a certain way when a professional relationship unexpectedly ruptured? How could I have prepared for and/or obviated that moment? What are the real consequences of being artistically blocked? How do I know when to quit and when to push through? 

These are just a few of the questions that conversation helped me formulate and answer, or at least begin to answer. Koppelman hints that the episode had a similar impact on many of his listeners.

This episode forged a different path. Instead of being a highlight reel of Godin's novel insights, it felt more personal—probably because he and Koppelman have become better friends and enjoyed more off-microphone exchanges over the last year.

Buzzer Management

As soon as it came out of Godin's mouth, it made sense: buzzer management. He'd been on an academic competition team of sorts, but, despite knowing all the answers, never fared well in tournaments because he wasn't quick on the draw. Then, he identified the issue, tested a theory, and won. The difference? Buzzer management.

Here's the secret to buzzer management, according to Seth: "You must press the buzzer before you know you know the answer." In other words, you have to think, "I'm the kind of person who knows the answer to that question. And then in between you buzzing and they calling on you, you figure out the answer."

So, what does that mean for the 99.999% of life that occurs outside of games like Family Feud or Jeopardy? 

Buzzer management is the skill of knowing to take a risk to jump in when you believe you can solve a problem. In a sense, it's a precursor to The Dip. A dip is what separates ordinary from extraordinary, however those are defined. A dip is a crossroads where we must decide to quit and focus on other endeavors, or push through the really hard stuff (i.e. the dip) that stands between wherever we are and the truly remarkable. The harder the pursuit, the more likely that pushing through the dip will pay off because others will either quit beforehand or drown in the dip.

How do we decide whether to take the risk? Buzzer management. Now comes the challenge of hitting the buzzer. In the abstract, buzzer management make sense, but buzzing isn't a simple yes-or-no proposition in the real world.

Maybe I see a posting for what looks like a dream job that I know I'd crush. Do I have ideas about the job? Yes. Do I have skills? Yes. Am I willing to take a risk? Yes. Am I interested? Hell yes! Do I buzz? Well, I want to, but I have to do more than whack the buzzer. I need the buzzer to buzz after I hit it. I need that company—that recruiter and hiring committee, for example—to buzz.

Maybe I want to start a company to fold projects into a more formal, marketable package. That I can do without relying on someone else. In that case, all I have to do is hit the buzzer—pick a name, buy the domain, make a website, tell people, and start doing it. As such, Godin's buzzer management makes more sense in the world of freelancing, founding, and creating. Here, knowing that I'm the type of person who would know the answer would be helpful. After that, it's just a matter of figuring out what the answer is.