Reflections, Insights, and Adjustments for the Future of Jaja in by Jahan Sharif

A few years ago, when I was still living in New York City, my executive producer made an off handed comment that I’ve carried with me ever since.

We were launching a new show, and many of us on the team had been furiously trying to figure out what the “right” segments to pitch were, and what types of guests really embodied the intention of the show’s mission. One day, a group of us was huddled together comparing notes on research we’d done, when our EP walked by. When she realized what we were doing, she said, “Don’t think too much about getting it right out of the gate-- the show won’t even begin to know what it is until at least episode ten. And plus, I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve told people not to even watch until episode 6!”

I found this logic curious, so I visited her office later that day to ask for clarification.

She explained that it was important to have a clear sense of where we were trying to go, but not to be wedded to the original ideas I thought would get us there. The best way to get there, she continued, was to think really hard about what might work, try it out, and then adjust: “Refine the things that work, and experiment with the things that don’t.”

(It turns out this concept was mathematically proven by George Dantzig in 1947. He developed the Simplex Method for solving complex problems. Basically, the fastest way to find the optimal answer to problems with many variables is to assess where you are, find the best next step, and then assess again-- repeating the process until you’ve arrived at a solution that cannot be further improved.)

So what was it about episodes six and ten that were unique? I asked. She said that it takes at least five episodes to identify any trends, and another five episodes to put any insights into action. So episode six would be the first chance we’d have to refine the show, and episode 10 would be the next time we’d see results. If we were doing things right, the improvements at points six and ten should be dramatic.

Well friends, this post you’re reading now is our episode 10. And if you haven’t noticed, I’ve been trying all sorts of things! In fact, I think it’s worth a few moments to look back.

My first piece was a personal story about The Unintended Consequences of Buying a Rolex. I followed this up with a college research paper/think piece called The Magical Realism of Karl Lagerfeld. Then, I tried to make it more personal by recounting my experience with gentrification, before rebuking my own lesson and taking a hard left to write a poem about environmental conservation, which I followed with a piece on the spiritual experience of Jazz.

Those were my first five pieces, and I’m so grateful you stuck by me through this period of schizophrenia.

Fortunately by this point, through my communications with many of you and reflecting myself, I’d learned some things:

  • I needed to make my content more personal

  • I needed to focus my message

  • I needed to curate the content so it was useful

  • I needed to find a format that was sustainable and scalable

With that in mind, my next post was Coming Out Isn’t Just for Gays. This was my best received piece. It achieved many of the goals above. I told my personal story of how I arrived at this topic, and it had useful and actionable content for readers. For me though, the most valuable takeaway was that it showed me where my lane was. It reminded me that I am most at home in the space between a compelling story and an audience-- the facilitator.

Since then, I’ve published interviews with two captivating characters building community in their own ways: Efrem Fesaha with his coffee shop in Renton, WA and Jesse Morton, the former Al-Qaeda recruiter who is using his clout to unify former radicals in an effort to combat violent extremism.

While these changes feel intuitively right, I am reassured by the fact that the empirical data suggests you like it too! So I’m going to continue in this direction.

The intention of Jaja in to share stories that help guide us toward fostering more meaningful relationships with the people, things, and events in our lives remains the same. But now, instead of trying to communicate those lessons through disjointed “day in the life of Jahan” essays, I’ll be using my skills and access as a tv producer to bring you the stories of interesting people and organizations that are putting these values into practice through their own lives, and in creative ways. The formats will vary and surely evolve, but for now you can expect to receive a mix of audio and written content.

As Gary Bartz said that night I went to see him, “I don’t know where we gon’ go or how we gon’ get there, but I hope you enjoy it.”

The same is true for us.


Los Angeles, CA, USA
April 2019

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