Career Spotlight: Kyle Hagge, Lead Community Manager at Morning Brew
Building community, engineering serendipity, and dot connecting.
Every month, I feature a top performer on a ‘Career Spotlight’ and interview them about their journey, mindset, and habits.
Last month, I interviewed Jason Shen, Product Manager at Meta / Facebook—to chat about founding multiple ventures, breaking Guinness world records, and the value of experimentation.
This month, I’m talking with Kyle Hagge – Lead Community Manager at Morning Brew.
Kyle’s one of the first people I met in real life, off Twitter. I’ve always had a knack for making internet friends and I guess Kyle did too. We’ve done a few meetups together and today, continue to throw ‘tech’ dinner parties with friends from the internet.
Immediately, he struck me as someone who was incredibly thoughtful, creative, and sharp. If you’re on Twitter, send over a follow as he regularly drops wisdom on life and work
He also works at what I’d consider one of the world’s coolest companies, Morning Brew.
Morning Brew started off as a newsletter and has now evolved into a multi-dimensional media company, with various newsletters covering marketing, retail, and HR news, multiple podcasts, and even the Morning Brew Accelerator, a program that helps folks up-level their business skills.
I’m excited to introduce y’all to Kyle.
He’s had a fascinatingly interesting, non-linear career path that has granted him a diverse set of experiences. He’s a fantastic writer – extremely witty and persuasive - and has accomplished amazing things ranging from teaching at a high school to co-founding a business, but I won't give too much away.
Can you walk us through your career journey? What do you do today as a Lead Community Manager?
My career has followed a very zig-zag path.
I went from Minneapolis to Milwaukee right after college where I did: Two years of AmeriCorps teaching in a high school, got my Masters in Political Science at Marquette while working for the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee, had my own local media venture focused on civic engagement, went through a startup accelerator with a wireless charging company I co-founded, and lastly worked for Marquette University on a variety of innovation initiatives, including producing the Innovators on Tap podcast with the University’s Innovator-in-Residence.
All in all, I spent 6 years in Milwaukee and would say I collected a lot of dots with all these varied experiences.
In February 2021, I started at Morning Brew as the first community hire for our new education business unit.
I would say this is the job where I started connecting all the dots from my past experiences and it became a really unique fit between my skillset and the requirements for the job. In some ways, being in community is specializing in being a generalist.
That’s how I would describe myself.
What’s working at Morning Brew like? Can you talk more about the culture, people, and mission?
Morning Brew is an incredible place to work and I’m extremely grateful to be surrounded by the people and the opportunities the company cultivates. I would say we are a very “on-line” culture and one in which individual personalities are allowed to thrive. This has made being a remote-friendly company incredibly easy as I feel like I still get a sense of the whole humanity of my colleagues.
If I had to define the people at Morning Brew, I would say they all possess a kind ambition. We have big goals as a company, and the people are very passionate about achieving and exceeding those goals, but this ambition isn’t coupled with nastiness — everyone is incredibly kind and positive-sum thinkers where we know we can all help each other achieve the things professionally and personally we all want to achieve. I’d also say curiosity is core to everyone that works at Morning Brew.
I can better speak to the mission of Learning Brew (Morning Brew’s Education business unit):
We are here to take the BS out of Business Education — In other words, we think learning should actually be fun (wild concept, I know) and that we can help people accelerate their careers in a way that is hyper-relevant, community forward, and accessible.
What is community? How do you build community?
Community has become the king of buzzwords lately.
I dare you to scroll Twitter and not see a single tweet thread talking about community. And I tend to think people try and over-intellectualize community.
To me, it’s basic. A community is a group that supports each other through a shared experience. There’s other elements that tend to emerge: a shared language, similar goals, sense of identity, etc…but I think we all know when we feel part of a community and when we don’t. It’s intuitive.
I’m sure there are tons of way to build community, but I tend to think of going through a shared experience as an integral part.
When people go through something with other people, and are intentional about that experience, bonds start to form. But I think it takes time and commitment. Community isn’t just adding someone to a group chat or a Slack channel. If it’s easy, it probably isn’t community.
Community doesn’t happen overnight. It’s shared experiences, it’s showing up consistently, it’s supporting each other.
Can you talk about Collision Theory?
Collision Theory is my own personal framework for what is, basically, engineering serendipity in your own life.
When you are young, I think putting yourself in situations where you collide with as many new things as possible (ideas, people, experiences) is the best path to learning and having a fulfilling life.
Particularly when you want to be creative and innovative, it's crucial to have a giant pool of data points to pull from. Innovation is all about applying analogies across domains, and if you don’t have a lot of knowledge about a lot of different domains, it becomes really hard to be creative.
What have some of the biggest obstacles in your career been?
Quite frankly, I haven’t had many obstacles that are outside the normal stuff that all of us have to deal with. I’ve lived a privileged life due to a variety of factors. I do think I work very hard and have done some cool things, but it’s easier when people have preconceived notions around my talents and abilities that benefit me.
I’d say the largest personal challenge I have been through was my freshman year of college. I left Minnesota and went to school in DC. I don’t think I was mature enough to handle that transition, and the result was a year of extreme anxiety and sadness. Fortunately, I learned a ton from that experience; it left me a more empathetic, kind, and resilient person. I can now confidently say I wouldn’t change that experience for anything, and I’m grateful I was able to grow a lot from that year.
What key habits, mindsets, or behaviors do you attribute your career success to?
I had a mentor at my previous job that I learned a lot from, and he had something called the UFO test. I think it’s actually 3 mindsets that I try to embody.
UFO stands for: Uncertainty, Failure, and Ownership.
Uncertainty: I think you have to be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity if you want to succeed. Not only is the world changing rapidly, so there is almost built in ambiguity, but this is also an acknowledgement that you can’t sit around and come up with the perfect solution. Action leads to insight, and not vice-versa, so when something is uncertain, keep going. If you wait for perfection, you’ll never get started.
Failure: Examining your relationship with failure is one of the best things you can do. For those that shy away from failure, you’ll never grow. It’s easy to write, but it is a lot harder to do. A lot of institutions condition us to avoid failure at all costs, which I think limits our appetite for risks as an adult. You shouldn’t be trying to fail, but if you do, being able to re-frame it as learning and then go out and try again is a superpower. It’s akin to a growth mindset.
Ownership: This one is tricky. There’s some things that are going to happen in your career that are outside of your defined role and responsibilities. And you’re not wrong to not take the blame if the project fails, but you did your part. But I do think a career unlock is to take ownership of the entire business unit, and if it isn’t successful, to take that personally and to ask “what more could I have done?” Again, even if those things fall outside of your responsibilities, I think we all love working and collaborating with people who aren’t afraid to do things that will move the needle, even if they aren’t required to do them.
What is the best career advice you’ve received?
The best career advice I’ve ever received is probably the entirety of Range by David Epstein.
At this point, if you know me, it’s basically a meme of how much I love this book. So I encourage everyone to read it, but here’s a condensed form of the career advice I took from the book:
The “linear career path” isn’t actually as common as you think. Counterintuitively, most people have zig-zag careers. So if you feel like this is you, that’s okay.
Better yet, when you collect a lot of disparate experiences, they can actually help you create a unique skill set that allows you to thrive. You may feel a little behind early, but often will end up going further and being more successful than following a traditional path.
That being said, being able to storytell your unique experience is critical. It might not be as easy for others to piece together your experiences, so get good at telling your story and the unique skill set you’ve developed along the way.
The book is about A LOT more than this, so definitely go read it. Amazing thoughts on innovation, learning development, cross-functional teams, diversity, etc…
What’s next for you?
I’m a big believer in the quote:
“Planning is important, but plans are useless”
I wouldn’t say I entirely have my next steps mapped out, but I think you still want to have a direction you’re going in. Right now, I’m loving the community and ed-tech space, the impact I am able to see my job have on people, and the relationships I am able to form through my work.So, I’d like to keep getting better at my job and continuing to help build Learning @ Morning Brew into the best place to go to accelerate your career and gain an incredibly kind, smart, and thoughtful support system.
There’s something called the End of History illusion where we are able to recognize we have changed a lot in the past, but think that we won’t change much in the future.
So, I think anything more than a year plan is really making a plan for someone that doesn’t yet exist.
My advice to anyone is have a direction, but don’t be afraid to pivot when all the signs are saying you should. IMO, life is more fulfilling and fun when you have flexibility to create the life you want in the moment you’re currently living in.
Thank you, Kyle!
Follow Kyle on Twitter here.
If you have any direct feedback or questions that you’d like to share with myself or Kyle, feel free to respond to this email (it won’t be a reply-all).