Podcasts can be a great escape from the day-to-day grind of being a CEO.
Riding the subway.
Walking to the grocery store.
Sitting in an Uber.
At an airport departure gate waiting for my flight.
On an elliptical machine at the gym.
At the neighborhood park.
In front of the barbecue grill.
And, safely inside what I like to call “the reading room.”
These are some of the places you’ll usually find me — wearing those ubiquitous Apple AirPods — listening to a podcast.
In the past year, I have gone from never listening to these audio shows to binging on them.
(I also helped produce one called “The Kingdom” at my new venture.)
Nonetheless, I am still just as discerning about what I let stimulate my eardrums and cranium.
It’s a good thing, because would you believe there are over 1,750,000 podcasts?
(Yup. It blew my mind too.)
There are over 43 million episodes as of January 2021, and it’s a fast-growing segment in online content.
There are a few places in this digital jungle that provide me with a healthy escape from the stress of being CEO. Like reading, the right podcasts can offer tasty food for the brain — making you a better human.
Here are my favorite sources of organic, fat-free listening.
The Knowledge Project | Shane Parrish
This podcast is the definition of brain food. It is full of rich content on investing, mental models, entrepreneurship, science, parenting, economics, history, and much more. Its host, Shane Parrish, is a former spy for Canada’s version of the NSA. He is now the iconic leader of a community of people who genuinely want to understand how the world works, and find “a signal in a world of noise.” His companion blog, called Farnam Street, and newsletter are now an addiction of mine, continually reminding me of how much I don’t know and desperately want to learn. The podcast is a series of “long-form” conversations with the best minds in the world. These intimate interviews can go on for over an hour. They feature fascinating discussions and a real thought-provoking debate at times. He carefully chooses each guest and prepares weeks before each recording. The result is a show that has a carefully curated series of episodes for the six years it’s been running. My first episode, and among my favorites, is called “Inventing the Future” — he interviews Josh Wolfe, of Lux Capital. I first heard about the podcast from my colleague in Morocco, believe it or not. So, it clearly has a reach.
“A regular dose of insightful perspectives on life and success from a huge range of backgrounds and experiences.” — WIRED, ranking The Knowledge Project #1 for best podcast for curious minds.
Hidden Brain | Shankar Vedantam
“One head, Two Brains,” is the catchphrase for the podcast. This show is about the unconscious patterns that shape our behavior every day. It’s a show that only NPR could produce. Shankar is a professor, a voice in your head, and a tour guide all wrapped in one, that takes you on a journey into the psyche. In the past year, listening to the show, I learned about sleep, drug abuse, happiness, bias, god, placebos, advertising, #MeToo — before it was called that, fake news, and I could keep going. Every episode is so good, I play Russian Roulette and randomly select an episode every time. The show combines interviews with research and real-world examples to deliver a first-class education to the listener. Among my favorites (there are many) is an episode called, “The Lazarus Drug.” Since the 2020 pandemic, I continue my roulette approach, but this episode called “Minimizing Pain, Maximizing Joy.” It’s about the lessons we can learn from ancient Stoic philosophers about coping with hardship.
The Daily | Michael Barbaro (et al)
I don’t read newspapers anymore. I try to avoid TV for my news because it can be underwhelming and downright depressing at times. Instead, I try to read a limited set of publications and subscribe to newsletters that offer a deep-dive on specific topics that merit it. Well, The Daily (a New York Times podcast) is the first thing queued-up on my playlist for twenty minutes every day, five days a week. It is powered by excellent reporting and Michael’s signature “mm-hmm” response to intriguing information while he interviews other New York Times reporters about the hottest news. He and his team cover topics with a depth that is made to educate, not just inform at a high-level. Some of my favorite older episodes: “The Bank that Kept Saying Yes to Trump,” “What Hollywood Keeps Getting Wrong About Race,” “What the West Got Wrong About China,” and “How El Chapo Ended up in a Brooklyn Courtroom.”
Work Life | Adam Grant
“We spend a quarter of our lives in our jobs. This show is about making all that time worth your time.” — Work/Life
I have been fortunate enough to create two companies and now working on my third. I am generally excited about coming to work every day. (That’s unless all hell broke loose due to some crisis.) But, what is essential in my role as a CEO is creating environments where every employee also jumps out of bed looking to come to work. Adam does a fantastic job of helping me understand how to make “work, not suck.” He discusses skills people should master, why a team of all-stars may not be such a good idea, and why you should encourage criticism to a fault. His show is witty, insightful, and incredibly fun. It’s a masterpiece of management insight. My favorite episode is the astronaut’s episode, called “How to Trust People You Don’t Like.”
(Hint: it has nothing to do with how much you like them.)
Another is about overcoming the effects of burnout, called “Burnout is Everyone’s Problem.”
Making Sense | Sam Harris
Sam Harris is a five-time best-selling author, a neuroscientist, and philosopher. On his podcast, he does something I used to call “bullshit sessions.” I coined the term in college when my friends and I would get together, under the stars, in upstate New York and talk philosophy. We’d debate things, ask questions, explore what’s what to free our minds and hopefully make sense of things. Sam does with incredible ease. He explores questions about society, the human mind, technological evolution, anything that naturally fancies him. It’s also a long-form podcast that allows sufficient time for him and his guests to go deep until they, and you, wake-up. (In fact, he created a guided meditation app called, “Waking Up.”)
My favorite episode so far is a 3.5-hour episode on AI, consciousness, and the mind called the “Possible Minds.” It goes way beyond the usual apocalyptic view of artificial intelligence and its accession to being superhuman.
Ask Big Questions | Bill Gates and Rashida Jones
I have been a fan of Bill Gates since I was in college. His entrepreneurial drive, intelligence, and business acumen are legendary. I have been trying to get inside his brain ever since I decided to become an entrepreneur myself. In this new podcast, Gates teams up with actress and writer Rashida Jones to create a podcast that “tackles some of the biggest questions facing us today: Is it too late to solve climate change? Does everybody lie? Is inequality inevitable?”
The first season is off to a great start and I couldn’t stop listening to it. I was especially moved by the episode about climate change. I am now reading his latest book about what we can do about it and the breakthroughs we need.
The Prof G Show | Scott Galloway
Once on a return trip from Europe (before the pandemic of course), I picked up a book called The Four written by Scott Galloway. I couldn’t put it down and read it the entire flight back. Since that time I have read, listened to, or watched anything that Scott produces. In 2020 as the world was reeling from the effects of the COVID19 pandemic, Scott launched his latest creation — The Prof G Show. This is my weekend listen, while I cook three meals a day for my loved ones. Scott and his special guests fill my brain with insights about currents events, the tech juggernauts, politics, and his view on how the world will change post-pandemic. His style is funny, brainy, and professorial all in one. One of my favorite episodes has been, “State of Play: Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies.”
(Btw, his latest book — Post Corona is a must-read for CEOs.)
Podcasts can be a great escape from the day-to-day grind of being a CEO. While I believe reading is the one superpower CEOs can develop that has long-term benefits, I am beginning to think the right podcasts can supercharge those benefits.
So, what podcasts do you consider brain-food? Let me know on Twitter @jbelizaireCEO