Reading Time: 5 minutes

If you are not up on the world of podcasts, then you are right where I was about a year ago. I tried the podcast app on my iPhone a few times but just couldn’t get into it.

I could never find a channel with something I wanted to hear. Also, as a CEO, I felt I should focus my energies elsewhere.

The 2016 presidential elections changed that for me. I hadn’t cared so much about an election since we elected Barack Obama to be POTUS in 2008.

Because the 2016 election season was crazy, I yearned for a bite-sized and brainy summary of all the happenings on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

I came across an ad for a new podcast by the New York Times called “The Run-Up” hosted by Michael Barbaro.

Barbaro has covered the last two presidential races for the Times.

This show ran twice weekly and focused on the top stories and surprises coming out the 2016 campaign. After listening to my first episode, I was hooked. It was intelligent, full of great special guests, and gripping. Five stars.

I was not only hooked on Barbaro but podcasts as a new learning medium.

Since then, I have been carefully expanding my library of subscriptions to podcasts through trusted recommendations from friends and referrals from the producers of my favorite shows.

So, here is my (short) list of my five-star favorites from 2017.

(Note: All links are from Apple iTunes. Of course, please use your favorite podcast service. And, let me know in the comments what’s your favorite!)

Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell — Gladwell is by far one of my favorite authors. Both The Tipping Point and Outliers were life-changing books for me. I try to read anything he writes, even an article about ketchup. When I heard he was working on a podcast, I was “waiting on line” like the hordes of people that wait on line outside an Apple store for the next iPhone. This podcast did not disappoint. What is Revisionist History? It takes a second look at events in recent history, the way that only Gladwell can. Some of the events you’ll recognize, some are somewhat obscure at first, but then surprise you with their relevance. One of my favorite episodes from season one is “The Road to Damascus” a gripping recount of a terrorist that had a change of heart. You’ll learn more about the CIA than you ever imagined.

From Scratch, Jessica Harris— I found this podcast when I reached out to Jessica’s husband for advice on how I might get NY-based entrepreneurs to visit Harlem Academy. (I am a trustee of this amazing independent school.) He forwarded me a note from Jessica with a short list of whom she’d recommend. Jessica interviewed all of the people on the list during her podcast. I decided to take a listen and never stopped. The podcast feels like what you might experience if you were sitting in your living room, enjoying a lounge with your closest friend, who happens to be a successful entrepreneur. After some time, you finally get the courage to ask him or her, “hey, how did you do it? Build your business from scratch?” We hear so much about the great tech stories like Facebook, Apple, Google, Netflix. What I love most is how she finds all the other amazing entrepreneurs (tech and non-tech) whose stories are lesser-known but oh so rich with wisdom. My favorite question she asks every guest, “So, what did your parents do for a living?” An intimate, yet very insightful opening to rich stories of grit, perseverance, and just sheer passion. One of my favorites is Daniel Lubetzky, founder, and CEO of KIND, the company that produces sweet and savory bars with whole nuts, spices, etc.

Photo by Jaz King on Unsplash

Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantam — Gladwell referred his listeners (and me) to this podcast. I have learned a great deal about human behavior from Dan Ariely, the behavioral economist, and author of Predictably Irrational. I learned even more from Shankar. His podcast is a rich library of experiences that teach the listener about unconscious human behavior. It also covers the infinite biases that shape our decisions, and ultimately our lives. He elegantly explains profound concepts and connects them to everyday life. One of my favorite episodes is called “Eyes Wide Open.” It’s a two-part series about a gentleman who won the Guinness World record for depriving himself of sleep. It will blow your mind.

Seeking Wisdom, David Cancel and David Gerhardt — I met David last year when he joined my CEO Forum. He is definitely a unique individual and a genuine “OG” (original gangster or old guy?). One of the first things he did when forming his fifth start-up, Drift, is create this podcast. The best way to describe this podcast is, it’s like being a fly on the wall when Obi-wan (David Cancel) teaches the young Luke (David Gerhardt, his head of marketing) about the force. Each episode is a carefully crafted nugget of wisdom on marketing, personal and professional growth, books, lifelong learning and building a company one person at a time. It’s all released with just smoothness. They have special guests as well, and it adds to the fun and explodes with knowledge. I enjoy every episode. One of my favorites was an interview with Patty McCord, former head of people at Netflix. She is a dynamo. (In fact, her new book Powerful just arrived in the mail.)

Masters of Scale, Reid Hoffman — Everyone knows Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn. He knew when to bring in a super CEO (Jeff Weiner) to help him build the world’s largest professional social network. When LinkedIn first launched, honestly, I didn’t think it was for me. Today, I can’t imagine being without it. Along with his journey from PayPal to LinkedIn, he has developed some theories on what it takes to scale a company. Any company. This podcast is about unlocking the secrets to building some of the world’s most successful brands including Facebook, Airbnb, Google, PayPal, and NetFlix. On the podcast, he covers culture, hiring, raising money, product-market-fit, building a brand, and of course thinking big. I thoroughly enjoy it, especially the quirky way its produced. One of my favorite episodes is “Learn from Every No,” where he interviews Bevel Razor’s Tristan Walker among others.

Stay Tuned with Preet, Preet Bharara — One of President Trump’s first actions as president was to fire Mr. Bharara. (Actually, his new US Attorney Jeff Sessions did it after Preet refused to answer his call to resign.) I think it turned out to be a gift. Now, this incredible legal brain can share his sage insight on everything in the political and legal realm. While he works on a book, he is building this can’t miss podcast one episode at a time. One of my favorites is “The death of Sergei Magnitsky (with Bill Browder).” The United States’ Sanctions Act bares the namesake of a man who uncovered corruption in Putin’s Russia and paid the price. Preet unleashes the gripping story with the help of Bill Browder.

I know I said five podcasts in the title, but I just couldn’t leave Preet off the list. His podcast reached five stars for me right when I was about to edit the final draft of this blog.

I have written a lot about the importance of reading for CEOs. I would now like to add podcasts to this list of tools for unplugging and learning.

As one of my VC friends, Spencer Lazar, puts it, “There is gold in there!”

So, what are your favorite five-star podcasts from 2017?

Please share in the comments below.

By Published On: January 11th, 2018Categories: BookshelfTags: , , ,

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About the Author: John Belizaire

John Belizaire is a serial entrepreneur, advisor, and investor. He is also the founder and managing editor of CEOPLAYBOOK — an online publication dedicated to exploring what it means to be a startup CEO. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter. Subscribe to his popular newsletter — Mental Candy — read by over 500 CEOs.