June 16, 2015

Five Podcasts That Turbo-Charge Innovative Thinking

I’m a big believer that inspiration breeds innovation. That’s why I try to absorb a wide variety of stimuli nearly every day—it keeps my thinking fresh and helps me grow both personally and professionally.

One of my favorite ways to take in a diverse assortment of inspiration is to listen to podcasts. In fact, I’ve been listening to them for over 10 years. I find podcasts to be one of the most effective and efficient tools to help me learn, get inspired and be entertained and am always listening to one while driving, cooking and working out.

Up until now, podcasts had been a relatively small form of media consumption, but lately, they’ve been really catching on. More than ever, I’ve been answering questions such as “what’s a podcast?” (think of it as on-demand audio learning for any topic), “how do I get it?” (go here) and “they’re free?!” (yes).

Given this growing interest in podcasts, I thought I’d put together a list of some of my favorites. Each offers something unique and helps you learn and grow in different ways. Try listening to one during your next workout or commute—I guarantee it will help spark creativity and innovative thinking.


1. The Tim Ferriss Show

What you’ll learn: How to become a top performer.

Have you ever wondered how billionaires spend their day? Like, specifically, do you wonder what Peter Thiel, billionaire venture capitalist and founder of PayPal, does in the first 60 minutes of his day? Or how Ed Catmull, founder of Pixar, leads creative meetings at Disney/Pixar animation studios? Or how Alex Ohanian, founder of Reddit and Y-Combinator, manages his time to advise more than 100 startups?

This is what Tim Ferriss does in his podcast. He deconstructs excellence, meticulously, yet entertainingly, interviewing people at the top of their field about how their daily habits helped them get to where they are and steer them where they are going. Ferriss, of course, is a traveler, learner and the author of the perennial best seller “The 4-Hour Work Week” (which, if you haven’t picked up, is essential reading and not to be judged by its title). And, just like his book, Tim digs for specific habits to adopt (for increased happiness, write three things you are grateful for every morning) rather than vague platitudes (be grateful).

Highly recommended.


2. Startup Podcast

What you’ll learn: How to start a startup. Or, at least, not mess it up.

Alex Blumberg was on top of the food chain. He was a top producer and editor at NPR’s This American Life and Planet Money. He was making good money, with solid benefits and a bright future.

And then he decided to build a startup.

Season one of this podcast is a fascinating, blow-by-blow account of Alex’s journey from idea, to pitch, to raising capital, to naming, to hiring, to failing, to picking himself back up. It’s raw, honest, authentic and highly entertaining. That’s because it gives you something you don’t usually get: an inside look into the follies, pitfalls, embarrassments, mistakes and occasional successes of building a business from scratch. More recently, season two has focused on a different company called Dating Ring, again dissecting the struggles and triumphs of managing a growing startup.

Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, intrapreneur, or just a fan of superb storytelling, this podcast is sure to inspire and entertain.


3. Radiolab

What you’ll learn: Just about everything.

They say creativity comes from connections, from linking two unrelated things in an unexpected way.

But to do this, you must first be curious enough to expand your knowledge outside of your comfortable zone of expertise.

Radiolab is a show for curious people. Rooted at the intersection between science, storytelling and philosophy, it raises provocative questions and slowly weaves a web around you until you find yourself fascinated by topics you’d never considered the least bit interesting. A few examples: What does the future of social research look like? (Facebook has a lot to do with it.) How much would you pay for an extra year of life? (It has been calculated.) What goes on inside of a chrysalis that transforms a slug into a beautiful butterfly? (Turns out we know surprisingly little about this.) Do humans have an innate preference for some numbers versus others? (Yes, we do… 7 is highly preferred).

The show’s hosts, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, have won a Peabody Award and a McArthur Genius Grant for their work on the show. Listen and be absorbed.


4. Hardcore History

What you’ll learn: How to absolutely love history, and then learn from it.

This one is for all the history fans out there. Oh, and the non-fans, too.

Let’s put it this way: if history was taught like this at school, there would be a lot more history fans and history majors in the world. And there would certainly be far fewer blind mistakes preventable by historical knowledge. I’m looking at you, politicians.

But I digress. Hardcore History is passionately narrated by Dan Carlin, a former journalist and self-described “history fan.” Carlin passionately places you at the scene of the event, provides the relevant context and makes you feel what famous figures felt during some of history’s most fascinating chapters. As if that weren’t enough, he’ll frequently tie those chapters of history to the world you and I live in today. You’ll be forced to realize that the only differences between Adolf Hitler and Alexander the Great are time and perspective. You’ll be fascinated by first-hand accounts of a medieval city raided by Genghis Khan and his Mongols, then learn how this led to our world becoming dominated by the West. You’ll be amazed by the unfortunate historical coincidence that led to World War I and see the parallels to today’s Eastern European conflicts.

Highly engaging and enlightening.


5. Nerdist Podcast

What you’ll learn: How to live purposefully… while telling inappropriate jokes.

Nerdist is the brainchild of stand-up comedian Chris Hardwick, who after a couple of decades of alcoholism and mediocrity (he sarcastically refers to his former self as “Peter Hardwick”) decided to turn this life around and focus on his unique niche of entertainment: nerds. Since then, he’s built an empire of podcasts, TV and web entertainment around it, currently hosting Comedy Central’s “@Midnight” and AMC’s “Talking Dead.”

While the show is mainly about comedy (be forewarned: occasional raunchy comedy), Hardwick and his nerdy co-hosts have inspired thousands to follow their passions through interviews with comedians, celebrities and creative of all types. These informal chats often poke at what drove their success and what successful people do to stay creative. Previous guests include Paul McCartney, Bill Gates, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mel Brooks, to name a few.

Honorable Mentions:

  • This American Life.The mother of all podcasts, this show spun off both Serial and Startup Podcast. It’s thematic storytelling at its best, with fascinating real-world stories told every week.
  • A podcast from the producers of Radiolab and This American Life, it fascinatingly deconstructs the “invisible forces” that affect human behavior. I’m absolutely hooked.
  • HBR IdeaCast. Didn’t get a chance to check out the last issue of Harvard Business Review? This podcast will summarize it, and interview other prominent business authors and researchers for fantastic professional lessons.
  • Freakonomics Podcast. A spinoff of the wildly popular book series, this show explores the fallacies in our logic and how it affects our everyday transactions.
  • TED Radio Hour. Fan of TED Talks? Good, you and I can be friends. Regardless, this show takes a theme (“Happiness,” for example) and presents a story that compiles the best TED talks on the topic, weaving in interviews with the speakers for added context.
  • Planet Money. This show started during the 2008 financial crisis, with the premise of making economics both simple and interesting. You might say “good luck,” but boy, have they pulled it off.
  • Smart People Podcast. Two dudes interview successful authors and business leaders. A great way to “read” the book if you didn’t actually read it.
  • Startalk Radio. Nerd-king and astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson captivatingly discusses scientific topics such as black holes or the human body.

I hope you enjoy exploring the podcasts on the list! Please be sure to let me know of any other great ones I might have missed.

Rolando Archila is SVP, Director of Innovation at Seed Strategy, where he brings a fresh, global perspective to breakthrough innovation. His passions include world travel, photography and the futurology.

Note: A previous version of this article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse. 

P.S. You can follow Seed Strategy on our LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages.


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