Four Podcasts To Make You Smarter, Kinder, Hopeful

Everyone loves great podcasts! / via

I started a new tradition last year of reading blogs and listening to podcasts over the summer, instead of working through a huge pile of books I keep accumulating for when I have “more time to give myself a little break.” This summer, I’m giving myself an even bigger break: I’m just digging into my favorite podcasts. (In addition, of course, to The Clyde Fitch Report’s very own podcast, The Scene, hosted by Sean Douglass.)

I love the fact that, with my ear buds in, I am stretching my brain and opening my mind to new ideas and stories as I walk to and from meeting clients and picking up my kids from their day camp, then again as I make dinner and do the dishes at night. The listening format also gives me just enough additional “color” to the narrative or to the narrator without laying out the whole thing before me like a movie. I can hear people’s voices and feel their emotions. The format makes me feel like I’m stealing time as I learn, feel and realize something new in 10-30 minute increments.


My mind and/or heart are always moved.

This podcast, created by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel to explore “invisible forces that control human behavior (ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions),” has a way of sneaking up on me and smacking me in the face! Each episode starts innocently enough with a description of some scene, or some small-scale study. Then somewhere in the middle, I’m hit with a revelation that something important has happened and done something to my brain, blown my mind or touched my heart. The series was always ambitious and thought provoking, an interesting mix of science, medicine and intuition. But for me, the first season felt a touch like they were trying too hard. Joined by The Atlantic’s Hanna Rosin, the show in its second season has really hit its flow, tackling tough (and timely) issues like mental health, racism, terrorism and other topics with curiosity, compassion and wit. Bonus: Each episode comes with its own art and a downloadable coloring page. Just gorgeous. Here are some of my favorites lately:

  • The Problem With Solutions – The idea that our best-intentioned wish to “fix” our loved ones’ problems can have the exact opposite effect on them kills me. A deeply moving episode.
  • Flip the Script – What can happen when we act exactly the opposite of what is expected of us given the situation? This one is about how unexpected, or even unwarranted, kindness can change the world. Important and timely episode.
  • The New Norm – A look at what happens when the Soviets are asked to smile for “no reason,” and when “tough guy” oil rig workers are asked to share their fears and shed tears.

Story continues below.

The Tim Ferriss Show

Tim Ferriss ShowMy friends know that Tim Ferriss is the man I love to hate (but can’t resist quoting now and again) ever since I read his New York Times Bestseller Four Hour Work Week years ago. Since then, he’s made a fortune with said book, along with popular follow up how-to books with similar titles on cooking and getting fit. I continued to roll my eyes, unbeknownst to the immensely successful man. I stumbled onto his podcast when I saw that Maria Popova, who writes one of my favorite blogs, Brain Pickings, was featured on the show. Having now listened to over 150 episodes, I can’t hate him anymore. Now in his mid thirties, he continues to learn and evolve to maximize his potential and to help others do the same. In his show, he interviews in-depth (some of his interviews are two hours long!) the people whom he considers “world class performers” in various fields, from chefs and fitness coaches, to scientists and technology entrepreneurs (I’m talking big names, like Peter Thiel who co-founded Paypal), to military leaders and actors. It’s almost impossible to hide behind fake answers for one or two hours—so the long form makes me feel I’m really hearing the way these people think, work and live their lives. I also love that these are the people I would never have found on late night talk shows or political news shows. Here are a few to get you started:

(Here are some warnings, though, before you dig in. Each episode begins with an incredibly long commercial, read by Ferriss himself. I use the 15-second fast forward function on my phone podcast player several times to begin around 3 minute point. Secondly, you may hear a lot of privileged, successful folks (mostly young-ish white men) talking about how to find inner peace and/or what they do to give meaning to their lives now that they don’t need to make any more money. It can get annoying, especially for us nonprofiteers who are more aware of social and racial inequities.)

99% Invisible

99 percent invisibleRoman Mars and his team take me to a different world with each episode of this show. I learn something new about the origin of how something was thought out, made and why. And how people reacted. The show opens me up to things I never thought about before and places I never knew existed. If you are interested in art, architecture, design, history and/or humans, you will enjoy this show. Here are some faves:

  • Bone Music – American music in the Cold War Soviet Union
  • Young Ruin – I had always wondered what that thing was in San Francisco I saw in the summer of 2001.
  • Mojave Phone Booth – Picture a lonely phone booth in the middle of nowhere.
  • Structural Integrity – How the Citicorp building (now called 601 Lexington) in Manhattan was almost undone, and how it was saved.

Roman Mars also peaked my interest with a series of public pledge fundraising efforts to make his show self-sufficient and sustainable. Here is a Money magazine interview that shows how he thinks about fundraising. There is something important going on here.

Story continues below.

Revisionist History

Compelling, engaging human stories that make you think.

This is a brand new podcast from Malcom Gladwell, the famed author of The Tipping Point, Outliers and other influential books that helped to shape my thinking in my thirties. He’s the man who came up with the widely known and now controversial idea of the “10,000 hours rule.” Whether you agree with the “science” or “proof” of the cases he makes, he always tells compelling, engaging human stories that make you think.  And who knew he had such gentle, emotion-filled voice I can listen to all day? And he gets angry. Really angry! I am not 100% in agreement with his reasons for his anger in some of his podcasts, but I love hearing Gladwell angry. Listen to his three-part series on education and money and see what I mean.

It has not been easy to feel lighthearted this summer, with so much hatred, fear and violence spewing out of people everywhere in the United States and beyond. Well, these are the podcasts inspiring me to learn more, be kinder and be more hopeful about the world this summer. And to remind myself that we are all better than what is going on. And that this shall pass.

What are you listening to this summer? Please share in comments!