PODCAST: Unmissable Advice from a Year of Author Interviews
Ben is out on paternity leave, so to tide us over while he’s gone, we put together highlights from some of our (and your) favorite episodes from 2016.
This sampler podcast shows how we’ve grown and learned to tell decent stories. More significant for you, however, it rounds up an arsenal of phenomenal ideas and advice from some of today’s most influential thinkers. If you’re ready for a little wisdom to kick your year off right, you’re in the right place!
As usual, we’d really appreciate it if you left a review in the iTunes and subscribe while you’re there, throw us some hearts on Soundcloud, or write to us at [email protected] with feedback—or just to say hi! We love to hear from you.
BSS: We started the podcast almost exactly a year ago, and immediately started playing with the format. In our second episode, we told the story of how the office got hooked on a social media app called Peach – remember?
CS: Yeah! We were obsessed with it for a few weeks there, and we were curious about how a product like that really catches on.
BSS: So we investigated it, we read a bunch of books, and this is from the part of the podcast where we talk about Jonah Berger’s book Contagious, about how ideas spread. We focused on one of his main points: “If it’s built to show, it’s built to grow.”
BSS: This idea of publicness. Can you go on?
CS: I could go on, but I think you like talking about this.
BSS: I just like this one Jonah Berger quote, to keep talking about Jonah Berger.
CS: Jonah Berger we love you we’re out here.
BSS: He says, “if it’s built to show, it’s built to grow” .i think this is the basic thing of a logo on a shirt or something. you know? you just have something that the brand or product is showing and if there’s nothing to show, nobody can see what other people are using. it can’t go viral if nobody can see what it is. right? so what do we have? we have 2 good apple examples.
CS: Speaking of logos, actually the first one has to do with the apple logo on the top case of all the Macbooks.
CS: Because Jobs sweated the orientation of the logo on the top case. at first the apple was faced so that it made sense to the user when you closed it. like it was facing toward you like a normal apple.
BSS: Right picture an apple with the bite taken out and the little apostrophe looking thing.
CS: Also known as a leaf
BSS: Thank you, or a twig.
CS: The nub.
BSS:If you close the Macbook, the nub is actually facing you, which is facing down to the user.
BSS: Fine. So Jobs hated it at first.
CS: Well, he worried about it. The more he saw his own product in use, the more he worried about whether or not an upside down apple made a good impression and made sense.
BSS: On Facebook.
CS: Or on Peach!—no you can’t use Peach for web—you don’t want to see a bunch of upside down apples. So they decided to flip it.
BSS: So when I’m in the cafe it’s right.
CS: Right, so the onlooker, the public is more important. if it’s any indication of success, which the mass use of Macbooks are, it’s a good call on apple’s’ part.
BSS: It’s built to show. Built to grow.
BSS: By the way, do you remember interviewing Jesse DeWitt, who does social media at Merriam Webster? Those guys got huge from their coverage of the presidential debates and Trump’s win. Really a cool example of social media helping to change the perception of a brand. Putting the – formerly boring – dictionary front and center.
CS: I do! I also remember interviewing Jonah Berger.
BSS: True, we ran that as episode 2.5 last winter. That was a really powerful little 13 minute episode. He also totally called it: he said Peach wouldn’t make it, and he was right.
CS: He has a new book out, btw, maybe I can talk with him again when you’re on baby leave. So what’s the next episode you want to feature?
BSS: Well, going through the year, the next episode was about a jewelry company that dressed Beyoncé, but the next clip I want to play is from your interview with David Allen. That was really, really, really cool.
CS: Right. For those of you out there who don’t know him, David Allen is the productivity wizard behind the book Getting Things Done. I spoke with him last spring. He has this amazing way of making big ideas really approachable. So I asked him if he thinks people have a calling.
DA: I don’t know that I would say that everybody has a calling. I think that everybody has a unique signature, about what they do. The more authentic you are with that, the more you’re probably going to be gravitating towards something that resonates with what your talents are. I think there is an appropriate use of one’s talents. I think if you have talents and you’re not using them, I think that will be a kind of an edge and a frustration that people will have until they, you know, line those up a little bit better.
CS: Going off of what you just said a little bit: Do you have any advice for young people who are just at the start of their careers about finding their signature, about finding what they should be doing, quote-unquote, with their lives? Is there anything that you would recommend to them?
DA: Yeah. Be willing to embarrass yourself with whatever your fantasy is, about what you would really love to do in your life if you could truly have it the way you wanted it. And then ask yourself, what experience do you think that would give you. And then ask yourself, what could you start doing right now that could start to give you more of those kinds of experiences.
CS: You said “be willing to embarrass yourself about what you think your dream is.”
DA: Yeah, do you want to be prime minister of Germany, do you wanna be an incredible rockstar, you know, musician, do you want to be the great American novelist? Do you wanna be–I don’t know. What’s your fantasy? If you truly could be whatever you wanted to be, and time and money were no object whatsoever, what would you be doing? Give yourself permission, but again, people are often too embarrassed, even internally, to be willing to admit that’s really what I would love to do. But you don’t have to tell anybody so, you know, don’t be too uncomfortable, at least with yourself.
But ask yourself, you know, let’s suppose you say, I actually did that exercise one time – many, many, many, many years ago – when I was confused about, didn’t know what I wanted to do and wanted to make sure that I picked the right thing. Didn’t know what my destiny was, and “Oh my god, what if it’s the wrong thing?” and I just agonized over that for too many years.
And then I had a friend ask me, so what is your fantasy? And I just said – I was willing to admit – to be President of the United States. I used to carry around a penny in the US, when I was growing up there, as a little kid, because Abraham Lincoln was on the penny. And he was just my hero, because he just affected so many people in such a positive way.
And then my friend asked me, “So what do you think that experience would give you?” And I said it would give me people’s attention so I would be able to help them. And he said, “Well what else could you do right now, that you could be able to support people and get more people’s attention?” And, I forget exactly what it was right then, but I went “Ah, okay, got it!” And then I started to move forward, and started to move toward those kinds of things that gave me more of that internal experience. And haven’t looked back since.
BSS: That was such a good interview. It gave us probably the best line of 2016. Here, let’s just play it:
DA: No, being productive just means to produce desired results or experiences.
CS: So then how is a high-doing person different from a highly productive person?
DA: They’re pretty much the same thing. I mean, achieving a desired experience, I mean if you go to a party to boogie, and you don’t boogie, that’s an unproductive party.
CS: Boogie. It was fun getting to know the guy behind all these tools we use everyday. I was surprised at how, idk, normal he was.
BSS: True that. And that was a real turning point for the podcast because we realized we wanted to do more of those kinds of episodes. To try and show the people behind the ideas that have most affected us.
CS: And then came Arianna Huffington.
BSS: And then came Arianna Huffington! Yeah, she came out with one of the most popular books of 2016, The Sleep Revolution, and here’s a clip from my chat with her:
BSS: There’s something about the sleep book, as if something inside of you is driving you, like this is so important. Almost like you’re afraid we’re going to destroy ourselves or something.
AH: Yes, actually, I do feel that way in the sense that there’s a lot of suffering in the world and there’s a lot of suffering that we cannot immediately do anything about. But this is suffering that we actually bring on ourselves. It’s self-inflicted. And I use the word suffering deliberately because it has such a profound effect on our health, it literally affects every aspect of our health, from obesity and diabetes to cancer and heart disease and Alzheimer’s and I’ve explored all that in the science chapter because I want people to really change their minds about the importance of sleep, profoundly. Not just pay lip service – “Oh, yeah yeah when I get enough sleep I feel much better” – but actually recognizing the damage they’re doing to our health. Both immediately, we all know anecdotally that when we’re run-down and haven’t slept we are more likely to catch a cold, or we are more likely to overeat, but now we have the science that shows that actually, when we’re sleep deprived, all these hormones are activated that actually make us crave all the wrong things, like bad carbs and sugars. It’s kind of ironic that there are people who get up super early to go to the gym and one of their goals is to lose or maintain their weight and they’re surprised that, in fact, they’re overeating during the day to try and power through and deal with their sleep deprivation.
But this is kind of the obvious stuff that we can all recognize from our lives. But then people really haven’t known until very recently the connection between sleep deprivation and Alzheimer’s, how it’s actually during sleep that there is this frenetic activity in the brain of cleaning up all the toxic waste that has accumulated throughout the day and if we don’t give our brains the opportunity to do that, all this toxic waste accumulates and that’s the build-up that leads to Alzheimer’s.
BSS: There’s this wrong idea that when we sleep nothing is happening, right? That sleep is wasted time.
AH: Yes, exactly.
BSS: But in Chinese Medicine, for example, they’ve known for thousands of years that it’s as important as eating, it’s nourishment. So how do you convince people? How do you battle the short-termism? I can imagine a startup founder saying, “If I get four hours of sleep for two years, but get that funding, then I’ll be rich and then I can sleep.” How do you make that argument to people, against this short-term thinking?
AH: That’s why I’m saying it’s so essential that people read the science and understand the science first. Because if they’re not absolutely convinced of how imperative and non-negotiable sleep is, it’s going to be much harder for them to change any of the habits I suggest we need to change in the book. So the first step is to recognize that it’s not only their health that is impaired but their productivity and creativity and decision-making, which are of course absolutely essential for good founder decisions. Ok let’s say, “I don’t care about my health, I’ll pay the price, short-term, to build my company,” but all the evidence shows that the prefrontal cortex, where a lot of these executive functioning and decision-making is housed, is dramatically degraded when we’re sleep deprived. And the fact that three-quarters of start-ups fail should actually be a warning that maybe if we got enough sleep and made better decisions we’d have better results with our start-ups.
BSS: Right, to me this is such a money quote from your book: “A CEO who’s bragging about getting only four hours of sleep a night is essentially saying that he or she is making decisions while drunk.”
CS: The sleep topic was a big thing in 2016. It may have been a terrible year in terms of beloved famous people, but maybe we should just think of it as the year of sleep.
BSS: I will if you will, Caitlin.
CS: Ok, then the next little phase of the podcast was about where good ideas come from.
BSS: Right, I spoke with authors Pagan Kennedy – who wrote Inventology – and David Burkus – author of The Myths of Creativity – about creativity and “Eureka” moments. Burkus and I talked about incubation, which is the idea that great insights or “aha!” moments moments usually come after a period of incubation, where you step away from the problem or challenge or idea at hand.
CS: It’s part of this bigger idea that great ideas don’t fall from the sky. They come from knowing how to get them. You need to do the work, but also need to learn how the brain identifies good ideas. That’s why I like the bit in the Burkus interview about how we all have the great ideas already, we just have to learn how the brain hides them, and then figure out how to use them.
BSS: Ok let’s play that part then.
BSS:This thing of, “It’s already in there,” it’s like, you already have the great idea, right?
DB: Yeah, you already do. And there’s a bunch of different theories about why incubation works, but my favorite is selective forgetting. It’s a theory that says all the ideas and raw material is already there. But have you ever worked on a problem and think of the same wrong answer over and over again? What’s happening is, your mind functions in connections, that’s why you have to retrace your steps of what you were thinking about three or four times and follow that chain of thoughts again. We think in that chain and often we can get really stuck in a specific chain when it’s the wrong answer, so we take up the problem and we find ourselves at the wrong answer because we’re just retracing the same steps.
Incubation and selective forgetting basically say that when it’s in your subconscious, that chain is breaking apart and allowing new connections to form. So everything is there, you’ve just got the combination wrong. When you’re incubating and selectively forgetting, you’re opening yourself up to new possible combinations and one of them is probably going to be the one you need.
BSS: Your book makes the argument that everyone has this ability. It’s like a great blessing that we all have somehow.
DB: Yeah, and blessing is actually a good word for it because we tend to think there’s like a class of people who’re blessed with creative ideas and then there’s this class of people that aren’t creative. And the truth is, it’s a blessing we all have. We all have this capacity, we just have to understand how our own brain works and also get back into practice.
A lot of times when the people who say they can’t have great ideas, they’re not very creative – what they actually mean is that they haven’t been challenged to have one for the last five, ten, fifteen years because of whatever life and career choices they’ve made. And so the only thing that separates those people who would classify themselves as being super creative from those that aren’t is that level of practice. How used to this process are they? How familiar with it are they? And can they do it on demand or not?
BSS: Nice. I really enjoyed that interview. Let’s jump forward to this fall, when we asked one of our co-founders, Niklas, to interview Vishen Lakhiani, CEO of Mindvalley.
CS: That was amazing. Niklas is such a fan of Vishen’s.
BSS: Them nerding out about their breakfast shakes was maybe my highlight of the podcast this year.
CS: It was just incredibly intense to hear how Vishen thinks of optimizing everything, of finding better ways to handle his routines.
BSS: Right. And he seemed to hit on something a lot of people feel. His book, The Code of the Extraordinary Mind, did extremely well.
CS: So which part should we play?
BSS: I feel like Vishen telling Niklas about his morning routine might be the best example of his general approach. Let’s do that.
NJ: I think I remember in Berlin we talked about morning routines. So since it seems you reduced your workout time for every day, how does your morning routine look like? What are you doing in the first 60-90 minutes after waking up?
VL: Well, what I do when I wake up, other than taking the kids to school, this is my morning routine: I start with a particular mediation process that I put together called the six phase meditation. It’s very popular now, over a million people do it, and it’s something that I designed. It’s based on six different principles of hacking mental abilities in our human mind. First phase is compassion, so I do a compassion ritual, then I do a gratitude ritual, then I do a forgiveness ritual. All three of these are designed to elevate my levels of happiness and bliss.
Then I focus on my future. I visualize my life three years ahead, then I visualize my day unfolding perfectly, and then I pray. All three of these are designed to make me feel optimistic, powerful, and to look forward towards the coming day.
Next I go and I exercise. Now that entire meditation takes about 20 minutes. Sometimes I go on to half an hour because I want to just sit back and breathe, right? Then I go on to exercise, now typically I use the Microsoft Band which is a really cool device and I do Tabata exercises. Tabata takes me four minutes so I do a very high-intensity four-minute exercise. Studies have shown that four minutes of Tabata can be as beneficial to your body as 20 minutes of regular exercise.
Next I go and have my optimized breakfast. Now my optimized breakfast takes me four minutes to make. It is a shake. I use JJ Virgin or GNC base powder, and then I add moringa, wheatgrass, Camu Camu, and chia seeds to it. It’s basically a super-fueled nutritional shake that elevates my brain processing – sometimes I add MCT oil to it – it elevates my brain processing, gives me energy, and just makes me fully energized for my morning, from the time I start my morning to lunch.
So that’s really what my morning ritual is. Now this is the most optimized ritual I know right now. In the future I may find something more optimized, but functioning like that keeps me fit, keeps me mentally alert, keeps me happy, keeps my body fueled, and allows me to just function really well on a day-to-day basis.
BSS: Yeah, but actually a lot of the authors we spoke with this year share this really focused approach, don’t you think? What about Cal Newport?
CS: Cal Newport is also very focused. But that’s sort of the whole point of his Deep Work approach.
BSS: Right. For the people out there who don’t know, deep work is Newport’s idea that in today’s economy, the most valuable asset you can have is being able to work deeply on something. That means to be able to focus on a difficult problem or challenge for a long period of time with no distractions.
CS: No email, no phone.
BSS: No nothing. And the whole paradox is like, we have more and more communication tools that make our jobs easier to do, but they also make the quality of our work worse and worse. Like, Slack is great. But you can’t write a great article if it’s impossible to focus because you’re getting 100 Slacks every hour.
CS: No comment. Ha. So can we go with the part of the interview about the consulting team that turned off their email?
BSS: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. It started with us talking about how people just need to start focusing a little more and a little more and it snowballs into deep work. Then you start realizing – like the consultants did – that turning off email is actually a good thing for work. Even though it seems painful.
BSS: once you are in you are in. You start getting better, and once you can focus you can learn more and when you learn more, you like it, you get better at it, you start doing more. I feel this snowball effect in your book. You go to great lengths defending this thesis that deep work is important, but to me it’s like, once you buy the first premise, it all falls down after. You know what I mean?
CN: Yeah, and it is definitely a snowball effect. When you go from completely scattered ability to focus to a reasonable ability to focus, you get these early wins. And then you say, I like that, and you’ll also be getting value out of it. And then you are more comfortable persisting and then you get better and better.
It’s just like breaking the seal in exercise. If you’re a complete couch potato, it’s really hard to get out there and start doing the initial daily jogging or whatever it is. But once you’re doing that and you’ve gotten used to that, then it’s actually much easier to ramp up: “Now I’m going to increase the mileage.” Because now you’re in the habit. You’re like, “Ok, I get rewards from doing exercise, so now instead of just training for a 5k, let me train for a triathlon.” That’s a much smaller jump than going from, “I don’t do any exercise,” to training for the 5k.
It’s the same thing with focus, I mean most people right now – especially of a certain age or below – live the cognitive equivalent of a couch potato life. They never go more than five, ten minutes without some sort of novel stimuli delivered through their phone or computer. So the jump from that to a world in which you, on a regular basis, are able to go long periods without distraction and have some comfort with it, that’s the big jump. You do that, then you are set, now the snowball’s rolling and you can get better and better.
BSS: Was it on your blog or was it in the book where there is the example of the – was it a Boston Consulting Group study? Where they just didn’t check e-mail for one day out of the week?
CN: Yeah, that was Leslie Perlow’s work out of Harvard Business School. She convinced – it was really hard – but she convinced a team within Boston Consulting Group that everyone would have a day off. A full day off from e-mail or any communication. And they were convinced that that’s the end of this group, like, our clients will rebel, and nothing’s going to happen. And only good things happened, the clients thought their service was better, the employees were more relaxed, were producing at a higher level, and once they broke that seal it really helped open things up.
BSS: We take this pretty seriously in the content team. One of our colleagues – hi Clare, if you’re listening – almost completely turned off Slack for a few weeks there. She found she got a lot more work done.
CS: That’s not surprising. It’ll be really interesting to hear how people deal with this. I love how for Newport it’s not just about emails and Slack and communication, but also structural things like open floor plans and this pressure people in the knowledge economy have of looking busy. Actually, this ties to Arianna Huffington, because she also says that people have lost the plot: staying super late at the office and sacrificing sleep to look hardworking isn’t gonna make you more likely to get a promotion. It’ll make you sick.
BSS: So should we do one more? Or is that it?
CS: Let’s do one more.
BSS: Ok, so we’re recording this in early December. Just in the last month or so we put out three podcasts that I’m really happy about. There are the interviews with Dan Ariely and Ari Meisel, and then the story of the Blinkist re-brand. Any preference?
CS: I feel like the re-brand showed a different side of the podcast. We went back to telling stories that show how people deal with new ideas and challenges at work.
BSS: Ok then let’s just play a tiny bit of it. The part where you’re front and center?
CS: No, no, let’s do when Natalia explains the logo.
BSS: Ok here goes.
BSS: That was a fun podcast to make, and we got some really nice feedback on it, too. I’d love to make more like that.
CS: Can we just play a bit of the Ari Meisel interview?
BSS: One more? Really?
BSS: Ok so we talked about his new book Idea to Execution. It’s our most popular podcast over the past few weeks. This is when I asked him about his favorite automation system. It’s incredible.
BSS: So I wanted to ask you which automation process are you most proud of that you’ve ever built up?
AM: So the hiring one – well OK the podcast one is definitely up there, but the hiring one I think is actually the one I’m most excited about it because that’s something that I’m continually tinkering with.
BSS: So can we break it down? Let’s break it down.
AM: Yeah absolutely. So first of all we do a lot of stuff on Trello, which is for project management, for people who don’t know. Are you familiar with Trello?
BSS: Yeah we’re an Asana company, but yeah, we dig.
AM: Ok so that’s fine. I have pros and cons for both but that’s fine. So I have moved our entire hiring platform over to Trello. There are so many companies out there now that have hiring and onboarding platforms like OnboardIQ and Recruitee. We were using Workforce from Intuit. And essentially all they are is like assembly lines basically, they’re just moving people through phases. So I built it myself in Trello and it’s a Trello board along with three WuFoo forms and eight Zapier zaps, three of which are multi-zaps –
BSS: This whole thing sounds like a Dr. Seuss book somehow. It’s amazing.
AM: That’s funny, I read Oh the Places You’ll Go every night to my kids so that’s – I actually think about that quite a bit. Sometimes you’ll be in a Lurch and “Un-slumping yourself / is not easily done.”
So basically somebody applies on a Wufoo form and Wufoo is like, for people again who don’t know, it’s like Typeform or Gravity Forms, it’s just a website that helps you make forms. I just like Wufoo particularly because a lot of flexibility in terms of what you can put into it, and also you can plug into it with automations really well. So they fill out an application, a part of which includes them doing a YouTube video of themselves and the resume, and then they have to answer like a test task question.
So they fill out the WuFoo form, it creates a new entry, a card, in the Trello board as a new applicant but it also posts just their name and their video into our Slack, our #manager Slack channel. So right away the managers can see the video and give a thumbs up or a thumbs down, and decide if we’re even going to go into an interview stage. Then if I want to give them an interview all I do is drag the card over to the next list, which is “Interview offered.” And that activates a Zapier zap which sends them an email saying, congratulations we’d like to do an interview, click this calendar link to schedule an interview. They do a 10-minute interview with us, with some questions that I’m very fond of asking at interviews. I try to like focus on people’s weaknesses as much as possible and how they handle that kind of situation because everybody can talk about how great they are.
AM: Then, if the interview was good, then I drag it over to the next list and they get an email that has them take a personality profile and a basic skills test from a company we use called HireSelect which has been a real game changer for us. The skills test is pretty obvious. It’s like verbal, spatial reasoning – it’s basically just, can you read and write. And then the personality profile is a fascinating one for us because they have a profile of what they think – the company does – of what they think a customer service-related person should have, and that’s a lot of what we do. It’s the best thing to map to somebody that works for us, customer service. And that’s in terms of competitiveness and stability and teamwork and all that stuff. So we get a good profile there.
If all that looks good then they go to a background check. We use a company called Onfido which does the background check for them, and all this is again activated through Trello. And then if that works then they get dragged over to documents signing, so they get to sign our onboarding documents, which is all done through RightSignature. They fill out their NDA, their contract agreement, their W-9, and all that stuff. That gets submitted.
Then they move on to onboarding and they get what I’m constantly refining as a really cool onboarding, training video and set-up, because we had to put them on all of our systems, on Slack, on Trello, on 1Password, on Toggle, and then our own custom dashboard. And basically every time new hires come in I ask them, what are some questions you still have after going through the training? And then once they tell me that then I just make it a task and add that to the training. I’m really trying to chip away to the point, and we’re pretty close now, where somebody can basically come through the automated aspect of the training and be ready to start working right away.
CS: This is very cool.
BSS: Right? I’ve been messing around with Zapier since I talked with him, actually. Trying to figure out how to use it to run some complicated pranks on people in Slack.
CS: Like what?
BSS: Like, you know, pranks.
CS: Ok, well this was fun.
BSS: Ha, yeah! We made a bunch of good stuff I think. Anything you want to say to wrap this up?