Julian Treasure: Make Good Noise — Transcript
Ben Schuman-Stoler: Welcome to Simplify. I’m Ben Schuman-Stoler.
Caitlin Schiller: And I’m Caitlin Schiller. Simplify is for anybody who’s taken a closer look at their habits, their happiness, their relationships, or their health, and thought, there’s got to be a better way to do this.
BSS: In today’s episode, Caitlin talks to Julian Treasure, a speaking and sound communication expert. His TED talks – about listening and sound design – have been viewed over 40 million times.
CS: That’s a lot of times!
BSS: Yeah, that’s a lot of times – and it’s such a cool topic. I mean, I work in audio, so I’m obviously a big fan of people who talk about how to listen and what sound or audio can do to us.
CS: Absolutely. And what we came up in our talk was how broad the influence of sound is. Julian likes to say that we’re taught as children how to read and write, but not how to speak or to listen. And we went through everything from why Venice as a city sounds so good to why saying “I know” after everything someone else says is so grating.
BSS: I know. Just kidding. Sorry. Keep going.
CS: We did not talk about why it’s annoying to be interrupted by your co-host. But the point is that by the end of this interview you’ll have a new idea of why you should re-consider how you speak and how you listen.
BSS: Excellent. I’m excited. I really liked this interview. And don’t forget that we’ll also make a book list after the conversation to dig deeper into all sorts of things about speaking and sound. And spoiler alert! There’s a Sam Harris title in there. So…
CS: Anybody who’s triggered by Sam Harris, watch out! OK then, so let’s roll the tape. Here’s me, Caitlin Schiller, and Julian Treasure. Catch you guys in The Bookend!
Caitlin interviews Julian Treasure
Caitlin Schiller: Would you please introduce yourself?
Julian Treasure: My name is Julian Treasure. I am a sound evangelist – that’s how I describe myself these days – and I’m also author of the books Sound Business and the new book How To Be Heard, and chairman of The Sound Agency, which is an international audio branding consultancy.
CS: How did you get into this field of work, Julian?
JT: Well, I’ve been listening to the world pretty carefully all my life – I’m a musician and I think musicians do listen in a slightly different way to non-musicians. If you’re not listening kind of in parallel, you’re not really a good musician, because you’re not responding to everybody. And so that’s kind of the way I’ve always listened to the world.
And all through my career in marketing, I had a publishing company, which I launched in 1988 and sold in 2001 to a big American group. And I was conscious all the time that the world doesn’t sound too good. So when I sold that business, I wanted to bring the two halves of me together – the musician, which was playing and enjoying listening to music and listening to the world, and the marketing side. So that’s how The Sound Agency was born in 2003.
And then, as I went on and started doing the TED talks and reflecting on the ways in which I could make a difference in the world, it really hit me that it’s not just organizations, who are making noise that is pretty unpleasant, it’s all of us, you know. And so sound impacts on us personally. And there’s a huge case for improving the way that we make and consume sound in our personal lives. A lot of which comes down to speaking and listening – and that’s really where this book came from.
CS: You said the world doesn’t sound too good. Could you talk about how you’ve made a piece of the world sound a little bit better?
JT: Yeah, the industry that’s really taken up the sound agencies’ challenge more than any other, I guess, is retail. That’s pretty obvious because they can see that, you know, if you think about it in terms of smell, it would be crazy, wouldn’t it, to launch a shop and have a terrible smell in it. That’s obviously stupid and yet, so many shops and shopping malls, and airports where we have shopping areas, they look great, but they sound terrible. They’re cacophonous, noisy, threatening, stressing places. We get fatigued and the result is we leave sooner than we otherwise would. And we spend less money, so they lose out. And that’s what we’ve been able to prove.
So we’ve worked with all the shops that most people would have heard of, places like Harrods. We’ve worked all over the world with, you know, major malls often improving acoustics a little bit, taking noise out, improving the sound system – which often is really shocking – and very often removing music. And that’s a special type of sound.
You know, music is something which is made to be listened to, generally. So when it’s played all over the place in the background, there’s a conflict of interest. So we often remove music and replace it with something much more ambient – a “soundscape” we call it – it’s a new technology which creates these soundscapes live, they not recorded, they are created by a computer. That’s a very interesting sound, but somewhere in between silence and music. And I’m not saying music is always wrong. Music can be wonderful in certain situations, it’s just not a veneer, it’s not something we should, you know, veneer on top of every experience we have.
CS: Yeah, right. So, for example, what are you optimizing for, when you’re optimizing sound in, say, a retail space?
JT: Well, it depends what people are trying to do. Very often retailers over-egg the pudding. There’s research now to show that if they can be a bit more minimalist, you know, particularly when it comes to the festive season – which, you know, as we speak is heading for us like a huge steam train at high speed – then they tend to over-egg that big time. So we get, you know, “Christmas”, “Christmas”, “Christmas” everywhere we go. And the cumulative effect of that is that we get tired and we want to go home. Whereas, if they can just be a little bit more restrained and not overstimulate us, then we feel better, we are more comfortable, we’re less stressed and fatigued. And it’s the same with sound really.
So a lot of what we do is removing elements from soundscapes which are simply cacophonous. Nobody designed them.
And it depends completely what people are trying to do. You know, people often ask me, for example, about brands, like Abercrombie & Fitch or Hollister, which have got pretty loud environments inside and they also design fragrance and so forth. And I say, look, I totally understand what they’re doing – they using their loud music and big sound systems as a filter. They don’t want people like me in there – I’m too old. And I don’t particularly enjoy that environment. So we have a deal, you know, they don’t want me in there, I don’t want me in there – I don’t go in. Now, I totally get that the people who they do want in, they’re attracted by that.
So, you know, intelligent design of sound. It doesn’t have to be quiet, it could be loud. It’s all about what are you trying to do in a space. It would be weird, wouldn’t it, if you went to a football stadium and everybody just had to wave instead of cheering. It would be, you know, a bizarre, ghostly atmosphere. So sometimes noise is what we need, but a lot of the time the noise that surrounds us is simply inappropriate. It’s like the exhaust gas of what’s going on in the space.
And, you know, if you look around you, pretty much everything you see was designed by somebody. There might be a plant, but pretty much everything else – designed. I very much doubt if the sound in that room was designed by anybody. You know, the acoustics are just the by-product of the way that the room looks. And that’s often the case even in the most designed spaces. You know, an award-winning space is designed by award-winning architects – they’re all done for the eyes, not for the ears. And very often they are actually not fit for purpose.
So we’ve worked with hospitals. And I’d love to work in education sector – I did talk about it in one of my TED talks. You know, a huge number of kids leave school simply not having “heard” their education because the acoustics are so bad in those classrooms. In offices people get stressed and ill even, and can’t work because of the noise levels. You know, we’re open planning the whole world – and that’s great for collaboration, but it’s absolutely rubbish for concentration. When you’re trying to listen to the voice in your head and somebody’s sitting next to you talking, and you have no earlids, and you can’t shut it out, and your head is full of their voice instead of yours.
There are a lot of environments that we’ve designed which actually don’t work very well because of the sound in them. And that’s what we try to do at The Sound Agency – ask, what are people trying to do here? What are the values of the space? What kind of brand is it? What would reflect it effectively? Who are the people, what do they like, what don’t they like? And what’s the environment?
I mean, for example, there’s no point putting music in on top of noise – that’s like putting perfume on a really bad smell, you just get a worse smell. And it’s the same with music. It’s not an antidote to noise, you can’t take a noisy cafe or a coffee shop – which sadly is so often the case – and then put music on top of that and think that’s a pleasant environment. It’s actually not. The music just becomes more noise if it’s put on top of noise. So there are common mistakes we come across everywhere and we try to reverse those and show people that, you know, it’s not rocket science – make a great sound, make a space that sounds lovely, and people are happier and they want to stay there for longer.
CS: Are there any natural sounds and natural spaces that you’ve come across that have been surprisingly pleasant?
JT: Yes, I think, you know, I have been surprised in certain places. The center of Geneva, for example, – which is a very busy modern city – is almost completely silent around the cathedral. And that really is surprising, and it’s a lovely experience. My favorite city in the world is Venice. And it wasn’t until I’d been there many times that I realized why it was my favorite city – there’s no tire noise, there’s no traffic noise, there’s the noise of diesel engines on the canals which is actually pretty pleasant. But it’s an amazing relief from the noise that we have in the background so often in cities.
CS: Yeah, I think that… I used to live in Madrid before I moved here to Berlin. And one of the things that I treasure about living in Berlin is how quiet it is. The ambient stress here is so much less than what I experienced in Madrid just because of sound pollution.
I wanted to switch, if we could, to speaking. And you deal in your new book, How To Be Heard, a lot with speaking. What are some traps that people fall into, when they think they are going to be speaking powerfully? What are they doing that they shouldn’t be doing?
JT: Well, there are a lot of problems that arise through the fact that we’re not ever taught how to speak or how to listen. If you think about it, we’re taught how to read and write in schools and it’s a scandal that the child leaves school unable to read or write. But children are leaving school every year, having never been taught how to use this amazing instrument that we all use – the human voice – or how to listen consciously to what’s going on, which I think is tragic.
So, mistakes… Well, a lot of them come from fear. You know, there’s a lot of fear in personal relationships – the fear of not being liked or the fear of appearing foolish, or whatever it may be.
And human needs like, for example, looking good, that tends to drive a lot of speaking which is not particularly productive.
So the desire to look good can lead to things like competitive speaking. You know, I might say, “Oh, I’m going to Greece this year on holiday”, and they say, “Yeah, I’ve been to Greece six times”, and I go, “Oh.” I’m a bit deflated, you know, it’s a bit of a joy-kill having to beat what everybody says all the time, having to trump every card by competitively speaking.
Or the, you know, professionally-not-impressed people – “I know… I know… I know…” You know, if you know everything, what do you learn? You don’t learn very much at all. And that “I know” has to be used, I think, with great care a lot of the time.
If there’s anything we like more than looking good, it’s being right. And I think that’s a huge modern disease that afflicts so many people at the moment. And, of course, the easiest way to be right is to make somebody else wrong. So if I make you wrong, it elevates my position and makes me justified, and right, and self-righteous as well.
So that kind of dynamic, I think, is very destructive in conversation, being right, looking good. And these things tend to lead to what I’ve described in the TED talk, which has done so amazingly well, which is the “7 Deadly Sins Of Speaking.”
CS: I would love to hear about a couple of them. Maybe take me through the two or three that you think could most effectively transform someone who’s not doing a great job communicating into someone who’s doing much better at it.
JT: I’ll mention three: gossip, judging, and dogmatism. Three of the seven.
So gossip is enormously seductive and it is very pervasive as well. By gossip, I mean speaking ill of somebody who’s not present. And it is so easy to get sucked into doing that, you know. And in fact, if you sit on a train or a bus and listen to the conversation around you, a huge amount of it is that. It’s also in a lot of the magazines that we read and the media that we consume. So it’s pretty difficult to avoid. And we all know that gossip very often is salacious, misleading, even outright lying. So it’s not a very powerful way to be. It’s something to avoid as a habit.
Judging – I think that’s a really big one. Condemning as a habit becomes very destructive and very hard to be around. You know, the kind of parent whose child comes home says, “I got 95 in the test”, and they say, “What happened to the other 5?” You know, that kind of always seeking fault, being obsessed with what you have not got, instead of grateful for what you have got.
And the final one I’ll mention – because it’s topical at the moment, I guess – is dogmatism, which just surrounds us. I mean, in politics, in particular in the last two years, we’ve seen the destructive results of dogmatism, polarisation, caricaturing other people. It’s a long slippery slope of not listening to people, being able to caricature them or make them seem ridiculous, and then bigotry, xenophobia, you know, out and out hatred. You know, that that’s a slippery slope to some of the worst excesses of human evil behavior in history.
And the antidote to dogmatism, I think, always is listening. It is also realizing there’s a difference between opinions and facts. And there’s also a lot of people who confuse those two things, that conflate them and think that their opinions are in fact, facts. I think in many ways the world would be a much nicer place if opinions had to be offered by invitation only.
So that’s three of the seven and, you know, you can see how these things play out in our relationships and they create conflict, and they create misunderstanding, and the world doesn’t work so well when we’re not listening to each other, when we’re not speaking powerfully and consciously.
CS: Right. I want to get to the listening part of this soon. But there are a couple of things that I picked up while you were speaking that I wanted to ask you more about. What struck me just now – and also when I cracked this book – it seems like what you’re talking about in a lot of ways is ways of being. It’s about character creation: “What kind of person am I going to be?” And I wonder how did you make the decision to take on that kind of heavier content in this book rather than just give people, you know, a list of 10 things to do to speak persuasively?
JT: Well, over the years I’ve become aware really that a lot of the things I’m talking about in terms of conscious listening are doorways into being mindful, or being conscious, or being aware of one’s own existence and one’s effect on other people. I mean, I wouldn’t say this is a philosophical book or a spiritual book at all. It’s full of very practical exercises all the way through. But I think those exercises at the same time are doorways into a more conscious way of living. And I think that’s a that’s a very powerful direction to go in.
You know, I talk about silence in the book. And silence is worth considering really strongly. You know, I quote Evelyn Glennie – the great percussionist, Dame Evelyn Glennie – who says, “silence is a sound” and I think it is. It’s also the context for all sound, and it’s something we don’t encounter that often. I think in my very first TED talk, I recommended listening to a few moments, a few minutes of birdsong every day, and then later on it was listening to silence because we don’t encounter it that often. And it’s a baseline, which if we lose sight of, you know, we can get anesthetized to –
It’s like “the frog in a pan of water” syndrome. You know, that story where if you throw a frog into a pan of boiling water, it jumps out, but if you took the heat up gradually – it cooks because it doesn’t notice. And that’s what we are alike a lot with noise. You know, if we lose the baseline and we don’t re-calibrate our ears from time to time, then the noise just gets up and up. And the police often report when they go to the scene of some violence or crime, “the noise is intense.” You know, there are radios and TVs on and people shouting. Noise drives us crazy in many ways.
So, I think it’s very important to re-establish some sort of baseline to get back to being conscious about the sound that we’re consuming and not to go unconscious. And sadly, you know, we’ve gone pretty unconscious about listening to the world in the last couple of hundred years really, since the Industrial Revolution. We’ve been getting noisier or noisier, more and more electromechanical noise around us all the time. And it’s so easy to go really oblivious. And just get on with, you know, stand on a street corner, bellowing at each other next to somebody who’s drilling, and just think that’s normal. Well, we can move, you know. We can.
BEN: Hey, it’s Ben. We’re taking a quick break from Caitlin’s talk with Julian Treasure here, because we just wanted to remind you of two things: one, this is season 2 of Simplify. That means there is a whole entire season 1 you could be listening to after this episode—so go and do that if you haven’t already. It’s full of great guests like Dan Savage, Laura Vanderkam, and Gretchen Rubin.
And that brings me to thing 2, which also has to do with Gretchen Rubin. When Caitlin asked her in season one about one thing that’s actually a lot simpler than you might initially think, she told us that being happy is—if you focus on the right thing. Here’s Gretchen Rubin, telling us what that is….
You know, the research shows this, ancient philosophers say this, and it’s really, really true: that in the end, when you talk to people who are happier, it’s because they have strong enduring relationships with other people.
And this is helpful to think about, because this is—in all of our lives, we have so many claims on our time and energy, our money—know you? If you say to yourself, “Really, relationships are the thing that matter most,” it’s like… well, should you bother to go to your college reunion? Probably you should, because that’s going to help keep those relationships. Oh, you’re thinking about having a SuperBowl party, would that be a good idea? Probably it would, because having a party is something that, you know. Or, “Oh, there’s this cool person that I think might be fun to have coffee with. Should I make the effort to send the email?” Yeah, probably you should. Because in the end, those relationships are the things that are going to really matter.
And we’d love to hear from more of you out there. Let us know what you’ve learned was easier than you initially thought it was. I’m curious about your personal philosophies, fears you’ve overcome, all the things we’ve talked about in season two, or something you learned was easier or simpler than you initially thought it was. Send us your voice! Just record a voice memo and email it to us at [email protected] Alright, let’s get back to Caitlin Schiller and Julian Treasure.
CS: You say in your book that all listening is unique, as unique as a fingerprint. Can you talk about that a little bit? What does that mean? How might my listening be different from yours?
JT: Well, you come a different road to this conversation to me and our listening is shaped by the road we travel in life. So first of all, we’re born into a culture that speaks a language and those things change our listening. And, you know, there are some languages on this planet that have no words for “tomorrow” or “yesterday.” And that changes your listening a little bit.
So, language does – and then values, attitudes, beliefs, you know, the things you accrete along the way from your parents, and then teachers, and role models, and friends, and so forth. So, all this creates what I call a set of filters, and then ultimately, you know, in any given situation you have expectations of a conversation, you have intentions, you might have emotions going on – these things all change the way that we are listening.
So, most people are not conscious of the filters – they think listening is very similar to hearing. But it’s not. You hear everything, you listen only to certain things. So listening is a process of selecting what you pay attention to.
And then my definition of listening is making meaning from sound. So you select some of what you hear and you make it mean something. And that’s a mental process, it’s not related to the process of hearing. And what you make it mean is going to be very possibly different from what I make it mean, because you’ve got different contexts and different parameters, different filters that you’ve developed along the way.
So, it is the commonest mistake I think in speaking and listening to assume everybody listens like I do. They don’t. And if you get that you’re speaking always into a listening that’s different, then you can speak so much more powerfully and effectively. Even if you’re talking to an audience of a thousand people, you can ask yourself, “What’s the listening?”, “What’s the listening of this group of people?”
And, you know, I noticed this years ago, when I was doing presentations in business day after day. And I could walk into a room and I knew immediately: those two are going to be a problem, these guys over here – they’re on my side, that’s fine.
I don’t know what it is, it’s a nonverbal communication of some type. It may be micro expressions, it could be pheromones – who knows what it is? But all I do know is that if you ask yourself that question, “What’s the listening?” and you get into the habit of doing that – your speaking will be so much more powerful. Because you’ll be conscious of that listening that you’re speaking into. And therefore, you’re speaking appropriately to that person or group of people.
CS: Are there questions? You said, it was a lot about non-verbal communication – some sort of sense that you get for the group to whom you’re addressing yourself. Are there any questions that you could, say, ask yourself to assess what kind of listening you’re walking into? And without having communicated with these people yet, does that leave a lot of room to make dangerous assumptions about what you’re going to get?
JT: Well, I don’t think it’s about making assumptions. I think it’s about being open, you know. Actually, it is probably the opposite of making assumptions – not thinking that, you know what’s going on but asking yourself continually, “What’s the listening?” And that is the only simple question that you need to ask yourself. It’s not so much, you know, going through a checklist of how people look or how old they are or anything like that. Just simply, “What’s the listening?” – you will intuitively come up with the right answer. And you would intuitively speak more accurately just by asking that question.
You can change – you might find that your first perceptions are amended as you go through listening to people talk and so forth. But there’s a process of building rapport which we all do pretty naturally, you know, mirroring postures or mirroring attitudes and pace of speech and things like that. You know, you don’t have to train in these things in order to start to get on with people. I mean most human beings have an innate ability to do that.
What I’m looking to do is to bring to the level of consciousness these processes which for many people are very unconscious, and some people are better at them than others. They are practices, you know, listening is a skill. And it’s a skill that can be practiced, and it’s a skill that can be improved.
CS: What are a couple of things that that people can be doing aside from just asking themselves, what the listening is in the room. What can we do to become better listeners ourselves? What would you recommend to someone?
JT: Well, in conversation there’s an acronym that I mentioned in my third TED talk which I go into much more detail in the book. The acronym for speaking is RASA, which was the Sanskrit word for “juice.” And in this context it’s an acronym that stands for “Receive, Appreciate, Summarise, Ask.” And many people have said to me over the years that this has been very very useful to them in conversation. It works for listening, it also works, you know, if you think about it in terms of speaking or the whole conversation.
So “receive” is paying attention to the person who is speaking. That sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how much time we spend partially listening. I honestly think there are billions of people on this planet – billions – who have never had the experience of being listened to fully and properly. You know, I totally agree with Scott Peck who says, it is impossible to listen to somebody and do anything else at the same time. Listening is 100% of your attention being focused on the other person. That means looking at them – not looking at your phone, or screen, or device, or anything else that you’re doing. And it means also a little bit of body language – it might be leaning forward, it might be paying attention, pointing at them, you know, not pointing away. You know the frustration of speaking to somebody who’s turned away from you? That body language is very important. So, receive.
The “A” is “appreciate”, which is little noises that oil conversation: “oh”, “uhm”, “really?” – those little noises, they are very important, too.
And then the “S” is summarize, and that’s the word “so.” Just going back to the person – “So, what you’re saying is this…” And very important if you’re in a meeting by the way, if you’re in a meeting without a “So-person”, it can be a very very long meeting. Nobody is saying, “So, we’ve all agreed this, now we can put it aside and move on to that.” And if that doesn’t happen, it can be a circular meeting.
And then the final “A” is “ask questions” – questions at the beginning, questions at the end, questions all the way through. Just to show you’re paying attention and you’re getting what’s being sent to you.
So RASA is very powerful.
CS: Yeah, thank you. You said earlier that it’s really unfortunate that people were educated to read and write, but were not educated to speak and listen, and we can leave our education without ever having been trained to use the instrument that is the human voice. And in one of your TED Talks you have this really great section where you talk about powerful vocal techniques – prosody, timbre. Could you could you talk about those elements just a little bit?
JT: Yes, of course. And it is what you say, which we’ve done a lot of talking about, but it’s also the way that you say it. And some people are less practiced at using this instrument than others, and less conscious.
So, for example, you get people who speak in bit of a monotone like this and it’s not terribly interesting to listen to somebody who speaks like this the whole time without any prosody. Prosody is a wonderful thing, it’s the way we express… it’s route one for emotion. You know, it’s the way we express so much of what we want to get across emotionally or in terms of meaning and emphasis. It provides the light and shade in what you’re saying.
And without prosody, you know, would you rather watch a play being performed or read it? This is one of the biggest differences between written language and spoken language. Speaking has been around for far far longer time than writing. Speaking around 200,000 years perhaps? Certainly a hundred thousand – complex language. Writing – just 4,000 years. So, this is our route one, really, for communication and we are over the last 30 or 40 years anyway, we have been pushing it aside. If you think about all of the modern protocols for communication that we developed – email, text, instant messaging – these are all screen-based. So we are using our eyes and our fingers to communicate the whole time.
I do think that’s about to change. You know, there’s billions being invested now in speech recognition, voice synthesis. And there are some amazing alliances of that with artificial intelligence, that’s going to be coming along in the next couple of years and will really change the way we interface with technology. We’ll be speaking to it and listening to it instead of reading it and writing it. So, that is all going to change.
We are going to need to filter, but it always goes at one pace, you know, you can’t be listening to three people at the same time in the same way that you could perhaps have three screens on with different feeds. You can’t do that with the human voice – you have to pay attention. We can only understand roughly 1.6 people talking at the same time, so 2 doesn’t work – it becomes babble.
CS: If you could change something about the way that the average person listens to other people in their lives, what would it be?
JT: It would be to become conscious of listening as an activity. Most of us assume that listening just happens. We hardly ever think about it. But listening is an activity. It’s a thing that you are doing to me right now – you’re actually doing something, not just sitting there and hearing, it’s not a passive thing, it is an active thing – you’re making meaning, you’re selecting what to listen to, you’ve got thoughts going on at the same time. There’s a synthesis going on between what I’m saying and the things that you’re thinking. And this process is going on all the time too.
So, I think the single biggest thing I’d love to see happen in the world would be people becoming conscious that they’re doing something when they’re listening and that they’re responsible for the outcome of that. And that they can practice it and become better listeners. It would transform the world I think, because listening – conscious listening – is the doorway to understanding. And if we have understanding, the world is a very different place from the world of caricaturing, and bigotry, and dogmatism, and so forth.
CS: That is a really nice thought to end on. But I did want to ask you, what have you been reading lately that you like? What are some books that people who are interested in sound and listening how it affects our environment? What would you recommend they read in addition to yours, of course?
JT: There are so many books about sound. There’s a wonderful book by Murray Schafer, who is something of a godfather to “modern aural ecology” it’s called, where people care about soundscapes and preserving good sounds. Murray Schafer, he’s a Canadian and he’s very old now. And the book is called The Soundscape: The Tuning Of The World and it’s a marvelous book. He invented the word “soundscape” actually. And, if you want to become conscious about your listening it’s a great place to start. So that’s really, that would be a textbook that I would recommend to absolutely anybody.
CS: Cool. And if there’s one you could recommend to people for say improving their listening or their conversational abilities, their social listening. Do you have a recommendation there too?
JT: Well, obviously that’s what my book is all about. So I certainly would recommend How To Be Heard. That’s totally totally what it’s about. I think there’s a lovely book also by Sherry Turkle, professor at MIT, called Reclaiming Conversation which is a brilliant book about exactly this again and about the effects of technology on all of us. She wrote a book called Alone Together before that and delivered the TED talk on that too, which is where I met her. And I think she’s absolutely right that technology in many ways has driven us apart, you know, rather than bringing us together in a big global village. It’s created this kind of shallow…a lot of shallow friends instead of a few deep friends perhaps – the word “friend” doesn’t necessarily mean what it used to, once upon a time… So yeah, I think Sherry’s got a very strong case and she’s very much in tune.
Also, the book Quiet by Susan Cain and also I know her from TED, which is another great book about the importance of quiet people and not getting seduced by this sort of noisy thrashing world that we’re in having to be bigger and better than other people. So it’s about the power of introverts. So those two I think are very good books.
CS: Awesome, thank you for the recommendations. Thank you so much for taking the time.
JT: Absolutely thank you very much.
CS: Have a good one, take care. Bye.
Ben: Welcome to The Bookend, where we end with books.
Ben: So, ok. We just heard your conversation with Julian Treasure. I loved this conversation. Also: it’s our second really good listener on the podcast. It’s cool to see experts in listening like Treasure and Michael Bungay Stanier from episode 3 actually show why they’re experts at listening. It seemed like a really understanding, patient conversation.
So, why did you want to have him on Simplify?
Caitlin: Well, I first heard about Julian from our production assistant, Nat! As part of her interview, we asked her to write a test outreach email to someone she would love to invite onto Simplify. She chose Julian Treasure. I watched his TED talks, and I knew that a) we had to invite him on, and b) we had to hire Nat.
Ben: Ha! Really? That’s great!
Caitlin: Yeah! But beyond it being a great suggestion from Nat, I loved the idea of inviting Julian on to Simplify because, a lot of times, I think people over-emphasize speaking as being the most impactful part of the communication equation. Julian, on the other hand, elevates listening to the same level—and treats it with the same nuance—as most thinkers do public speaking.
Ben: Yeah, interesting. Maybe that’s why it feels fresh, what he’s saying. What do you think is the one thing we should all remember from this conversation? What can we learn from this conversation?
Caitlin: I think it’s what you alluded to in the intro. We learn to read and write—to produce—in school. We don’t ever really take the time to learn to listen. It’s worth it to watch that in yourself. If you do that, you’ll start to notice weird personal ticks in yourself. And the other thing that I loved about this is that it’s connected to what kind of person you are and want to be. So if you pay attention to your listening habits a little bit more, there’s a good chance it’s going to impact how you are as a person, how you fill a room, how you interact with others.
Ben: I like how at one point he says, watch out for these habits, because these are the people that nobody wants to be around! Which is true, if you think about it. Nobody wants to be around people who are terrible listeners. So I started freaking out and paying careful attention to this, and I hope everyone does too. It’s a great interview. Ok, let’s get to the books.
Caitlin: Sure. Why don’t you start off with some recommendations this time?
Ben: Ok, sure. I guess we should start off with a classic. Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg.
Caitlin: Definitely. This book is actually more than a book. Nonviolent Communication – or NVC – is also a process and there are entire training schools devoted to it.
Ben: So what is it, essentially?
Caitlin: Basically NVC says that there’s a better way to communicate, and to do that, you have to appreciate the basic human needs we all share. Once you realize that, for example, all human beings have the capacity for compassion, you have a better chance of being able to connect with someone and communicate more effectively.
Caitlin: What else did you pick?
Ben: Ok, next up. How about How Music Works by David Byrne – as in David Byrne lead singer of the Talking Heads David Byrne.
Ben: Yeah, so this book is pretty well described by the title. It touches on music theory, how music can make you feel feelings, but there’s a nice bonus for Talking Heads fans out there in that it also goes through some of the history of the band.
Caitlin: Also why Byrne wore that big suit in Stop Making Sense. Something about Japanese theater.
Ben. Yes! And if people are into that theme, I would also recommend This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin.
Caitlin: Ok, last one?
Ben: Last one. This is fun one, it’s Lying by Sam Harris. Sam Harris is a well-beloved neuroscientist, sort of like our generation’s Oliver Sacks. He’s a great writer and he’s suuuuper smart, and this book is about the power of telling lies.
Caitlin: It’s definitely worth checking out. Sam Harris also has a pretty badass podcast, btw. It’s called “Waking up.”
Ben: Yeah. So about this book Lying: In the same way that you’d be surprised how powerful it is to re-consider how you listen and speak, as Treasure told you, you’d be surprised how powerful it is to not lie!
Caitlin: Wow, ok. Awesome list! We’ll put that up in the show notes on the Blinkist Magazine so everyone can read through it. And we might as well remind everyone that all the past episode book lists are also online at the Blinkist Magazine.
Ben: Great. Well, thanks for listening to this episode of Simplify. It was produced by me, Ben Schuman-Stoler, Caitlin Schiller, Nat Darozhkina, Ben Jackson, and Ody Constantinou, whose real name is Otto.
Caitlin: If you enjoyed this episode or feel that you learned something cool, could you, please, do us a favor and send it to one person you like. Especially if this person would particularly get something out of this. Just send it to one person, spread the word, we really want to have more people get in touch with us and to hear what we’re doing over here. So yeah, send it to one person, we’d really appreciate it!
Ben: And a big shout out already to the people who’ve subscribed to us on Google Play, Overcast, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, wherever you listen. And if you wouldn’t mind taking a moment to add a review or rating – a star, a heart, or a thumb, or a face or whatever – we’d be really appreciative, it helps us.
Caitlin: We’re also on Twitter. I’m @CaitlinSchiller and you’re –
Caitlin: Cool. Also, Simplify is made by the same people who make Blinkist. Blinkist, if you don’t know, is a learning app that takes insights the world’s bestselling nonfiction books and condenses them into these focused little capsules of knowledge available in audio or text that you can listen to or read in just about 15 minutes.
Ben: And we made another voucher code for this episode. You can get 14 days free if you go to blinkist.com/friends and type in the voucher code: listen.
Caitlin: And last thing: thanks so much for sending in Voice Memos about the answer to the question “What have you learnt was much easier than you thought it was?” If you haven’t done it yet, record a Voice Memo and email it to Ben and I at [email protected]
Ben: Yeah, we’d love to hear some good stories.. Alright so, we’ll be back next week with another episode of Simplify. In the meantime, be good. This is Ben…
Caitlin: And Caitlin checking out. See you guys!