Never stop learning: 5 can’t-miss podcasts for executives

by Melissa Cafiero

Most overachievers have the best of intentions to keep learning and constantly improve — to work smarter and faster, while advancing their careers or running a business.

But time is a finite resource, so sometimes we need hacks to learn the hacks. Here are five can’t-miss podcasts to subscribe to, along with specific episode recommendations if you just need a quick fix.

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1) The Next Big Idea

The Next Big Idea podcast recently launched and I’ve loved every episode so far. But its first episode, “Why Having ‘Range’ is the Key to Success,” is what hooked me. It features host Malcolm Gladwell interviewing David Epstein, author of “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.”

Epstein argues that generalists like Roger Federer — who played several sports in addition to tennis — are more creative and agile than their specialized peers (in Roger’s case, Epstein’s comparison is to golfer Tiger Woods). The reason? Strengthening your skills in many areas only helps to heighten your capabilities in your passion area.

Embrace failure, quit doing what you’re not passionate about, and forget about swimlanes. It’s unpopular advice, so this episode is certainly worth a listen — if only to get you to consider another viewpoint.

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2) Happier with Gretchen Rubin

If you’re a fan of productivity tips and life hacks, this is the podcast for you. Cohosts Gretchen Rubin and her sister Elizabeth Craft release two types of programs each week — regular-length episodes that feature an interview, along with mini-episodes called “A Little Happier” that offer brief reflections from Gretchen. You’ll sail through your commute and get to the office feeling a bit more inspired and ready to conquer your next board meeting.

My recent favorites include episodes #241, where Malcolm Gladwell discusses his new book, “Talking to Strangers,” and #246, where Simon Sinek talks about “The Infinite Game.”

Gladwell’s book, and this interview, start by asking, “What happens when we have to deal with the unfamiliar?” When you meet a stranger, how do you connect with them? How do you know you can trust them? How do you know who they are?

He covers deception and the idea of “mismatched cases,” when a liar acts like an honest person or when an honest person acts like a liar — through body language and facial expressions — and how even experts can fall for deception in this way. But the crux of the book is really about learning to withhold judgement upon meeting new people in order to avoid miscommunication.

With Sinek’s interview, they discuss his latest book about adopting an “infinite mindset.” They discuss the differences between the “finite game” — with fixed rules, a clear endpoint, and winners and losers — and the “infinite game” — changeable rules, no defined endpoint, no winners and losers (and he suggests business falls within this category).

But the challenge arises when you approach an infinite game, like business, with a finite mindset, thinking there will be a winner and a loser. You can have wins and losses in business, but to what end? In the case of business, you’ll experience a decline of trust, cooperation, and innovation within your corporate culture.

He offers suggestions to adjust your mindset to match the infinite game you’re playing in business: work to advance a just cause, foster trusting teams, embrace your worthy rivals, have the capacity for existential flexibility, and have the courage to lead. The interview further explores his concepts and recommendations, and is definitely worth a listen if you’re struggling with challenges in your organization’s culture that are disrupting financial performance and results.

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3) Awesome Etiquette

Emily Post is arguably the most well-known etiquette and manners expert in the United States. Her great-great-grandchildren, cousins Lizzie and Dan Post, host the Awesome Etiquette podcast from the Emily Post Institute.

Each episode covers listener-submitted questions, ranging from how to handle a sticky coworker situation to advice for dealing with in-laws, listener feedback, and a “Postscript” segment — where they cover specific etiquette topics worldwide — and finishes with an “Etiquette Salute,” which reminds listeners of the good that’s still in action around the globe.

Etiquette is a key requirement to building strong relationships — with your board, investors, and fellow executives. And with business happening worldwide, it’s even more important to understand etiquette nuances around the globe.

Episode #221’s Postscript segment is all about the season that’s right around the corner — holiday party etiquette. Even better, the Emily Post Institute offers eLearning business training if you want more specific guidance, or to bring in an expert to help your entire organize improve.

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4) HBR podcasts

Weekly podcasts featuring business and management leaders, Harvard Business Review’s IdeaCast and The Anxious Achiever are two series in an entire library of HBR-created content.

HBR IdeaCast

A recent episode of IdeaCast features Melinda Gates discussing gender equality, which has been talked about and debated of late, and staying top-of-mind for executives and employees worldwide. Did you know women-led businesses receive less than 4% of VC funding? Or that the figure drops to less than 1% for women of color?

In this interview, she talks about the work being done at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the programs put in place to empower women in developing countries. She also covers how the workplace is contributing to the problem of gender inequalities, due to a number of factors, and provides recommendations for addressing.

The Anxious Achiever

The Anxious Achiever is another newly-launched HBR podcast that is particularly close to this anxious achiever’s heart. It aims to reposition how we think about mental health in the workplace.

What’s historically been a taboo subject at work, this podcast wants to bring anxiety and mental health issues to the forefront. Featuring stories “from people who’ve been there and experts who can help you thrive,” The Anxious Achiever allows us to explore the challenges we face — and even the strengths we offer — in bringing our full selves to work.

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5) Bright & Early

If you’re launching a startup or are part of a thriving company but want some foundational marketing know-how, the episode of Bright & Early “Obviously Awesome: How to Position Your Product” can help.

April Dunford is a positioning consultant, entrepreneur, board member, and advisor. After myriad requests for her best practices and guidance on product positioning, she eventually wrote the book on it: “Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get it, Buy it, Love it.”

Dunford says, “Positioning defines how your product is the best in the world at delivering something that a well-defined set of customers cares a lot about,” so you need to think about the context of a product — the who, the what, the why, and the value. And take note: It’s not what you think is important; it’s your customer’s perspective that counts most.

Going through some examples to illustrate the concepts, Dunford also discusses how to identify your market category and competitive differentiators, passionately talks about the weaknesses of positioning statements, and offers alternatives with her new methodology.

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Bonus! Future of X: The Workplace

The latest episode in season two of OZY's podcast series, "The Future of Creativity: How A.I. Will Free Our Minds," talks about the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) and how the workplace will evolve as automation increases.

You might be thinking the worst — robots will take over our work environments and jobs — but here's the thing: the secret to successful automation is you. Human connections will be even more necessary and important in the age of automation. Working together, AI and ML can help us make better, smarter decisions, and allow us to offload the more mundane work so our time is freed up to work on high-level, strategic projects, and more interesting, innovative work.

Empowering workers to be more effective allows people to feel more connected to their work. Smartsheet CEO Mark Mader says, "While it seems counterintuitive, AI-driven software that relieves us and takes work away from us, will actually cause us to be more connected, and it's one of the things I'm so excited about."

Drive innovation by constantly improving

If you’re a road warrior like most executives, you know how to make the best use of your time during commutes and business trips.

All episodes mentioned here can be found in this handy Spotify playlist (note: you must be on mobile to listen). While you’re not taking calls in airport terminals, try listening to these podcasts jam-packed with great ideas. After all, you never know where inspiration will strike.

If you need more hacks for your business, see what IDC discovered at our recent ENGAGE’19 customer conference and how a collaborative work management platform like Smartsheet might help your organization achieve more.