I hope this finds you happy, healthy, and thriving wherever you are! It’s been TWO YEARS now that this podcast has been alive in the world (first ep dropped Nov 5 2019). And it’s been almost four years since I first started thinking about the podcast idea after a New Year’s Day brainstorm around a friend’s kitchen table.
That blows my mind. It’s been a rewarding and challenging journey so far.
Looking back on the second year of the podcast, I want to talk about three things:
- Six lessons learned in year two
- Some of my favorite episodes in year two, and what most impacted me from them
- Show updates going forward
I wish I’d started the podcast sooner. This is one that pretty much every creator I know says. It’s an easy thing to “know” cognitively, and much harder to face down in experience.
I’ve said this to many other people who are interested in doing a podcast, but now I’m reminding myself: you can always change it later. Your show is your creation. And until you have a big audience anyway, it’s not like you are really risking anything. I have a friend who is worried about iterating on his show that he just started. It’s like, who cares?
I spent almost two years thinking about and toying with the idea of the podcast before I ever put it live. In retrospect, I wish I’d done what every advisor said, which is what I’m saying now; start, then learn.
Gratitude to Sahil and The Minimalist Entrepreneur community for making this so central to our conversations.
Which leads me to my second big lesson…
This is another one that is easy to know, and hard to live. It’s a cognitive vs emotional challenge. It’s scary to not know and act anyway. As Brené Brown would say, that’s vulnerability: showing up when we don’t know or control the outcome.
But I want to give a shoutout to George Kao for this one. He’s someone whose material is new to me, but is helping me think about creating content in a way that feels authentic and good to me. I’m historically not a big fan of social media and have struggled to feel authentic engaging in it, and his stuff is good, and it’s helping. Check him out.
I’m incredibly guilty of this one. I have a tendency to overanalyze as a way of regulating fear and the anxiety of navigating an uncertain future. The emotional logic goes something like this: if I can just figure out the “right” answer in advance, everything will be smooth and I won’t have to deal with failure. Nicole LePera, the author of the must-read book “How To Do The Work,” has a great Instagram post on this idea. So I’m calling myself out here.
Turns out, it’s a lot more productive—and adaptive, from a mental health point of view—to learn to feel and regulate the anxiety and fear directly, and then get on with it. I know I’m not saying anything groundbreaking here, but the whole “feel the fear and do it anyway” is one of those truism/cliches.
The process of creating this show—going on the exploratory learning journey that is this show—is actually what has been yielding more clarity on where I’m going next and what I’ll build next.
Whatever you’re doing, the format matters. More than you realize up front, and in nonobvious ways.
This is an easy one to overlook in podcasting. Lots of people want to do a podcast. Most fizzle out after five episodes. Talking to cool people about ideas is fun. Many people like that. What gets them is they don’t realize all the other things that go into a podcast in terms of pre/post production, admin, scheduling, booking, etc. Even with a simplified format, it’s a lot.
The lesson: think hard about how to make the format of what you’re doing sustainable. What’s going to make it something you can do for an indefinite period of time? What would make it something you could enjoyably do for five years?
This was a really challenging, albeit growthful, year for me. 2021 was actually a much more challenging year for me than 2020, and that goes for year two of the podcast was as well. As Seth Godin says, the second year of the show was “the dip.” I almost quit doing the show several times.
The last episode before this one was episode #50! That’s a milestone I wasn’t sure I’d ever reach. Some of you listening have listened to every single episode along the way, and I want to say THANK YOU SO MUCH! I so appreciate you sharing this journey with me.
And on that note, I means so much to me when I get to hear from you how this show is impacting you — every tweet or email I receive is meaningful to me, so thank you to those who have taken a moment to share their thoughts with me.
Following the episode 50 milestone, I took a short hiatus from producing the show over the last two months to reflect and recharge. This is a little creative process trick I’ve found very useful: committing to a certain amount of output at milestones.
When I first started the show, I said I’ll give it ten episodes, and then see if I want to continue. I can’t quit before ten even if I want to, but at that milestone I can reassess. That sort of thing has proved to be very helpful because there are always times when you want to quit. Heck, there were two times in the last year when this show almost died!
My first commitment was to 10 episodes, then I upped it to 25, then 50, and now I’m re-upping my commitment to 75. By the time I get to 75 I’ll almost certainly keep going, but that’s my promise for now.
This is a good way to get deep enough into something to see if you actually like it, and to force you to wade through all the crap you didn’t think about when you first conceived of the concept. To use another common example, if you want to do a newsletter, commit to once a week for 8 weeks, then reassess.
Simple, not easy.
If it wasn’t already super obvious, I’m an incredibly curious person with a wide range of interests. And I really like learning and exploring that way. It energizes me.
But that doesn’t work when you want to build products, which is what I actually spend the majority of my professional time doing. Great products are focused and opinionated, and they solve specific problems for specific people.
The way I’m walking this tightrope is to use the podcast and writing I do as a vehicle to explore widely, and then slice off narrow focused pieces to actually build against.
If you also struggle with being helplessly curious, and trying to balance that against creating focused work, consider how you might use different vehicles to meet those different needs. I don’t have to get all my itches scratched in the same place (which turns out to be true for relationships also, by the way).
This is one that is hard to overstate. Writing is powerful. I now think of the long-form interviews as a way to explore territory and discover new ideas, which can then be extracted, developed, repackaged, and repurposed in other ways.
What really brought this home for me was seeing the different response levels to all the audio content I’ve created, compared with one well-done, long-form piece of writing.
In January, I wrote a piece, “How to know if you’re interviewing at a product-led company.” I had a feeling I was onto something with it, but I was surprised at the response. That one article has been distributed more widely than anything else I’ve done in the last two years, and a big reason for that is that it’s text and not audio. But the ideas in it came directly from the conversations on the podcast.
You’ll start to see this reflected in the format of the show going forward, where there will be different types of episodes rather than just interviews. I’ll talk about that more in a minute, but specifically, I’ll say that I’ll be publishing more audio essays. These are where I’ll be writing an article and then also publishing an audio version of that article on the podcast feed, so people can interact with the ideas in whichever way they see fit.
If you’d like to get those in written form, sign up here and they’ll be emailed to you as soon as they drop.
Switching gears, I want to share a few of the episodes from the second year which have most impacted my thinking.
I’m proud of all the episodes in year two, but in something like this, I tend to highlight the ones that I think are less obvious.
This year I really pushed into a lot more product- and craft-focused content. For example, on the product front, there were terrific explorations with folks like Melissa Perri, Marty Cagan, and Teresa Torres. These are excellent conversations to check out to improve your product work and org:
- Melissa and I talked extensively about how to structure a product org and craft product strategy
- Marty and I explored how to create empowered teams + an environment where people do the best work of their lives
- Teresa and I talked about a structured and sustainable approach to creative work that infuses decisions with customer input, clear thinking, and better bets
But if I had to pick just three episodes that really changed my thinking in a new way this year, it would be these next three.
First, episode 50 with Bo Burlingham. I can’t think of anyone whose work has more shaped my mental models and worldview of how business can be and ought to be.
If you’re not familiar with him, Bo has given name and voice to multiple movements that continue to shape the world of business, such as open book management, transparent start-ups, and the idea of small giants—companies that live from the truth that greatness and bigness have nothing to do with each other.
Bo’s work has been such a big inspiration to me and foundational to a lot of my thinking over the years. I don’t know of anyone that has explored more deeply, through real-world examples, what it means to build a meaningful business that matters.
Secondly, episode 43 with Courtney Bigony. I am absolutely in love with what she’s created with Positive Product Design (PPD), which is a methodology to align tech products with the latest science of human thriving.
The idea of creating a framework that enables product teams to actually assess if they are having the psychological impact on their users that they intend. I am starting to think of it as a way of choosing a secondary North Star.
Finally, I’m going to highlight the two episodes I shared about a mental model for fulfilling work: the ARM model.
First, the ARM model itself from the first episode. ARM stands for Activities, Relationships, and Meaning, which I argue are the three main drivers of a fulfilling work experience.
Secondly, I have found the idea of your “verbs” from the second episode to be incredibly useful. The key idea here is identifying the verbs, the activities, which energize and light you up, and then building your work around them. This added useful clarification to the Activities part of ARM and made it more actionable.
If you’re thinking through any career decisions, I strongly suggest going back and listening to those two short episodes.
In the time after I articulated with the ARM model, I’ve engaged deeply with the research around careers, meaning, motivation, etc—like, I’ve read at least fifty of the top research papers on these topics—and came to realize that the model is actually an even more useful synthesis than I originally realized.
Finally, let’s close this out with some brief updates about the show’s structure and direction.
As I alluded to earlier, I’m making some tweaks to the format and type of content going forward. Going forward, you can expect a mix of long-form interviews with guests, as well as much shorter and condensed ideas. Some of these shorter episodes will be me sharing a written piece in audio format. Some will be me extracting a great portion of a longer conversation and providing commentary around it.
Cadence-wise, I plan to generally publish every two weeks. That may change as I test out and try to streamline the production of these different formats.
In terms of content, you can expect a deeper alignment and integration of the ideas presented here. As I mentioned, one of the things I’m most grateful for about the podcast is the opportunity to explore my interests widely and to see what resonates and emerges over time.
I’ve been in my own broader transitional process around the focus of my career, and am in the middle of a pivot from working on environmental challenges—which what I’ve done for the last 4-5 years—to working on unleashing human creativity in and around the workplace.
That shift has been incubating for a long time, and is starting to accelerate for me. Part of that will show up here with the podcast, where you can already see in a more clearly defined tag line for the show. That tag line is currently “using science to unleash creative performance + thriving teams.” That may change, but I think you get the gist of it.
I will be striving to make all the content relevant, evidence-based, and actionable — all aimed at unleashing creative performance and thriving at work.
This is deeply aligned with my personal sense of direction, which is all about exploring what’s possible to help people thrive in their self-expression and bring their gifts into the world.
As adults, the primary vehicle for our self-expression is our work. So the workplace is the domain I’m focusing on. I’m currently exploring a lot of how people learn/create/collaborate in the workplace to make things that matter. In the background of all this out-loud-exploration, I’m looking for what I can build: I’m trying to productize the insights of the cognitive and behavioral sciences to unleash creative performance at/through work.
In many ways, the show is my invitation to you to come along for the exploration of how to build the kind of world I want to see: a world where everyone wakes up excited, gets to spend their day developing and expressing who they are, making their unique contribution in service of something meaningful, and ends the day feeling fulfilled by who they got to be and inspired for tomorrow.
Being a vehicle for broader exploration, the show will still roam around in its topics, but I can say with confidence that if you’re interested in creativity, performance, and thriving with people as you do that, you’re going to be interested in where the show goes.
Thank you so much for listening and sharing the journey with me so far. As always, please let me know what strikes a chord with you, and here’s to the next year of exploration and creation together! See you out there friends, go make something that matters.