If you were to make a movie about podcasting, it would probably be one of those inspirational, feel-good, overcoming-the-odds kind of films.
You know the one: a teacher (or coach, or show choir director — it doesn’t matter, it’s all the same story) takes a group of plucky but downtrodden underdogs and helps them see the talent and ability that was hiding inside them all along. Armed with a new-found belief in themselves, they go on to win the State Championship — or National Spelling Bee, or Cheerleading Tournament, or… whatever.
Okay, I’ll admit that’s a pretty tortured analogy but, like those ragtag movie heroes, podcasting is staging a comeback that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Like a good Cinderella story, it’s now more popular than ever — both in terms of listenership and amount of content available.
A recent survey found that 124 million Americans have listened to a podcast, with 48 million listening every week. And while the number of new series launching every day makes it hard to know exactly how many are out there, Variety reports that Apple Podcasts (i.e., iTunes) now hosts over 500,000 podcasts in more than 100 languages. There’s even a TV series about it!
Why are podcasts so popular?
Podcasting might feel like a recent phenomenon, but it actually has its roots in the classic days of radio. Serial dramas of the 1940s and ’50s were incredibly popular and well produced, using music and sound effects to create imaginative aural soundscapes. It’s a testament to the inventiveness of these shows that modern enthusiasts have made thousands of episodes available online.
Unlike radio, however, podcasting adds elements of streaming video, audiobooks, and social media to create a smart, unique blend. It’s a soundtrack to our modern lives, tailor-made for audiences raised on multitasking and binge-watching. As Gayle Troberman observed in her recent SXSW presentation, “Digital has retrained us for this type of content, giving us enough to be smart before work, and not fall behind the curve if we didn’t catch up on who is in the ‘final four,’ or what celebrity broke up with who.”
While FOMO no doubt plays a role, a large part of podcasting’s appeal is its portability; you can listen to your favorite series almost anywhere — at home, at work, on your commute, even while working out. Wherever you have your smartphone and a pair of headphones, you can indulge in a little podcast consumption. Journalist Sirena Bergmansays, “I listen while I’m traveling, commuting, working, cooking, cleaning, and sometimes even while I’m showering.”
OK, so what should I listen to?
The good news is that whatever you’re into, there’s probably a podcast about it. The bad news is that the barrier to entry is so low for content creators that it’s almost impossible to sift through all of them. As a result, we usually end up relying on a few trusted advisors to curate the vast array of content for us.
At Evernote, it’s no surprise that we like listening to people who get into the nitty-gritty of the brain, how the mind works, and how to make it work better.
If you’re looking for podcasts that can help you think about thinking, here are eight of our favorites. While there is some crossover in subject matter, we’ve divided them into four broad categories to help you find exactly what you’re looking for.
These podcasts — some well-known, others less so — will help you find focus, retrain your brain, and approach your work and your world in new, unexpected ways.
Host: Jason Gots
I love the premise of Think Again: take some of the most accomplished, intelligent people on the planet and ask them about a topic they aren’t at all prepared to discuss. The results are unexpected, often surprising, but always entertaining. Like watching great improv comedy, this series offers you the wonderful experience of witnessing great minds flying by the seat of their pants.
Previous episodes have featured Michio Kaku discussing female desire, Neil Gaiman comparing race cars and hikers, Alan Alda considering how to communicate better, and many more. As the show’s summary says, “Some of the best conversations happen when we’re pushed outside of our comfort zones.”
Host: Wade Roush
Soonish is a tech podcast unlike any other tech podcast. It starts with the premise that “The future is shaped by technology. But technology is shaped by us.” Host Wade Roush and his guests explore the humanity behind technological advancement. Along the way, they turn our concept of the world upside down and force us to look at it with a fresh perspective.
This is a series with a production style I love, in the spirit of public radio shows like Radiolab — not surprising given that Wade is also an audio engineer. My one (minor) complaint is that, with an average of only one new episode per month, I’m always left wanting more. But if you’re trying to decide where to begin with Soonish, try “Hacking Time,” featuring Evernote’s Chief Marketing Officer, Andrew Malcolm.
Host: Khe Hy
“What does it mean to live a fulfilled life?” In 2015, Khe Hy gave up a career on Wall Street to search for the answer, turning to philosophy, neuroscience, the arts, technology, sports, and pop culture.
On Rad Awakenings, Khe hosts conversations with a diverse list of successful business people, many of whom, in spite of their outward success, were feeling unfulfilled. They share their stories of personal growth, the lessons they’ve learned, and the value they’ve found in introspection and self-exploration.
I love that Rad Awakenings doesn’t suggest we need to choose between professional (i.e., monetary) success and spiritual peace. It’s a great listen for anyone who doesn’t necessarily want to give it all away, but still feels like there has to be more. And after listening to this series, you might just believe that you can have your cake and eat it too.
Hosts: Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee
As the name suggests, the goal of Inspire Nation is to help listeners get inspired and live more fulfilled lives. It features motivational advice from top authors, experts, heroes, and spiritual masters, who share the lessons they’ve learned along their various paths. Listening to this series should convince you that you really can achieve your goals.
Inspire Nation is one of the more active podcasts, with a new episode being released every few days. The series offers a wealth of content and a diverse range of perspectives to keep your mind active. For some people that might feel overwhelming, but my ‘glass half full’ view is that it makes it easy to add a little introspection to your daily routine.
Hosts: Michael Hyatt and Megan Hyatt Miller
The first time I listened to Lead to Win, I sensed it was aimed at the folks in the corner offices, A.K.A. “the C Suite.” I’m glad I didn’t let that turn me off, though. I soon realized that Michael’s advice, drawn from his years of experience as a CEO and motivational speaker, could benefit anyone — whether they’re at the pinnacle of their career or still somewhere in the middle. In each episode he shares stories and lessons on how to organize your busy life and become a better leader. CEOs… they’re just like us!
Full disclosure: Michael is a passionate Evernote customer, and has written several times for our own blog, so you’ll forgive us for being fans of his work. Still, this podcast is definitely ‘where the rubber meets the road,’ productivity-wise.
Host: Jay Acunzo
Are you a lover of public radio who also works in marketing? No? Just me? Okay then.
Jay Acunzo’s Unthinkable combines the production values and narrative sensibilities of great public radio shows like This American Life and Radiolab with insightful stories of business people who dare to question the conventional wisdom. As the show’s summary on Apple Podcasts states, Jay “travels to the far reaches of the business world to dig up stories you’ve never heard, revealing ideas you’ve never considered.”
By the way, Jay is another vocal Evernote user and has appeared as a guest on our own podcast, Taking Note. That doesn’t change the fact that this is one of the smartest shows out there, and one of my personal favorites.
The chart toppers (A.K.A. You can’t ignore the classics)
Host: Guy Raz
Public radio has always been at the vanguard of podcasting. Before it was a podcast, popular series This American Life was (and still is) a show on public radio station WBEZ. Perhaps it’s because public radio doesn’t depend as heavily on advertising as commercial radio. Whatever the reason, many public radio programs have found new audiences as podcasts.
NPR’s How I Built This with Guy Raz appears on almost every list of the top podcasts — and it’s easy to see why. The “built this” of How I Built This isn’t a machine, or a building, it’s a company. Host Guy Raz has interviewed entrepreneurs from Mark Cuban and Richard Branson, to Kate Spade and music producer L.A. Reid. Along the way, he dives into the what, why, and how of the companies they built. If you ever wanted to get inside the head of the most successful business people, here’s the place to start.
Host: Tim Ferriss
Another top-rated series on Apple Podcasts, The Tim Ferriss Show is a towering giant in the podcasting world, covering a wide variety of personal growth and productivity topics. The show’s consistently high rating means that it has attracted an eclectic guest list ranging from Ray Dalio (“The Steve Jobs of investing”) to supermodel and coder Karlie Kloss. My favorite thing about this podcast is that Tim doesn’t present himself as an expert on every subject. He comes across as someone acutely aware of his own failings while being determined to overcome them, which makes him a relatable and engaging host. Combined with his natural curiosity, each episode, which usually clocks in at around an hour, seems to end well before I want it to.
We hope you’ll find inspiration in one, if not all, of these podcasts as you journey down the road to personal fulfillment and success. If you have a particular favorite that’s not on our list, please tell us in the comments.
A bonus recommendation…
And of course, we couldn’t end this list without mentioning Evernote’s very own podcast, Taking Note — now back for a second season! For stories and advice to help you live a more organized life, check it out today.