Professors on Podcasts: A Rant.

It’s baseball season, thank goodness. So before I get into my windup and start hurling metaphors, let me say that I love interviewing professors on our podcasts .

These learned souls are almost always thoughtful, highly intelligent, and often funny. Their bases are loaded with interesting ideas. Professors understand nuance and are good at reminding the rest of the world (including Donald Trump) that most issues are far more complex, and indeed more interesting, than they first appear.

This is the nature of the human condition, and why it’s so difficult for data experts to design algorithms that take account of all the delightful complexity of human behavior.

The recent rush to judgement over self-driving cars, universal health care and privacy on Facebook are just three current examples of how so many current debates are poorly framed.

Professors have the luxury of escaping from the daily pressures of the business world, taking a long-term view of the subjects they study.

But they are usually different… especially tenured professors.

What is it about one-YEAR sabbaticals? Say what? For the rest of us workers, small business owners, gig economy freelancers, and salaried professionals, a one-MONTH break would be a total luxury.

And try interrupting professors. Good luck with that! The preferred platform for many university lecturers is neither a chat, seminar nor a brainstorming session. They speak from behind a lectern.

Before each episode with a professor on our weekly solutions news show, “How Do We Fix It?” my co-host, Jim Meigs and I do some podcast batting practice.

Jim starts the interview with a very polite warm-up, telling guests what’s about to happen.

“We’re a fast-paced show,” Jim explains in a somewhat professorial, yet almost apologetic tone. “We try to keep the answers to questions to under a minute. We may jump in.”

Sometimes, this approach actually works. We are able to ask lots of questions and enjoy bantering with our guests.

But in many cases, professors, who give “talks”, and “presentations” aren’t entirely comfortable with the back-and-forth of conversations. They’d rather give five examples than three.

But don’t get me wrong.

Before I get too deep in the count, let me say with as much force as I can muster: Academics are among our favorite podcast guests.

If you’re looking for someone to add intellectual heft, who could be better?

And in our age of distraction, we need to listen more carefully and at far greater length to deep thinkers.

Professors know their subjects inside and out. And many are happy to venture forth with contrarian opinions that challenge the dominant zeitgeist.

However, Jim and I agree: among our absolute favorite podcast guests professors who have also spent some time in careers outside academia— in business or journalism. Not only do they know their stuff, these women and men understand bullet points and deadlines. They tend to be both clear and disciplined in their thinking, and have learned the art of sound-bites and relatively short declarative sentences.

If you are a podcaster or broadcast host, before inviting a professor on your show, get ready to step up to the plate and take a few swings at interrupting your guest.

And also make sure you’ve taken some batting practice first. Read their book before you open the mike.

Richard Davies is a podcasting consultant, producer, interviewer and host. DaviesContent makes podcasts for companies and non-profit groups.

On podcasting: the small picture

The other day a young man in his 20’s told me something very sad.

While he has a strong moral sense and believes in the necessity of profound political change, and would like to do something to make the world a better place, he doesn’t know where to start.

My friend sees no connection between his actions and how to be part of a movement to promote justice, trust and greater social harmony. He feels powerless and dispirited. Disconnected.

The best advice I could think of was to throw a pebble into the ocean.

Look at the small picture.

Do something— anything— I suggested, that might help someone less fortunate than yourself. For instance, it could be as simple as signing up for Reading Partners, a non-profit group that trains volunteers to give one-on-one tutoring for 45 minutes, twice a week, to school kids who are behind their grade level in their reading.

The experience of volunteering can change your outlook on life.

From church groups to social causes, there are countless local, neighborhood efforts happening now to knit together the social fabric that we need to build a more caring, sharing society.

Maybe this young man should use his own skills to teach others what he knows: Promoting their sense of curiosity and wonder.

For me it was podcasts.

After three decades of covering breaking news at a national radio network, I was also frustrated. For a long time I had found the fast-paced daily work to be fascinating and even at times, thrilling. My career had been a gift.

But a few years ago, it started to feel a bit routine. The hourly focus on clashes, contests, calamities and celebrities that is the stuff of broadcast news was becoming more of a grind than a source of fascination. Rarely did we cover those who were calling for constructive alternatives to what was going seriously wrong in our country.

We were not giving an accurate picture of the world. Civics and the critical workings of democracy were not part of the daily news agenda.

But I also wondered about myself. Was I becoming part of the problem— an old and weary grumpy guy, who was perhaps jaded?

I didn’t want to be that person.

My answer was to change careers and became a podcaster, and help others put their message across.

My own pebble in the ocean has been “How Do We Fix It?”— a weekly podcast that I make with Jim Meigs and Miranda Shafer.

On each episode we try to promote empathy, problem solving and constructive ideas aimed at bringing people together, rather than bellowing across the political canyon at the other side.

We also have fun doing it.

Instead of covering the who, what, when, where, why of news, we ask “now what?” Experts are challenged to come on the show and discuss potential solutions to problems that they’ve spent years studying or investigating.

Podcasts are ideally suited for this kind of experiment. They connect the the head and the heart. People usually listen when they are on their own, away from the distractions of their phone and computer screens, when they are likely to be a little more reflective and able to reconsider their view of the world.

Listening to podcasts can offer a way to open your mind.

No matter how small the audience, or simple the format, the best podcasts follow their own path, throwing caution the wind. As a lover of history, one of my favorite examples is the “fireside chat” 4-hour monologues on “Hard Core History”, hosted by Dan Carlin. Each one tells a carefully crafted account of the past. There is not a speck of fat on those shows. They are pure meat.

Anyone who watches TV, goes online or listens to the radio is exposed to a fire hose of information. We are subjected to a mostly negative and overly dramatic view of current events.

The intimate world of podcasting contains an almost infinite range of possibilities to bring us together. Here’s hoping that you will decide to take a dip and jump into the ocean!

Richard Davies is a podcaster and Podcast consultant, who helps people, companies and causes to tell their story through podcasting.

Beyond outrage and anger… Solutions. A podcast for our times.

We’re gearing up for another great year with more independent-minded, contrarian guests — kicking off this week with Claire Cain Miller of TheUpshot, the New York Times and economics site.

After all the recent anger and outrage over sexual harassment our podcast team decided to do a show about how to reduce bullying and harassment in the workplace. What works? What doesn’t?

Employers are paying lip service to the need for change, but until now there has been little coverage in the media about solutions and training: how to make this a teaching moment.

At “How Do We Fix It?” here’s our un-resolution for 2018: What we do NOT want is the obvious: opinions you’ve heard a hundred times in other places and podcasts.

We’re fired up about solutions — ideas to make the world a better place, topic-by-topic.

Future episodes this month will include the well-known author and skeptic, Michael Shermer, who explains why pessimism is a threat to all of us. Michael also takes apart the human zest for utopia.

Stanford University Politics professor Mo Fiorina is also on our dance card. He will tell us why Americans are less partisan than many think — Fascinating subject for discussion and debate in this time of political flame-throwing.

Please weigh in with your ideas, responses and suggestions. And if you have the time, spread the word about our show with lots of likes, shares and retweets on iTunes, Stitcher and social media.

Here’s hoping that 2018 will be the best year every for humankind and that more of us will throw our pebbles into ocean of progress.

How Do We Fix It? No. Never Make a Podcast Unless…

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I’ve been into audio ever since I was a little kid who slapped 45 rpm green, red, yellow and orange Disney discs onto the record player my parents gave me when I was six years old.

The stories, voices and jingles really were music to my ears.

Not long after college, to no-one’s great surprise, I landed my first job in radio. I spent well over thirty years at stations and networks doing the thing I loved.

Last year, with my pal Jim Meigs and producer Miranda Shafer, I started “How Do We Fix It?”– a weekly podcast.  We’re having a fun ride and I feel privileged to meet a lot of great people along the way.  Our 86th weekly show is currently in production.

At its best, podcasting is remarkably intimate and honest – without noisy distractions.  Just you and another human voice in your ear.

Unlike broadcast radio or TV, listeners are the programmers, deciding exactly when and what they want to spend their time with. They give us podcasters their pure, undivided attention. In every way they are our equal – never to be manipulated, pandered to nor shouted at.

Sounds like the perfect environment for a content producer.

But let’s face it: many podcasts are crap – weeds in the ever growing audio jungle.

And not just the two-guys-in-a-garage kind of spontaneous podcasts. Even well-made, sophisticated shows are often way too long, self-indulgent and without a clear purpose.

Your audience is busy and has vast array of audio offerings to pick from.  Many of us listen on the go – in the car or at the gym.  The average American commute time is about 25 minutes.  Most podcasts last at least half an hour. Mistake.

The first don’t of podcasting is never waste their time. Make a show with purpose that doesn’t last quite as long as you – the podcaster – want it to.  Don’t be afraid to slice out a few minutes.

Leave your listeners wanting more after each episode. Also answer this question: “Who is your audience?”

The second don’t:  Forget about making podcasts unless your brand, company or cause already has followers or subscribers.  This medium is a great way to forge deep, authentic connections with your people, but on its own – without a website, blogs and other forms of content –  you won’t make a splash. The only exception is if you’re already famous.  Anderson Cooper, Alec Baldwin, Snoop Dogg or Shaq can operate by their own rules.

Podcasting is special – different from radio and certainly not merely the audio track of a You Tube video.  Respect your audience.

Third don’t: making a podcast “live” or on the fly is rarely a good idea. Edit it and listen with a critical ear.

The fourth don’t is about lack of commitment. While podcast equipment is cheap and the launch costs are small, the process can be surprisingly time consuming. Unless you are prepared to go long and deep with your podcast project, don’t start.

A weekly show may not be necessary. You could release a new series every few months. But whatever the plan of action, successful podcasts require follow through.

Google “how to make a successful podcast” and you’ll get lots of enthusiastic ideas about equipment, theme music, social media and the need for passion. Much of the advice is helpful. But be wary of those who only explain the do’s and not the don’ts of podcasting.

Richard Davies is a podcast consultant and program maker. Find out more at daviescontent.com.

 

 

 

How Do We Fix It?  You and Me.  Our Role in Partisan Divide

 How many times have you heard someone say: “I’m fed up with the campaign and politics in general.”

That’s hardly surprising at a time when media coverage has focused on personal insults, name-calling and partisan gridlock, instead of governance and compromise.

But much of this is our fault. Not just the politicians.  From older angry white men (Trump supporters) to idealistic Millennials (Bernie backers), voters have repeatedly rewarded candidates who use angry rhetoric and blame others for the country’s problems.  Sanders bashes Wall Street “crooks”, while Trump attacks Mexican immigrants and Muslims.

Among the candidates of left and right who have pushed back against this trend, only Ohio Governor John Kasich has won more support than expected.  

“We live with the dysfunction of partisan behaviors and believe we must and can do better,” says Joan Blades, co-founder of the non-profit group, LivingRoomConversations.org.  She makes the case for personal dialog across party lines, arguing that it’s a key part of changing the way all of us think about politics.

A strong progressive, who co-founded the liberal activist group, MoveOn.org in the late 90’s, Joan says you’ll never convince anyone with an opposing viewpoint unless you listen to them first. 

“One of the problems progressives have right now is that if they run into someone who doesn’t believe in climate science, they roll their eyes.” As soon as you do that, “you’ve lost your conversation,” Joan says. “Nobody listens to anybody.”

Americans need to find new ways to speak about our differences and visit websites with opposing political opinions from their own.  Speaking with those you don’t agree with is part of the solution.

 “It’s actually really fun having a living room conversation,” she tells us on episode 44 of our podcast, How Do We Fix It? “They’re more fun than if you have a bunch of people around and you what they’re going to say.”

LivingRoom Conversations.org has simple for ground rules for each meeting – encouraging participants to be curious, show respect and take turns.  

Listening to people is the best way to get people to listen to you. These conversations are not debates. Instead of winning, the aim is come up with solutions.

The group’s guidelines are open-source. People can use whatever works for them. I want to host one.  What about you?  And what topics might work in these settings?  You can find examples at  LivingRoomConverstions.org.
   

 ISIS, Lord Voldemort And “He Who Must Not Be Named”.

  

The Dark Lord was one mean dude.  The witches and wizards in the Harry Potter books and movies were so paralyzed by fear that they didn’t speak his name.

Voldemort was referred to instead as “You Know Who” or “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”.

Now, says British anti-terrorism campaigner Maajid Nawaz, President Obama and other well-intentioned liberals are paralyzed by political correctness.  They refuse to speak of ISIS and other Islamist groups by their proper names.

“We’re unable to say ‘Islamist extremism’ as distinct from Islam the religion,” he told us on “How Do We Fix It?

“Add ‘ism’ on the end and it’s already clear that we’re not talking about Islam the faith. We’re talking about the politicalization of the faith.” 

If we don’t use the right name for those who wish to impose their beliefs on others, Maajid says, “what we’re doing is disempowering those Muslims who are attempting to re-claim their faith from Islamists.”

  

Nawaz is a Sunni Muslim and knows of what he speaks.  In his late teens and twenties, he was a leading member of Hizb ut-Tahri, a British-based Islamist group.  His rejection of religious dogma came during four years in Egyptian jails, while serving time for political activities.

 After returning to the UK in 2006, he co-founded Quilliam, a leading think tank devoted to upholding democratic values and combating extremism. 

Language and messaging are a crucial part of his fight.  The goal is to isolate insurgents from other Muslims, Maajid told us.  “It doesn’t help that to deny it.” 

“We know of no other insurgency that can survive without a level of support within the target communities they seek to recruit from.”

Jihadism has become a brand, which no longer depends on organizations to inspire young Muslims. “A bit like back in the 60’s people would wear Che Guevara on their tee-shirts, now it’s about raising the black ISIS flag.”

Unless President Obama and other leaders clearly speak out against Islamists, they are denying themselves a powerful weapon.  By refusing to mention them by name, Maajid says, “the only thing we have to fall back on is the very thing liberals have been critical of – more assassinations and more war and more killing and more invasions.”

Maajid Nawaz wrote the book Radical: My Journey Out of Islamic Extremism.  With Sam Harris, he co-authored Islam and the Future of Tolerance.

Photos: Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1. (top) Maajid Nawaz (above)
  

What We Can Learn About Ourselves After the Paris Attacks

  
To a greater or lesser extent, we all live in filter bubbles.  Only truly shocking events shake up our view of the world.  
The 11/13 Paris attacks were the latest assault on our senses.

Intelligence officials, police, politicians and the rest of us are dealing with a new reality  – that ISIS and its hateful, nihilistic celebration of death are a greater threat to our way of life than most of us had assumed.

“The Paris terror attacks suggest that the U.S. and its allies overestimated recent successes against Islamic State while underestimating the group’s ability to strike far from its Middle East stronghold,” is the assessment of analysts who spoke to The Wall Street Journal.

The attacks are reminders of past U.S. intelligence failures – in Vietnam during the 60’s, Iran with the fall of the Shah in 1979, and the rise of Al Qaeda before the 2001 attacks. Institutional confirmation bias prevents us from viewing events through a different lens. 

Perhaps it’s time for a little collective humility about our ways of viewing the world. “In psychology they call thinking that you see the world as it truly is, free from bias or the limitations of your senses, naive realism,” says David McRaney of the “You Are Not So Smart” podcast.  Our “facts” are often little more than opinion, says McRaney, a recent guest on our show, “How Do We Fix It?”.

With the events of the past few days, even politicians would do well to reassess some of  their views. 

“The assault on Paris has thrust national security to the heart of the Presidential race, forcing candidates to scramble,” writes Jonathan Martin in today’s New York Times. Perhaps voters will react as well, prompting them “to reconsider their flirtations with unconventional candidates and to take a more sober measure of who is prepared to serve as Commander In Chief.” The demands on the candidates will be more exacting, writes Martin.

But what of our own views of freedom and tolerance?  Will we become more fearful and less hopeful about what the future can bring? Hopefully not.

Our horror and helplessness “we will overcome and quickly,” writes Bobby Ghosh in the online journal, QZ. “Our society is redoubtable and resilient.”

But hate is what we must be most careful to guard against. “Hatred is political currency, coveted by Al Qaeda and ISIL, but more dangerously, by right-wing groups among us,” says Ghosh in his perceptive article.  

It’s time to be calm, strong and open-minded about the views of others, but also resolute: Recognize the lethal threat that a relatively small number of Islamists present to us (and, yes, call them what they are). Yet also be confident about democracy’s strengths and the values that the great majority of us share.

The Friday night lights of young multi-racial, multi-ethnic Paris before the carnage struck were symbols of western civilization’s trust, joy and strength.  They must not be snuffed out by the actions of a few.

(Above: CNBC coverage of today’s Moment of Silence for the victims of the Paris attacks)

The Best Argument I’ve Heard To Turn Climate Skeptics Into Believers


Looks pretty peaceful doesn’t it?  I love our part of the Connecticut shoreline.  On most days the waters from Long Island Sound are calm and there is a lovely balance between sky, land and sea.

But what if this picture were to change in the years to come with dramatic sea level rise and climate change?

I’m no alarmist. In fact, it’s quite possible that over the next one hundred years, the average increase temperature will be relatively modest.  Scientists don’t know exactly what will happen. But that’s not an argument for doing nothing.

Quite the reverse.

Environmental economist Gernot Wagner of the Environmental Defense Fund, co-author of the book “Climate Shock,” says “first  and foremost, climate change is a risk management problem.” Even if you are a climate skeptic and believe that the possibility of a global disaster is minimal, consider this: “Most of us have auto and home insurance to cover us in the event of a disaster.”

“If you had a 10% chance of having a fatal car accident, you’d take necessary precautions. If your finances had a 10% chance of suffering a severe loss, you’d reevaluate your assets. So if we know the world is warming and there’s a 10 percent chance this might eventually lead to a catastrophe beyond anything we could imagine, why aren’t we doing more about climate change right now?”

I don’t believe our house here is likely to be flooded or damaged by fire anytime soon, but I still pay a lot money each year for coverage just in case. Shouldn’t we be doing the same thing to deal with the risk of global warming?

Gernot makes the case for an insurance policy. A price would be placed on carbon emissions,  either through a tax or a system of cap and trade.

This would mean ending subsidies for fossil fuels and boosting incentives for renewable forms of energy. “We need new technologies. We need energy efficient technologies,” Gernot said this week on the “How Do We Fix It?” podcast.

“You set the right incentives and get out of the way.”  Use the market to reduce the CO2 emissions. Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in Silicon Valley will do their thing.

Before the Industrial Age began in the late 18th Century, carbon dioxide levels in the earth’s atmosphere were roughly 280 parts per million for thousands of years.  Today the level is 400 parts per million and rising. Even if emissions were stabilized tomorrow the carbon number would continue to rise.

Scientists first made the link between greenhouse gas emissions and rising temperatures in the 19th century. Today, all but a handful of climate scientists say there is an urgent need for action to reduce carbon dioxide levels as soon as possible.

“We know we need to act,” says Gernot.


Gernot Wagner (right) and Martin Weitzman (left), authors of “Climate Shock.”

Top photo by Linda Jessee.

You’d Be Surprised At The Mistakes People Make…

  

Go ahead.  Google “insurance mistakes.”  There’s a flood of stuff  about the simple errors many of us make – from not having coverage to paying for stuff we really don’t need. 

Laura Adams, who hosts the popular podcast, “Money Girl,” could save you a ton of money and loads of heartache.

Laura is a font of wisdom about insurance and she gives us the basics about auto, home, life and health policies on this week’s “How Do We Fix It?” podcast. She takes a potentially dry subject and makes it approachable and believe it or not, entertaining.

Here are Laura’s 5 insurance fixes…
– Make sure you shop around for insurance. Get several quotes and reach out to an insurance agent who can explain is and is not covered by your policy.
– Learn the basics at insurancequotes.com, bankrate.com or the non-profit Insurance information Institute. http://www.iii.org.
– Avoid duplication. Make sure you understand exactly what you’re buying.

– Many states have programs to help people who can’t afford insurance. Check out your state’s Department of Insurance.
– Term life insurance policies are much cheaper than many people realize, A healthy person under 40 may be able to get $250,000 in coverage for less than $20 a month.

Why You’re Crazy To Panic When The Stock Market Drops

  
The stock market has gone wobbly again with more dire headlines about quarterly losses and worries over  the state of the global economy. 

But how much has really changed in the past few months?  Not much. Our knowledge of the world is pretty much the same.

The U.S. economy is still in better shape than most of the rest of the world.  Commodity prices are still low (a plus for consumers), and there are still plenty of good companies to invest in.

“The media is out there hyping the activity in the market,” says equities expert Susan Schmidt of Westwood Holdings in Dallas.  “They’re focusing on what’s happening during the day, but investing is really about focusing on the long term.”

I’m a journalist and I have an ego. I know that she’s right.  It’s fun when your story is the lead item on the network news. 

Newspapers, radio and TV cover what changes from one day to the next, but Susan says that should be of little concern to the 55% of Americans who have money in the stock market.  Think decades not days should be their mantra.  Over decades your retirement savings nearly always do better in stock funds than in cash or bonds.  Especially in this very low interest rate environment.

  
Susan Schmidt.

 “It’s a lot about keeping your cool and looking for the long term and keeping keeping your eye on the bigger picture… Be the cool customer and don’t panic,” Susan told us on the latest How Do We Fix It? podcast. 

“No investor is right 100% of the time and if they say they are! they’re lying.” Listen to what she said here.

If you’re scared that Wall Street is nothing more than a giant casino, here are some fixes.

–  Look at the stock market’s performance over the long term. Ignore the noise of daily news coverage.

–  Diversity your investments and spread risk. Consider low-fee large and small stock funds as well as US and international investment products.

–  Learn the language. Investing basics are easier to grasp than you may think.  Big investment firms can help you take the first steps. Find out what you need to know at at fidelity.com, TDAmeritrade or Vanguard

–  “Morningstar is the equivalent of Rotten Tomatoes,” Susan tells us. “Morningstar gives stars to mutual funds.” From one to five stars – “the more stars the better.”. 

Top photo from the front page of the Financial Times. September 30, 2015