No. 67: Pay Attention to the Air Through Which You Walk

Chinedu Echeruo gave a talk at Stanford University’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series on the value that creativity unleashes into the world. In it, he shared a parable David Foster told in a speech to Kenyon College’s 2005 graduating class.

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

I found this to be a really compelling commentary on the power of how one thinks. We see that power all around us. Political parties. Marriage. Entrepreneurship.

While thinking on this parable further, I remembered an interview angel investor Jason Calacanis did with Peter Thiel, the contrarian billionaire co-founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook. He made a point about how one should pay attention to things that don’t work as well as one would like. What comes to mind now is the difficulty I have getting my daughter in and out of her car seat. His argument was that opportunities for a solution lie in those instances of discomfort.

For the past few months, I have tried to document ideas that come to mind during the course of a day. After hearing Mr. Thiel’s argument, I have tried to look a little closer at the everyday things with which I engage on a normal basis. My daughter’s car seat. The rectangular shape of my laptop and iPhone. To apply the language of Mr. Foster’s parable, I am trying to shift my thinking to be aware of the water in which I am swimming, rather the air through which I am walking.

For example, I remember that I heard Mr. Thiel make this comment about paying attention to the discomforts around you while I was sitting at a red light at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and K Street. I can remember this now, but with all the head shots I delivered playing football, I probably won’t remember this experience 50 years from now.

What if I could take a snapshot of that moment in time – the image of the intersection, the two-minute portion of the conversation, the day and time, how the conversation made me feel? Imagine being able to recall that experience 50 years from now as a form of treatment for my dementia.

You’ve seen the joy on the man’s face as he listens to jazz music he’d enjoyed decades prior. Imagine creating a playlist of sorts for your older self to enjoy pivotal moments of your life.

This may or may not be a good idea (I kind of like it and will mention it to my mom who works on dementia issues). That aside, the thought exercise of paying attention to something as routine as a memory unlocks a creativity that I look forward to experiencing more.

No. 50: Three Podcasts That Will Make Your Daily Commute Amazing

While working on #NewRulesAfrica last year with Cherae Robinson (Be sure to check out her app Tastemakers Africa), I discovered that there are interesting people who interview other interesting people and post those interviews on platforms like iTunes and TuneIn Radio – for free. I now listen to at least five hours of podcasts a week during my commutes to my daughter’s school and the amount of insight I have gotten into the worlds of authors, other entrepreneurs, and investors has been amazing. I used to listen to Bloomberg Surveillance and Taking Stock with Pimm Foxx on the Bloomberg Radio+ app during these listening times, but find the podcast deep dives much more rewarding.

The Leaders

Here are three podcasts that I think you would find worthwhile to check out:

This Week in Startups – Jason Calacanis is a media entrepreneur and angel investor. He has invested in at least 90 startups, including Uber. He has no qualms about making his feelings known about certain companies like Google and Secret, which I appreciate. He opened my eyes to the value of listening to podcasts. Start with his interview with Angela Benton, founder of NewMe Accelerator. I listened to his interview with Chamath Palihapitiya at least four times.

The Entrepreneurs Library – Wade Danielson interviews business authors about their books, getting them to walk through what each chapter of the book is about, portions of it that a reader should definitely take a look at, and solicits their recommendations of other books to read. He probably could improve as an interviewer, but I do like that he gets out of the way and lets the authors do all the talking. His interview with Robert Galford on his book, The Trusted Advisor was really good. Galford flips the script on “name it and claim it”.

Marketplace – I have listened to Kai Ryssdal for years now, though my consumption was dependent on my ability to get in the car at the right time. The episodes are equally entertaining and informative – providing you with a snapshot of what happened that day and of broader issues like gentrification.

Runner-Ups

Here are a few more that I listen to, though I am not blown away by every interview like the two above:

Eventual Millionaire – Jaime Tardy brings on a lot of entrepreneurs who have bootstrapped and hustled their way to high revenue generating businesses.

The Strategic Entrepreneur – I met Michael Williams years ago through a mutual friend and was thrilled to discover his podcast.

Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast – Some pretty insightful interviews here on issues like the United States’ criminal justice system.

Freakonomics Radio – The show’s deep dives on issues like education are pretty eye-opening.

HBR Ideacast – The content is typically pretty solid. Check out the interview with Boris Johnson, London’s mayor.

Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders – These are interesting fireside chat conversations with some of the leaders of Silicon Valley.

A16Z Podcast – Andreesen Horowitz is one of the top venture capital firms in the United States, despite their relative youth compared to stalwarts like Sequoia Capital.

The School of Greatness – This podcast may move up to the “you should definitely listen to this” list, for the sole reason that Lewis Howes takes the time to affirm each interviewee at the end of every episode. He nearly brought Baratunde Thurston to tears.

Start With Why – This is another one that may move up. I appreciate Simon Sinek’s laser focus on gaining clarity on why one does the business she does.

The James Altucher Show – I enjoyed James’ interview style for a long time, then I noticed that I felt like he was pushing his “Choose Yourself” framework onto other people’s work during the interviews and lost a bit of interest.

The Tim Ferriss Show – For a while, I really enjoyed the podcast. Tim did a few shows where he did not interview anyone, and I lost interest.