A New Podcast Format – Manifesto

Perhaps you are like me… looking for a new experience in your podcast listening that leads to a surprise of some kind.

It’s the opposite of the same old format: the canned interview with a productivity guru who has written a book (or is about to write a book). He/she is doing the rounds – repeating the same talking points from one interview to another. Whether they appear on audio, video or in a summit – if you have heard them once, there is no need to listen to them again.

I have gotten tired of podcasts built on interviews which are essentially following a rinse-and-repeat format.

Recently, as a regular on the ProductivityCast podcast (which doesn’t follow this format) we had a moment I’ll never forget. Art Gelwicks, who also appears regularly, shared a framework I have never heard of before. When it was my turn to share my point of view, I asked Art to expound on this framework. It was, I reasoned aloud, far more interesting than anything I could add.

I don’t think he planned to explain it before the moment came, which made it fresh and exciting. I was learning and discovering in real time. Listeners were being offered and unscripted experience which had the potential for far more than the usual guru-driven interview.

After this experience, I began to hate the old format. Summits of productivity experts offering a rehash of stuff they had already said many time on prior podcasts were a big turn-off. Now, I craved a novel, live experience which couldn’t be predicted ahead of time.

When I looked at prior episodes of the 2Time Labs Podcast, I was underwhelmed. They all followed the old, now-stale format, except for the rare occasion. I asked: “Is there a way to engineer serendipity into a podcast recording? Can it regularly produce the unexpected moments that make reality shows compelling?”

I decided to conduct an experiment.

Could I invite a person knowledgeable in a niche of time-based productivity to record a conversation typical of ones which take place every day in a lab? Would it be possible to capture the best of such a discussion in a podcast episode?

In my mind, I likened it to labs I have worked in from the past. These ranged from my first summer job here in Jamaica, to the five years I spent at AT&T’s Bell Labs in Holmdel, New Jersey, to the work I do now at 2Time Labs. These aren’t casual discussions. The purpose is to achieve some clear objective. In a group setting, I have seen miracles happen.

But could it become a podcast?

I searched iTunes and other libraries for an example but came up blank. (I’m still looking!) I decided to jump in with a few episodes to see what could be created.

In my first attempt, I started with an existing product: an Email Health Calculator. A few months prior, I had come up with a rough “proof-of-concept.” Such a tool could be used to give the user an early warning that their email Inbox was out of control. Perhaps it could also be a public warning to others, including a person’s supervisor. A manager could oversee an array of such calculators to monitor the state of overwhelm of his/her direct reports.

To build this initial calculator, I crafted a few assumptions, definitions and formulae, just working on my own. Later on, I decided to use it as the subject of a test podcast and invited Dr. Michael Einstein to help me tear it down and build a better model.

After a few hours of conversation, I realized that this was a unique experience. Eager to test it further, I invited ________ to a similar conversation. This time, I knew we needed to have a tangible output defined ahead of time: ___________

The third attempt was conducted with _______.

These three conversations taught me the following.

  • We would need to record a lot of material then edit it to produce useful episodes
  • It’s best to start with a prototype or at least a clear definition of the end result
  • There could be no sacred cows. The whole purpose of the discussion could end up at a dead-end, producing nothing of value other than a learning experience which couldn’t be used as a podcast episode