The Good and Bad of Business Self-Help Podcasts
Business self-help is a tough genre for me to review, because unlike almost every other genre I can think of, it’s rare that I find a show I feel compelled to tell anyone else about. So instead of individual reviews, I’ve decided to combine a few reviews into this one post. Otherwise, I might say the same thing about most of them … and none of them would be very long or inspired.
Self-help in general is so personalized – there are so many brands available and you don’t know what will fit you. There are business podcasts aimed at being a better sales person, starting a business, dealing with bad bosses. Business podcasts are dominated by (surprise, surprise) smart business people trying to sell you their brand. This, combined with the lack of credentials so many business podcast hosts have, is a recipe for a show that I’m not likely to listen to.
Who Are These “Successful” People?
The number one question I have about business podcasts is who are these “successful” people who claim to be able to turn my life around? followed by wait, do I need to turn my life around? Who defines success? Could be my untrusting nature, but I immediately think snake oil salesman when I hear that a podcast is going to help me achieve my potential. Preach much? Is everyone as untrusting as I am? I refuse to be willingly gullible. And I’m not sure I believe that “success” necessarily equates to wealth, so bear that in mind as it probably casts a filter on my critical reviewing ear.
The Lady-Led Greats
Not all business podcasts exhibit the hard sell technique. Let’s talk about business podcasts done well. For me, they are the shows that either tell a story or provide actionable tips to solve problems without selling a brand or philosophy, or at least not banging you over the head with it all the time. Some of my favorites:
Inflection Point with Lauren Schiller is a podcast profiling women who are changing the status quo, which I have reviewed twice (in September and December of 2016). I relate to this podcast so much as a working mother, but I also think men can learn a lot from the show. It is an interview format, and host Lauren Schiller isn’t selling herself whatsoever, it’s all about the guest and the pathway-to-success advice they have to offer. I have seen myself in so many of these women that it gives me a lot of hope for my future.
The Broad Experience explores issues facing women in the workplace, usually mothers. A central theme is feeling like you are an “other” and how to reconcile that or harness its power. Instead of telling the audience how they can get to the top of the corporate ladder the fastest, The Broad Experience focuses on the ups, downs, and laterals that happen in careers and gives tips on things women can do to level the playing field in a male-dominated business culture.
- StartUp, the darling of Gimlet Media about the birth of companies, has messed around with its format multiple times but definitely tells a good story. If you’re not familiar with it, season one was all about the startup of Gimlet Media, but each successive season has tackled something different, including a perhaps ill-advised season focused on Dov Charney. But there have been a lot of hits, including the entire third season featuring one business’ startup each episode. I like that it focuses on both success and failure.
Hashtags and Stilettos is about building your best personal brand, and provides specific actions you can take to build and market a small business – down to how to write an invoice and language to use in LinkedIn networking invitations. Host Sakita Holley is wise beyond her years. Almost as if she’s a career coach, she helps the listener both walk through checklists to run a business and make a plan for taking oneself to the next level.
The Thunder Snow Shows
Then there are some shows that are decent – but I’m undecided about so many. I can see potential in some, but others have gotten a little lame over time or seem to have seen a shiny object on the side of the track after shooting out of the gate with gusto (and are less cute than Thunder Snow). Here are some of the “meh” podcasts that I wish would sh*t or get off the pot – they have potential and I have more patience for some than others, but I’m sticking with them for now:
- Planet Money is pretty good, but after listening to almost every episode of the last couple of years (I have loved it in the past, read my September 2015 review here), I think it is getting a little stale. The constant revolving door of hosts is unfortunate and maybe contributing to the staleness. I used to listen to every episode – now I’m not as tittilated by episode titles like “The Fine Print” or “Bell Wars.” It’s not quite in Thunder Snow territory yet, but firmly lodged in that category is …
- … I Hate My Boss. Totally Thunder Snow. The show from Wondery Media at least features experienced professionals (not millennials, thankyouverymuch) sharing solutions to common problems in every workplace. It suffers from an unfortunate show title, as who wants to be typing out “I Hate My Boss” on their keylogged work computer when they recommend the show to a co-worker in the next cube over, but it’s trying. I like that the show tackles actual listener calls about workplace issues – none of which to this point have been very cut and dry, and therefore the hosts’ experience-based, nuanced, and thoughtful solution is appreciated. But the Thunder Snow part is the disconnect between these listener calls and what is going on at the beginning of some of the episodes – a fictional workplace that you’re supposed to follow along in a serial format and analyze with the hosts. Huh? I find myself skipping over this part so if I’m not alone, maybe the format will ultimately change. I’ve appreciated the addition of the “After Hours” mini-sodes which tackle even more listener calls.
- How I Built This is okay, I like when there is a guest whose business has a unique origin story and who’s humble but proud of their accomplishments. They’ve brought in some top-notch guests like Mark Cuban, Richard Branson, and Steve Case. Something is holding me back from loving this show and I’m not quite sure what it is, so I plan to keep listening until I can clearly say yay or nay.
- Others in this category include The McKinsey Podcast, HBR IdeaCast, a Knowledge@Wharton.
Are My Ears Bleeding?
Finally, there is 1-star territory, approaching drivel in many cases. I refuse to waste my time writing detailed reviews for these (in fact I recently tried and tried to write a review of one of them but just couldn’t do it, and thus, this post), but in this category would be Optimize with Brian Johnson (my review), The Growth Show (my review), The Chalene Show, Game Plan, GirlBoss Radio, and The School of Greatness with Lewis Howes. They’re either boring or just an outlet for an ego. Most feature a prominent picture of the host’s face as the podcast logo – narcissism alert.
So What Should I Listen To?
Business podcast showrunners, who are likely dominant, direct, outgoing, and enthusiastic by nature, would probably say every listener is free to cherry pick the advice offered from each show to apply what makes sense for them. We’re certainly free to do that, but listening to podcasts can be time consuming and there are hundreds of thousands of choices. The podcasts that “rise to the top” of the Apple Podcast charts are overwhelmingly dominated by non-minority men. Is that who defines success? Not for this woman, so I’m still searching for some more good business podcasts – if you’ve got ’em, let me know. In the meantime, I will keep giving Thunder Snow more chances until the cuteness wears off. And stick to my lady-led business show recommendations!
What do you think of these podcasts? Leave a comment below and let’s discuss! Also subscribe to my twice-monthly newsletter!
Twitter Handles of Select Shows Mentioned in this Article
Inflection Point with Lauren Schiller @laschiller
Hashtags and Stilettos @MissSuccess
The Broad Experience @ashleymilnetyte
I Hate My Boss @IHateMyBossShow
How I Built This @HowIBuiltThis
Planet Money @planetmoney