Tips for career-building reading in 2018

Note: This blog post originally appeared in an Accenture Careers blog.

Building your career in 2018? Or perhaps you’re looking to make a change in your current situation. Either way, you may be surprised to learn how educational and inspirational your reading list can be.

Here’s a recommended reading list to get you started. The list is curated by me and a few of my friends and colleagues.

Let’s get started

To begin, I’ve put together tips on how to get the most value from your reading time. Let’s call it a Reading List User’s Guide.

  1. Choose books as wisely as you choose friends. Author and entrepreneur Jim Rohn once wrote, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” The same can be said for the authors you welcome onto your bookshelf or into your Kindle. In many ways, I consider authors I respect actual friends. For instance, early in my career, when I had my own direct-response consultancy, I would silently thank Peter Senge for what he had taught me. I would walk into a potential client’s business for the first time and apply the knowledge I gleaned from reading his book The Fifth Discipline, which focuses on how organizations “learn to learn.” I would look around at office dynamics and know with surprising accuracy just how much of a “learning organization” I was observing. No company is perfect, but Senge had trained me to see the extent of each organization’s “learning disabilities”—and by extension, whether they would be good customers for what I was selling. Now, that’s a valuable friend!
  2. Ask if popular books have truly earned their status. Good business books, like good speeches, should provide a strong mix of inspiration and education. Ask friends who have read a particular book what specifically they learned, or how they were moved. Listen closely to their answers. Much of the business world is ruled by groupthink, “FOMO” (fear of missing out) and trying to impress. Those impulses aren’t good enough reasons to read a book, even if it’s the one “everyone is reading.” It’s a surprisingly rare business book that deserves its popularity. I’m thinking of books like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which rode best-seller lists for literally years, and remains one of the best-selling non-fiction books of all time.Don’t be put off if your friends talk more to inspiration than education. The same year I first read (and learned a ton from) “7 Habits,” I was also deeply inspired by a different book, called The One-to-One Future. It was in the very early days of CRM (customer relationship management). And boy, did it inspire! It literally caused me to change my career path, a decision that is one of the best of my life. Last year, I derived similar inspiration from another book, The Business Blockchain. I haven’t changed my career yet, but you never know! (And thanks to Accenture’s deep involvement in blockchain, a lateral move within our organization isn’t out of the question for me.)
  3. Vary your reading diet widely. Non-fiction books don’t have to be formally about business to help you with your career. When I read Dr. Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, I realized that I wasn’t communicating clearly with roughly half the professional workforce (i.e., women!). By an embarrassing coincidence—and as though the world had a painful lesson to teach me—just as I was about to start the book, I nearly lost a client because she gave her instructions in something Tannen calls “rapport speak,” while I was hearing her through the filter of “report speak.” I screwed up an assignment and only realized how it happened after reading and internalizing the book. How’s that for valuable career advice!
  4. Read the way you learn. Educational research teaches us that humans have preferred ways of learning. You may not take to the written word. Today, that shouldn’t hinder you. Don’t pay attention to those who stigmatize “hearing” a book instead of reading it. If audiobooks work for your style and your schedule, go for it. I’m currently “reading” a book in three different formats at once. I have a hardback copy of Ron Chernow’s dense Alexander Hamilton for the tactile pleasure of its pages, and its many illustrations, paintings and drawings. I also have an e-book copy to read when I’m traveling, since the hardcover takes up a lot of luggage space. And finally, I have an audible copy, for when I’m working out or taking long walks. I did something similar, and for similar reasons, when reading the outstanding Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize in Economics winner Daniel Kahnemann. Remember what I said about authors being like friends? Just like real friends, sometimes, once you deem them worthy, you invest the time and money needed to spend time with them. Good books, like good friends, are worth it.
  5. Use books to focus your thinking. To paraphrase the late David Foster Wallace in his famous “This Is Water” college commencement address (Google it; you’ll thank me), the worst cliché of such speeches is, “An education isn’t about filling us with knowledge but about teaching us how to think.” It’s easy to find that insulting. It’s not. He points out that “how to think” is not so much about the capacity to think, but the choice of what to think about (getting us back to point 1, above). Books that help us build our careers direct our thinking in important directions. This is crucial, because there is a lot of other stuff that really doesn’t matter. They’re distractions preventing us from doing great things.

More Reading Recommendations

So, in crowdsourcing my network, I’ve compiled a list of reading material that will both educate and inspire. Mine are sprinkled throughout the five points above. Happy reading.

    • Ben Kaczmarski, Accenture Federal Services, offers a book “very much in the realm of design thinking, written by two brothers from IDEO and Stanford’s d.school.”

 

“Call Me By Your Name, Tonya”: A movie review mashup

Everyone knows about mashups: Two unlikely songs or other media, seemingly unrelated, are shuffled together. On their surface, you couldn’t find two less similar films than Call Me By Your Name and I, Tanya. I saw them both last week, loved them and wanted to share my thoughts. When I recognized some surprising parallels, the world’s first Movie Review Mashup was born. And here you are reading it, and helping me make history. To discern which film is which, Call Me By Your Name aspects are in blue text, and I, Tanya in red. Here we go! …

When you walk out of the theater, having seen this [coming of age drama / mockumentary based on real events] [Call Me By Your Name / I, Tanya], you’ll realize that at its core it’s about [supportive / abusive] parenting. A key character is the chain smoking mother, played by [Amira Casar / Allison Janney]. Without giving anything away (this entire post is spoiler-free), you’ll wince more than once at the mother’s serious [boundary / hitting] issues. Of course these are in relation to her talented [musician son / skating prodigy], [Elio ([Timothée Chalamet) / Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie)].

Let me say right now, if [Chalamet / Robbie] doesn’t receive an Oscar nomination for this performance there is no justice in the world. I was blown away by [his / her] extremely convincing embodiment of a [17-year-old boy grappling with an attraction to an older man / young woman attempting to win an Olympic medal in figure skating while dealing with the baggage of an abusive mother and husband].

A backdrop for all this is the family’s [surreally beautiful summer estate somewhere in Northern Italy, near the Italian Alps / hyperreal, nicotine-tinged circa 1980s home somewhere in Oregon, in a really bad part of town].

This admittedly is a tough movie to watch. We witness many extended scenes of [emotional / physical and psychic] pain, inflicted on the protagonist by dint of being [a teenager with new and confusing feelings / considered nothing more than a meal ticket by her horrible family].

If you don’t have problems with the film’s frank, unflinching portrayal of [homosexuality / domestic abuse], you should definitely check it out. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a well-earned score of [97% / 90%].

The allure of libraries, magic and rare books

My hometown’s Carnegie Public Library saved my young life. Mid-century Escanaba, Michigan was pretty — yes — but also remote, and inhospitable to a shy kid like me. I wasn’t into hunting, fishing or sports. During my grade school years, I probably spent way too many recess periods inside, alone with a book. I couldn’t help it.

I wanted to learn stuff.

As soon as I’d exhausted the Children’s section of the library (and, I suspect, exhausted the children’s librarian, Miss Jensen), I was kicked upstairs to the adult books and media. I spent most of my time in the non-fiction section, settling into Dewey Decimal System’s home for conjuring and its history: 791.

I became one of those boys. I fell in love with doing magic tricks for friends and classmates, and soon graduated to performing shows for strangers. My first was for the Saturday morning story hour, back in the basement of — Where else? — the Carnegie Library. Thank you Miss Jensen!

I was reminded of all this when I saw this post from Chicago’s preeminent reference library:

Burnt pages of the anti-witch-burning book “Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft” gave us quite the #pagefright. This copy from 1651 may have been consigned to the flames, but it survived to call out the “lewde unchristian practices of witchmongers” while labeling witches “imaginary, erronious conceptions.” [Case B 88 .7991] #witches #witchcraft #imaginary #bookguts #librariesofinstagram

A post shared by Newberry Library (@newberrylibrary) on

I recall crouching in the stacks of Carnegie Library, reading excepts of Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft. It was written to discourage the persecution of suspected witches by revealing how easy it was to simulate their miracles. It was far from a how-to, yet it earned the title of The World’s First Magic Book.

Here’s one example from its pages. This shows how you could display an apparently beheaded man and hold a conversation with his head while it rests nearby on a platter:

Those who know me well are aware I took to magic in a big way. It taught me some wonderful lessons: Confidence in front of strangers, how to tell a story, and even how to invent my own illusions.

I love the fact that I live within a few miles of a library housing one of the remaining copies of this treasured book. And I am especially grateful that everything else I learned in my “discoveries” in libraries has made me the person I am today.

Recent tour inspires Chicago makers and leads to tips for potential Accenture new hires

Note: This blog post originally appeared in an Accenture Careers blog.

A social media profile for me says I’m a “Digital Analytics Leader at Accenture.” More specifically, I’m in our Personalization and Customer Analytics practice. That means I help clients use customer information to provide them with better digital experiences.

It’s literally a dream job.

Once, when I was a kid in a small-town library in an American backwater (the Upper Peninsula of Michigan), long before the internet, I read a biography of someone who made his career back in the 1950s. It was just as television was becoming a transformative technology. You’d think I would have been inspired, but I was devastated. I thought, ‘It’s all in the past! I’ll never live through another period where I can get in on ‘the ground floor’ of an emerging technology.” (To be clear, as a 10-year-old boy, I didn’t think in exactly those words, but you get the idea.)

How naïve of me. Now we have this innovation wave under our feet that is ascending at an accelerating pace. It began late in the last century, with the digitization of everything. I’m riding it now, and loving it, but it is nowhere near cresting.

As I discovered on my recent visit to Chicago’s mHUB, an innovation center for product development and manufacturing, it will be rising for quite a while. And everything will be changed in its path. In other words, the best is yet to be, and Accenture is going to be a major player in how this future unfolds. Perhaps you’ll want to join us.

My mHUB Adventure

My profile continues that I’m an “avid reader, a film nut and a music omnivore.” And it’s through my reading [in the Economist Magazine, about urban manufacturing in Brooklyn, NY and elsewhere] that I first learned about the manufacturing incubator that was our “field trip” for a recent Accenture Digovation (digital + innovation) Event, to Chicago’s mHUB. I had to see what it was all about, so I joined the group from our Chicago Digital Hub for their visit in mid-September.

The mHUB is a 63,000-square-foot facility that contains 10 fabrication labs. The mHUB mission is helping Chicago’s “makers” ferry their ideas across “the chasm.” Let me explain. There is a place of maximum mortality in the lifecycle of most inventions. They start with promise, with a prototype, a business plan and some investment dollars. Then the invention advances, and often hits a deadly obstacle. Let’s say a product needs to produce 3,000 units to show market viability. A commercial production source—a traditional manufacturer—usually requires a minimum order of 5,000 pieces to even begin production. So, the challenge is: How to produce the next one thousand, two thousand or four thousand units, in order to reach a critical mass of sales? Before mHUB, this might not be possible, and another potentially brilliant invention will fall into the chasm and oblivion.

mHUB helps scrappy entrepreneurs reach the critical mass necessary to begin production. They do it by providing cool, otherwise inaccessible tools that operators can master quickly. The photo below shows a device that was used by our tour guide’s preschooler to make her own version of fidget spinners.

Our tour guide’s 4 yr old used this machine to make his own Fidget Spinners. #manufacturing #preschoolers

A post shared by Jeff Larche (@jefflarche) on

Lessons Learned at mHUB

What inspired me most was meeting and talking to inventors and entrepreneurs who happened to be there when we toured the facility. They were a diverse group, but what unified them was their vision and determination. I loved their focus. And I have no doubt that many will traverse the chasm and ferry their innovations into our lives.

We’re aligning ourselves with extraordinary innovators at Accenture, always finding exciting ways to turn innovation into solutions for our clients. Interested in a career where you get hands-on with the latest innovation? Here are a few tips to prepare yourself:

  1. Become really good at learning. I’m working with technologies that literally did not exist seven years ago. There is no way that your advanced education can teach you a trade, so don’t expect it to. Whatever your degree is in, continue to learn what interests you. Prepare to follow those interests (and to see them unexpectedly change!) throughout your career.
  2. Learn in the manner that works best for you. For example, I’m a mild dyslexic. That means in addition to reading books and articles the traditional way, I learn a lot through listening. I’m a podcast omnivore, with more than 40 podcast feeds, which in turn, feed me.
  3. Embrace the weird. It’s not an accident that in the last few years, Accenture has acquired two digital agencies based in Austin, Texas, where the motto is, “Keep Austin Weird.” Unconventional thinking leads to new ways of doing things. And only new solutions will bring us to a better future. Be part of that future. Embrace diversity by getting to know people from every culture and background.

Here’s a final bonus tip: If you’re interested in joining us, find a friend who works for Accenture, and have them recommend you. That’s what I did seven years ago. A friend referred me, and I never looked back. I’m loving where that decision has taken me. And if you don’t have such a friend, contact me. I’ll help you learn more about my extraordinary employer.

Take the next step in your career with Accenture and lead clients across the globe into the new.

Copyright © 2017 Accenture. All rights reserved. Accenture, its logo, and High performance. Delivered. are trademarks of Accenture.

This document makes descriptive reference to trademarks that may be owned by others. The use of such trademarks herein is not an assertion of ownership of such trademarks by Accenture and is not intended to represent or imply the existence of an association between Accenture and the lawful owners of such trademarks.

Travel hack: Never lose another work transponder!

My fellow road warriors can relate: They rent a car while on a project and don’t want their client to have to pay the insanely high costs of toll surcharges that the rental services charge. They know it well. But if you’re not a frequent traveler, I’ll explain.

Car rental services are similar to hotels. They’re faced with stiff price competition, but still need to meet profitability expectations. The solution for hotels is to mark up the price of all of the extras. Most recently, that means raising their fees for in-room movies. (A $20 price tag for a first-run movie? Wowza!) For the car rental business, their latest go-to is crazy high markups for the road tolls that their in-car transponders transact.

When I first experienced this, my solution was getting a dedicated work transponder, associated with my work credit card. Problem solved!

But when dropping off my car, I have more than once left behind my transponder. What’s more, it’s difficult to get the thing to stay in place at the far end of the dashboard, wedged under the windshield glass. It invariably slides away, or completely onto the floor.

Putting A Free Selfie Stick To Work

Then I came upon this nutty but effective solution:

I took a selfie stick, which I’d gotten for free at a conference and never used, and with a stout rubber band, I affixed my transponder. Now I had a retractable wand that is small enough to fit in a pocket of my suitcase, and can be easily extended and jammed snugly into the crook of my windshield.

The bonus is it’s way too big to leave behind, even when I’m returning my rental car in a hurry.

What travel hacks have you come up with?

 

 

United Airlines has a learning disability

Aug. 11, 12:33 PM ET UPDATE:

My travel colleague reports via email to me just now: “I have great news … United customer service came through!! Complete refund of my ticked and reimbursement of Uber ride. Most importantly they showed empathy for our situation.”

Well done, United!

Peter M. Senge famously said “The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition.” This quote was in the context of his excellent book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization. Senge would take the experiences of myself and my fellow United customers last night as an example of a severe learning disability — one that I can only expect will continue to erode its competitiveness.

United Airline: Come on! Fix this problem

Disconnect #1: When you’re waiting at a gate, clearly hearing boarding announcements and news of schedule changes is nearly impossible — especially when the gate staff are unmotivated and ready to call it a day. I’m sure you’ve been there: You hear something on the PA system and look to your neighbor and go “Did you get any of that?”

Disconnect #2: Because of the above, executives like me and my fellow traveler, who will remain nameless but who wrote the complaint letter I’ve quoted in its entirety below, rely on United’s UPDATE texts and emails. We discovered last night, after two texts about delays, that United will text a notice of a delay but won’t text a change of conditions leading to a boarding time much earlier than last reported.

My colleague, who also wrote “The gate announcements from that location sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher,” summarized our plight this way: “I was scheduled to depart BDL and fly to ORD this evening on flight 1612. Attached is a screenshot of all the text messages I received stating the flight was scheduled to depart at 7:25pm ET so I sat at an unoccupied gate to finish work/calls. I walked to the departure gate at 6:40pm ET to board only to be (extremely rudely) told ‘flight already departed.'”

She and I were stranded, with zero options out of that airport. We wound up taking an Uber from the Hartford, CT airport to Logan Airport in Boston. The title of her email sums up our travail:

Service Issue that cost me a $330 Uber + $150 American ticket + 2 hours

I’m including her excellent email, sent during our Uber, to unitedglobalservices@united.com.

Dear Global Services,

I have been a loyal United customer for years and fortunate to be a Global Services member in the recent past. This is the first formal complaint that I have filed but believe it’s well worth my time to inform you of the experience not only I had but also many of my fellow fliers experienced.

I was scheduled to depart BDL and fly to ORD this evening on flight 1612. Attached is a screenshot of all the text messages I received stating the flight was scheduled to depart at 7:25pm ET so I sat at an unoccupied gate to finish work/calls. I walked to the departure gate at 6:40pm ET to board only to be (extremely rudely) told “flight already departed.” Picture of time attached as well. And the rude behavior by the gate staff at BDL continued. I was lectured about listening to gate announcements. In reality, the gate area was completely full so I needed to find a place to work during the delay. Note that the gate announcements from that location sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Rather than assist me with rebooking, the gate agent rudely stated: “this was our last flight. We are going home.” And I think that says it all regarding the motivation of the BDL United gate staff. Absolutely THE WORST I’ve ever experienced. And then at least three other passengers had the same experience (I was able to help two of them call customer service and request/receive a refund). I’ve CC’d one of them [that’s me of course] on this note.

I called American right away and they were able to not only book me on a flight but also my fellow passengers who were stranded as well. They stayed in the phone with us to finalize all of the transactions. I then called United Global Services (who are always amazingly helpful) to request a refund. The agent represented United so very well, apologizing for the service, and giving me the max she was allowed: a change fee waiver as well as finding out the best avenue for me to tell the full story. Amen for her.

That said, I’m out 2 hours and a $330 Uber ride from BDL to BOS as well as being soured on the overall United experience. I am saddened to write this note yet as the leader of a business, I feel it is my obligation to ensure the leaders of your company understand the gate experience of your customers…even the most loyal who make a conscious choice to fly United.

I look forward to hearing back from you within the next day and am more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

Regards,

[Name Withheld]

Come on, United. I’m sure you’ve heard this before. When I was on the phone, insisting on a refunded ticket price for my missed flight, I reminded both the customer service representative and her manager that United infuriated two of its more frequent flyers, and, since we were both granted the refund for their customer service catastrophe, their flight left with at least two seats they could not fill (there was no standby list) and therefore made far less money on that flight.

United, this is no way to run a business!

Confessions of a Hamilton Fanboy

I was skeptical. The hype surrounding Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway sensation seemed too good to be believed. But once I bought the original cast recording, I was convinced.

And hopelessly obsessed.

This Friday I saw the Chicago production of Hamilton for the second time, and unlike most other entertainments, this one was even better the second time.

So now I’ve predictably been back to bingeing on that original cast recording — specifically, my favorite exercise playlist. You see, I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve probably run several hundred miles over the last couple of years to this: Only the fast-paced cuts on the album.

I Call This Playlist “Hamercise”

Selecting the songs wouldn’t be tough for you to do on your own, but why bother? Here you go. If this helps you get fired up for a good workout, it’s my pleasure.

Enjoy.

Oh, and if you’ve reviewed my playlist, you may wonder: Why did I include the very last song, which is decidedly not fast-paced? In fact, its terribly moving and sad.

Well, after a good cardio workout, it’s a well-known fact that shedding a few tears helps complete the healthy draining of toxins that perspiration only partially accomplishes. #JustMadeThatUp #TotalRubbish

Enjoy.

A Visit To The Web Wayback Machine

You’ve got to love an internet project whose goal is to preserve in amber the many life stages of web pages from the web’s two-decade history. Currently the Web Wayback Machine boasts 286 billion web pages stored. (Its parent project, Archive.org, provides free streaming and downloads of tons of other media. I just got lost in it for 30 minutes, pausing quite a while at this excellent print of Fritz Lang’s film noir classic Scarlet Street.)

The Web Wayback Machine has some practical research applications. If a site you enjoy took down a page  you needed to refer back to, you very well may find it here. Or perhaps you want to see what the world of website search engines looked like 20 years ago, before Google came on the scene and gobbled market share with its exponentially better results:

Or you can see the technology, way back at the turn of the millennium, that Google eventually licensed from Overture / Yahoo Search Services once it claimed market dominance, thereby monetizing search results and turning a brilliant approach to searches into an obscenely profitable one.

You can do all of those things, but hey, if you are me, you’ll do the Wayback equivalent of self-googling. You’ll revisit the first design of your 10-year-old blog, Digital Solid. That site has been idle since I joined my current employer six years ago, but back then I was posting an average of twice a week. Here’s an excerpt from the Wayback Machine:

The artwork in the right column, a portrait of sorts, is by the extraordinary Max Estes, who went from teaching illustration in Milwaukee and frequenting the same coffee shop as me, to creating Norwegian children’s books …

… and making lovely prints such as this one:

Finally hung this framed print by @max_estes #RideOn

A post shared by Jeff Larche (@jefflarche) on

Thanks, Web Wayback, for the fond memories — including a caricature of me that still makes me laugh.

On Progress and Pronouns


This was originally posted on my local workplace’s Diversity blog. That post is behind a firewall.

The following rumination is given in the same spirit as the theatrical performance that inspired it: I recently saw Straight White Men, by the extremely gifted Young Jean Lee. It’s a comedy-drama about gender norms and expectations.

This trifle addresses a new use of pronouns to show respect for an individual’s … well … individuality. To put things in context, consider the word “parent.” As recently as a hundred years ago, parent in English-speaking cultures was a noun that meant not so much a sense of filial responsibility to a child as one of possession. A parent suggested a type of owner, in a way that no longer exists in the culture.

Child labor was common then. Supporting that norm, parent pretty much meant “boss of the child.” A parent could legally force a child to toil at great risk and harm, in the fields or the factory line. Today those norms have changed, and with them, the word. It even split in two: Parent is still a noun, but it’s also now a verb. “To parent” is assumed to mean bestowing something beneficial on a child. Even to very recent ancestors, upon finding a copy of Parenting magazine beamed to them from the future, this would be supremely baffling.

As you read below, please think of how language has changed with attitudes, and how it continues to change, arguably at an accelerated pace. As we strive to better understand the needs of previously voiceless groups … in our workplaces, our homes and social settings, keep in mind that it can be a bumpy ride, linguistically speaking. We can curse those bumps, or celebrate them. I invite you, dear reader, to relax and enjoy the ride. Take delight in our world’s growing richness and diversity.


The quite wonderful and thought-provoking Steppenwolf Theater production I saw opened with two cast members, who together announced to the audience the shared preference to be referred to with the non-cisgendered “they,” and its object pronoun form, “them.” They provided much to consider. And by they I don’t mean either one of them, although this is also true, but both. It’s unusual enough for someone like me to encounter one such soul. Two is a real night on the town.

Should you be wondering, there was no suggestion that they were a romantic couple. Not because one person cannot be a couple of any sort, romantic or otherwise, but because by using “they” just then I did not mean either of them but both.

You can see why this is interesting and yes, alarming. Two individuals in the same room who both prefer to be referred to using plural pronouns has increased linguistic complexity by the precise mathematical factor of O + M + G.

For example, when they are near each other at one of the inevitable cast parties, and by “they” of course I’m not implying that either of them can, on their own, be near themselves, but both. At the party. Together.

Let me start over.

It occurred to me that if one of them were to be referenced at said party as “them,” each would be compelled to turn, point, and say, “Do you mean me or them? Or us?” At which point I for one would need to excuse myself to freshen my drink.

Will this lead to a quota of just one they and them per social gathering? I sincerely hope not. They seemed quite charming, and by they I’m not singling one of them out, but merely saying each seemed like someone I would genuinely enjoy chatting with.

Just not together … Until I get it all, as it were, straight.

How do I love thee, podcasts?

How do I love thee, podcasts? Let me count the ways. I’ve come up with five, right off the top of my head. They span comedy, news and current events, design, music and even history.

Why Now? #TryPod

This month there is a push among podcasters I enjoy to encourage our friends to try a podcast, with the above hashtag. I’m glad they’re doing it.

Many or most folks who do not listen to podcasts just don’t realize was a wealth of (mostly) free entertainment and knowledge is waiting for them in their hip pocket. Come on. We all have commutes. Or routine work situations. Or dog walking rituals. We all have a time when we can listen to really good programming. Am I right? So why not give podcasts a try?

I usually recommend to newbies downloading an app called Stritcher, but there are many ways to pull down podcasts from the internet and get them in your ears.

Here’s my list of “starter” podcasts:

1. The Gist

I literally start my day with this one, nearly the moment my alarm goes off. The Gist is a roughly 25-minute podcast released every weekday. Host Mike Pesca is a phenomenon. He also has a pretty funny Twitter feed:

2. 99% Invisible

So you’re not into politics or current events, you say? Or over-educated whimsy? I still have plenty to offer in this podcast cornucopia. Here’s one that might suit your fancy: Ostensibly a podcast about design and architecture, 99% Invisible is really about much more. It’s about all of the hidden, human-made grace notes to our lives that we didn’t think we’d like to learn about. Until we did.

3. 2 Dope Queens

Demographically I am definitely not the audience for 2 Dope Queens. They’re black. I’m white. They’re Millennial women. Yeah, no. And they record this podcast in that distant, enchanted (or cursed?) land called Brooklyn. The queens what be dope are Jessica Williams, from the old Daily Show, and Phoebe Robinson, fellow stand-up comic and most recently, author of You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have To Explain. They record in front of a live audience, hosting a show of other stand-up comics, mostly of color. It’s a joyful, antic party into which I always feel honored to be allowed.

Their friendship is a major appeal of the show, and each episode is a much-needed lesson in not taking life too seriously. Oh, and did I mentioned it’s a production of WNYC? It’s an NPR program. I find this seriously hard to believe. In a good way.

4. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

This guy says he isn’t a “real” historian, but he has done the impossible by making history interesting and relevant to me. I came to Hardcore History late, with the Blueprint for Armageddon series. It was six episodes (if I remember correctly), each over three hours (!?). The subject: World War I. The episodes were absolutely riveting. I would walk for hours along my Chicago lakefront, taking in his stories and regretting when my walks had to end.

Now that’s entertainment.

5. Song Exploder

I’ve saved possibly the best for last. Song Exploder, by the man with one of the best names to pronounce in podcasting: Hrishikesh Hirway (just listen to him pronounce it every episode — it’s as musical as the subject matter!).

Every installment has Mr. Hirway showcase another song, and learn from the creator how the song was assembled. He’s covered songs by Jeff Tweedy and his band WILCO, mad genius behind The Magnetic Fields, and and the practically child prodigy behind Microphones, to name just three. I think my all time favorite was the dissection of this wonderful song by tUnE-yArDs (a.k.a. Merrill Garbus). Water Fountains is a case study in discovery through unbridled play.

I dare you not to be inspired.