What the world looks like when seen through “a great series of conversations with people who are building the future”
In the break between seasons — season 2 starts again on September 24th — we thought we’d take stock and reflect on some of the things we’ve learnt from making our podcast.
When we started Structural Shifts (initially without a name, that came from episode 14), it was just an excuse to reach out to and chat with people whose life and work we found interesting. What surprised us was two-fold: firstly, that people liked it and recommended / introduced other people we should interview, making the whole endeavour sustainable; and, secondly, that many of the evergreen topics we set out to explore bubbled up to the top of the people’s agenda and consciousness.
The fundamental transformations that used to quietly shape our world — over years or decades — suddenly became topics for mainstream conversations. The acceleration everyone’s talking about — we felt it too and it has influenced how we make and develop the podcast.
It’s safe to say that doing the podcast has taught us valuable lessons.
“I found this podcast borderline post-modern, and refreshingly frank. A profound look into what’s next. Love every bit! The guests, the music, the format.” — Simone Cicero, Co-Creator of Platform Design Toolkit
A crisis can be clarifying
The worldwide lockdown had wide-ranging effects, some of them even on the positive side. For example, it enabled us to interview thinkers we greatly admire, but who are geographically remote — like Rita McGrath and John Hagel — as well as to grow our audience.
In a world already hungry for meaning, the pandemic triggered a pressing need for strategic thinking. First, it made people pause and reflect on what truly matters — for their lives, work, for the planet.
Then, because institutional and private reactions to the pandemic left many disillusioned, they became determined to gain a stronger understanding of big topics — fintech, internet business models, geopolitics, the climate, the future of work.
We had profound, unhurried conversations with people who are thinking and doing things differently. Their thoughtful observations, distilled from decades of practice and reflection, challenged our received wisdom on a range of topics — from innovation to marketing — as well as encouraged us to entertain contrarian viewpoints.
Instead of a just-do-it mentality, the pandemic reinforced the timeless value of reflection and flexibility, reflexes that all our podcast guests share. If you keep an eye out for it, you’ll notice that in every episode we publish.
Good questions are catalysts for change
Good podcasts depend on two key ingredients: interesting guests and good questions.
Our listeners increasingly took care of introducing us to great thinkers, some of whom — like Brett Bivens or Julian Lehr — we caught on the rise to becoming big stars. And we concentrated on trying to get the best out of the conversations.
In the past six months, we’ve spent a lot more time on research. As our audience grew, so did our sense of responsibility to get the best out of every conversation. Many weekends and late nights were spent reading the books our guests had written, which made us well-prepared — and hopefully improved our the return on our listeners’ time.
Our goal was also, for ourselves and our listeners, to delve into diverse topics such as the ethics of technological change or building a safety net for the self-employed. A risk because many podcasts listeners like to keep digging into a given topic like investing, we hoped to create the context for the cross-pollination of ideas, frameworks, and viewpoints that can serve both professional and personal pursuits.
As the inner workings and implications of the networked age leapt into view for the entire planet, we developed an even keener focus on asking questions that help us have better, more stimulating conversations. Questions are essential to decode, deconstruct, and rebuild our vision of the world as it is — and as it might become.
The case for techno-optimism is one of our favorite examples of such a conversation, providing signposts to use when engaging in mainstream conversations around key topics in tech and their society-wide impact.
“A great series of conversations with people who are building the future. Each one is like having a dinner conversation with a smart friend who has come back from a voyage. I listen when driving or jogging — the miles just melt away and I arrive with a refreshed mind.”
It’s easier to connect when you share purpose and focus
Another thing we noticed while doing the podcast, especially in the past 6 months, is that people who share the same principles tend to resonate (or “click”) more easily when having conversations remotely.
It was surprisingly easy to delve into complex topics with them because everyone was eager to dive in. Maybe you’ve also noticed how small talk takes less and less time in online meetings as we have more of them.
This desire to have important conversations, to support clarity and good decision-making translated into our guests sharing personal perspectives more openly.
What’s more, it was easier to connect with new guests who dedicated even more time than before to share their expertise and experiences. We’re grateful for every minute they spent with us!
Capturing attention in a roaring world is a big challenge
As Herbert Simon predicted, a wealth of information gives way to a poverty of attention.
Our response to this has never been to compete on giving information, but to focus on carefully curated insights. A great fan of craftsmanship, we meant for the conversation — except for maybe the couple we did on previewing the post-pandemic world — to be timeless; as relevant now or in two years’ time as they were the day they were recorded
We also found that the lockdown period — or more specifically the extra time that many people gained through not travelling and commuting — opened up more demand for the long-form product we offer.
“Always insightful and informative. It is a relaxed conversation with people who have had interesting experiences and something to say. Ben Robinson, brings out the best in each guest.”
The Structural Shifts podcast remains one of our favorite projects, in which our enthusiasm for the topic and our guests’ generosity combine to help you see farther — and more clearly.
Helping ourselves and our network to move from scalable efficiency to scalable learning and, in do doing, to prosper in our networked age is why we do the podcast.
We hope it helps you achieve the same.
“I really love this podcast series. There’s not much content like this coming out from Europe. Should serve as an example to others” — Bozidhar Hristov
Our thanks to all of our guests and listeners and to Sarah Mikutel, our podcast editor. In series 2, we’ll be back with more mind-expanding conversations, covering the token economy, the future of finance, the end of globalization, the startup community way, the new precariat and much more…