The Top Podcast Episodes of 2019

Let’s face it, some podcasts are more consistent than others, so rather than sharing entire series for this best-of list, I pulled a couple of standout episodes from 2019 that resonated with me the most. Hopefully these will help as you work on your New Year’s resolutions.

Photo: Michael Hernandez

My preference is for shows that challenge my personal status quo rather than simply echo what I already believe. That is, I like when I’m forced to rethink my world view, often by hearing new perspectives, or thinking about the world in new ways. I guess each of these episodes is a kind of self-help story, as I want to get better after listening to them, whether it’s to help me get better with my work, or to turn on a warm light in the quiet corners of my mind.

99 Percent Invisible. Episode 363: “Invisible Women”

This episode is about how everything from heart disease to seatbelts were designed with only half of the world’s population in mind. This interview with Caroline Criado, author of the book Invisible Women: Data Bias In A World Designed For Men, opened my eyes about biases of all kinds, and how it can affect the world ethically, and also financially.

Dope Labs. Episode 001: “Cuffing Season”

I love this fresh take on the science podcast by upending who does the storytelling (two black women scientists) and what the topics are about (phenomena from pop culture).

This series does what every podcast should do: Inspire you with great storytelling, provide new knowledge about the world, and entertain by listening to a pair of hosts who present with personality and charm. This show is not only fun to listen to, it makes me rethink how journalism should function more as a partner with audiences in answering their questions rather than as experts telling us what they think is important.

My preference is for shows that challenge my personal status quo

“If you’re not careful, you get people’s minds thinking more about failure prevention than about soaring. No one has excelled because they stopped making grammatical errors in their writing,” says guest Marcus Buckingham.

I’ve been a big fan of Adam Grant since I read his book Originals, and was excited for his podcast series, produced by TED. In each episode, Grant tackles ideas related to innovation, productivity, and how people interact with each other. The ideas, guests he interviews, and the dynamic ways he shares research makes each episode fun to listen to and super helpful for anyone who has ever had to work with other people. Read: everyone.

This episode does what I expect podcasts to do: Challenge me to rethink how I live and work. In this particular case, Grant helps us reconsider what we think our strengths are, and how we’d do better to consider our weaknesses to become more successful.

Invisibilia. “The End Of Empathy”

Should we try to empathize with white supremacists and misogynists? Is there a limit to what we can or should give people slack for? What about journalists who are supposed to give equal merit to all sides?

This episode tells the same story twice, each with different outcomes depending on who you believe, or more precisely, who you empathize with. This is a stunning episode that will get you thinking hard about the post-fact world we live in and how we can ever make sense of the world and people’s actions.

The Accidental Creative. “Becoming Indistractable (with Nir Eyal)”

If I had to choose a word of the year for 2020 it would be “focus.” I may or may not have adult onset ADD, and have struggled to finish a project before I start five others. So this episode hit home and gave me useful tips for how to keep it together.

I often turn to Todd Henry’s podcast for ideas about innovation, productivity and creativity, and the best episodes, like this one, feature guests who share dynamic new insights.

Change the Narrative. Episode One: “Taking Care of Your Creative Self”

When I think about how to become more creative and innovative, I don’t usually turn to an engineering professor at Cornell. But that’s exactly what this episode is about: How to get yourself in the right place so that you can find solutions to problems that no one else has thus far.

Full disclosure: This the first episode of my own podcast. But I’m not sharing it as shameless self-promotion or even to put myself on the same level as these other talented storytellers. Rather, this is about two things: Family drama and goal setting.

You see, that professor is my brother Christopher, and he and I rarely get to spend time together. In fact, with our distance and busy lives, I’ve never made the time to get to know much about the minutiae of his work, or the personal passion that drives his research. Interviewing him for my show selfishly gave me time to spend with my brother and I actually got to know him better. How often do we get the opportunity for our work to help us bond with family?

Secondly, this show is the result of a talk I gave at a conference last year, that supposedly was going to become a book (it still might). But working on this series helped me realize that while we often set goals in life, those goals may evolve and take a form we never expected them to. If we let our ideas take us where they want to go, not what we stubbornly think they should become, the results can be exhilarating.



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Michael Hernandez

Michael is an award-winning educator, author and consultant, Apple Distinguished Educator and PBS Digital Innovator. @cinehead