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18 Podcasts for a Stimulating Summer

Smith faculty dish up some ear candy for the lazy, hazy days ahead

A watermelon listens to a podcast wearing headphones on a bright background.

Do you love podcasts? You’re not alone if you do. More than half of Canadian adults listen to podcasts, according to one study, and those who really enjoy them tune in an average of six and a half hours per week. 

You might have a go-to podcast list already. But summer is a great time to add to it. After all, what’s better than listening to a new favourite show when driving to the cottage or relaxing by the pool? 

With that in mind, we asked faculty at Smith School of Business to recommend one of their favourite podcasts and tell us what makes it special. 

From deep dives into psychology, finance and innovation, to a five-minute morning motivator from a certain ex-California governor, here are 18 podcasts to add to your playlist this summer.  

Hidden Brain

Suggested by: Michelle Lee, assistant professor of strategy and organizations

What makes Hidden Brain so irresistible? It starts with host Shankar Vedantam’s exquisite way of telling a story and continues with the show’s conversational approach to explaining complex human behaviour. Each episode begins with a problem, then moves to potential answers. A recent episode, called “When to Eat the Marshmallow”, looked at human temptation and how we can find balance between indulgence and restraint. “Hidden Brain is one of my favourite podcasts because they’ve figured out how to make research accessible and compelling,” says Lee.

The Ezra Klein Show

Suggested by: Jay Handelman, associate professor of marketing

Some podcasts have such transfixing episode titles that you cannot help but tune in. This New York Times show covering politics, technology, current affairs and more is a good example, with episodes such as: “What We Learned Reading Ron DeSantis’s Books”; “A Libertarian and I Debate the Debt Ceiling”; and “If You’re Reading This, You’re Probably ‘WEIRD’.” Ezra Klein is a thoughtful and probing host, and superb guests help listeners make sense of a complicated world. “After each episode, I often find that I have either learned something new or have come to think of a topic in a very different way,” Handelman says.

Speaking of Psychology

Suggested by: Ekin Ok, assistant professor of marketing

How can you build a successful team? How does social media affect teens? These are questions that psychology researchers answer in Speaking of Psychology, produced by the American Psychological Association. The show is especially good at applying research to people’s everyday lives, whether in their relationships, mental health or career goals, says Ok. She recommends these three episodes: “Why Humans and Other Primates Care About Fairness” (episode 214); “The Truth About Why Kids Lie” (episode 200); and “Why We Procrastinate and What to Do About It” (episode 210). “This last one hits a little too close to home,” Ok says with a smile.

The Diary of a CEO

Suggested by: Anton Ovchinnikov, Distinguished Professor of Management Analytics

An analytics professor, Ovchinnikov says he enjoys listening to several shows including The Economist podcasts, The Munk Debates and In Machines We Trust. Yet if he can only recommend one series, it’s a podcast that he says he and his daughter — a recent university graduate working at a global consulting firm — enjoy: The Diary of a CEO. “DOAC is a one-man show by Steven Bartlett, a young successful Black British entrepreneur and investor, whose unfiltered exploration of the most pressing issues with some of the leading global thinkers rightfully earned DOAC the status of U.K.’s number one podcast,” Ovchinnikov says.

The Innovation Show

Suggested by: JP Shearer, Associate Director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship, Innovation & Social Impact

“This show has an outstanding repository of lessons you must learn as a corporate innovator and an entrepreneur,” says Shearer. Host Aidan McCullen is a former Irish national team rugby player who became a consultant after his playing days were over. Today, he helps organizations transform and collaborate. On The Innovation Show, McCullen delves into research papers and books with their authors, offering different perspectives on business culture, leadership, psychology, people, creativity and technology. Shearer says he loves this show because it reaffirms that people drive prosperity, not organizations — or as McCullen often says: “You cannot change business models until you first change mental models.”

Diversity Matters with Oscar Holmes IV

Suggested by: Eddy Ng, Smith Professor of Equity and Inclusion

Corporate managers these days are paying more attention to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). But how many of them really understand the issues in-depth? Those who want to learn more can tune into Diversity Matters, hosted by Rutgers University professor Oscar Holmes IV. “With the culture war that is going on and rollback of DEI initiatives south of the border, it can be difficult to keep up and make sense of all the social justice issues that surface,” Ng says. “This podcast offers lively discussions with DEI researchers to help us be informed, educated and aware.” Ng isn’t just a fan; he’s guested too (in season 2, episode 2, “Anti-Asian Bias and Effective Allyship.”)

All Else Equal

Suggested by: Pierre Chaigneau, associate professor of finance

On All Else Equal, two heavyweight finance professors (Stanford’s Jonathan Berk and Wharton’s Jules van Binsbergen) explore how to make better decisions and learn from mistakes. Chaigneau says he enjoys this podcast because it’s non-technical but fast-paced, full of insights and grounded in sound analysis. “They focus on ‘all else equal’ mistakes and fallacies that do not consider unintended consequences,” he says. A few recent episodes are: “How Do You Know if Your Marketing Dollars are Working?” and “Can the Free Market Discourage Fraud?” Says Chaigneau: “This podcast provides access to the best minds in academia.”

Metaverse Marketing

Suggested by: Gongtai Wang, assistant professor in digital technology

The American trade journal Adweek launched Metaverse Marketing two years ago to explore what it calls “the role of marketing in Web 3.0” and to help listeners “make sense of the metaverse beyond the hype.” Technology futurist Cathy Hackl, author of Into the Metaverse, is the host. Episodes cover everything from the way Web 3.0 alters the job market to how metaverse-savvy marketers can develop new customer journeys. Metaverse Marketing, says Wang, “offers an invaluable gateway to cultivating a comprehensive understanding of the latest developments in this field and gaining insight into how the metaverse diverges from the traditional 3-D digital world.”

Freakonomics Radio

Suggested by: Erica Pimentel, assistant professor of accounting

Whoever thought that hearing a podcast about economics could be fun? As it turns out, Freakonomics Radio is not just informative, it is downright entertaining. “I listen to it weekly for interesting insights on unexpected topics,” Pimentel says, “from the economics of Girl Scout cookies to the repatriation of looted artwork.” Billed as the show that “uncovers the hidden side of everything”, Freakonomics Radio is hosted by Stephen Dubner, co-author of the popular Freakonomics series. Dubner’s boundless curiosity and quirky narrative style make for fascinating listening — even if you don’t know your Milton Friedman from your John Maynard Keynes.

People I (Mostly) Admire

Suggested by: Henry Schneider, Commerce ’64 Fellow of Business Economics

If you love Freakonomics Radio, you will probably enjoy this podcast too. People I (Mostly) Admire is hosted by the Freakonomics books other co-author, Steve Levitt. A professor of economics at the University of Chicago, Levitt spends time with people he finds interesting, discussing what he calls “their lives and obsessions.” Among those Levitt has mostly admired on the show: filmmaker Ken Burns, conservationist Jane Goodall, music producer Rick Rubin and poker player Annie Duke. If you’ve yet to give it a listen, Schneider recommends these three episodes to start: “Memory Champion Nelson Dellis Helps Steve Train His Brain” (episode 26); “Self-Help for Data Nerds” (episode 75); and “The Price of Doing Business with John List” (episode 94).

Arnold’s Pump Club

Suggested by: Shamel Addas, Distinguished Faculty Fellow of Digital Technology

Seriously, is there a better way to get motivated in the morning than having the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, pump you up? In this fast-moving, five-minute podcast, Schwarzenegger shares fitness tips and health advice, plus throws in a few stories from his bodybuilding and Hollywood days. Though it’s not Schwarzenegger talking (it’s an AI version of him based on his newsletter), the distinctive Austrian accent is close enough to the real deal that few will mind.  “I find that listening to the podcast is a fantastic way to start your day,” Addas says. “I suspect that if you hear one episode, “you'll be back!

Lex Fridman

Suggested by: Stephen Thomas, Distinguished Professor of Management Analytics

Lex Fridman is a computer scientist and artificial intelligence researcher at MIT who has studied autonomous vehicles, robot-human interactions and machine learning. He often brings up AI on his show. But what makes the series so engaging is that Fridman widens the lens to include history, philosophy, science and the nature of intelligence. The guest list is just as eclectic, from Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen to astronomer Anna Frebel to actor Matthew McConaughey. Fridman excels at bringing out the thinking and thought process of his guests. “His curiosity is contagious,” Thomas says, “and you can’t help but learn to think about each topic in a new way.”

WorkLife with Adam Grant 

Suggested by: Christine Coulter, Distinguished Faculty Fellow of Organizational Behaviour

Wharton professor Adam Grant has written several popular business books. You may even have read some, such as Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. On this TED podcast, he talks about how to make work better — or “how to make work not suck,” as he puts it. Guests are a who’s who of business leaders (former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi), inspiring speakers (leadership guru Simon Sinek) and influential people (singer Dolly Parton). Grant has a way of asking poignant, fun and accessible questions, says Coulter, while sprinkling in relevant research. “WorkLife is a great podcast for anyone interested in learning evidence-based ideas about how to make work a positive and rewarding experience,” she says. “Or, at least, how to make it not suck.”

Pop Culture Happy Hour

Suggested by: Paul Calluzzo, Toller Family Fellow of Finance

As a finance professor, Paul Calluzzo spends a lot of time reading about . . . well, finance. A happy diversion from scrutinizing corporate governance and empirical asset pricing, he says, is NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. It is devoted to the latest and greatest in the pop zeitgeist—from what’s up with new movies such as The Flash to a debate about the best TV finales of all time. Calluzzo says the podcast has pointed him to TV shows, movies and books he would not have known about otherwise. “There have also been instances,” he says, “where I did already know about what they were discussing but didn’t think I would be interested in it, and they changed my mind.”

The Comedy Cellar: Live from the Table

Suggested by: Jon Aikman, adjunct lecturer of finance

Dave Chappelle, Ray Romano, Ali Wong, Jon Stewart. All these comedians got their start doing standup at New York City’s famed Comedy Cellar. But the club’s stage is not always where the performers deliver their best material. That sometimes happens at a table permanently reserved for comedians to kibitz in a restaurant above the club. Live from the Table lets listeners eavesdrop on such roundtable conversations. Aikman says the show is funny, of course. But comedians are also shrewd observers of society and people, “so you also get to hear interesting perspectives by great comics.”

The Harbour

Suggested by: Kate Rowbotham, Distinguished Faculty Fellow of Organizational Behaviour

This podcast from Queen’s Health Sciences focuses on conversations about equity, diversity, inclusion, Indigeneity and accessibility. The host is Celina Caesar-Chavannes, a former Member of Parliament and author of Can You Hear Me Now? Episodes have included discussions on the generation gap, cancel culture, how people are labelled and the importance of empathy. “The guests are changemakers, people who are challenging our institutions to do better,” Rowbotham says. “The Harbour is orientation to action and can inspire anyone to make a difference in their own spaces.”

Short History Of

Suggested by: Matt Reesor, adjunct lecturer and director of the Full-time MBA program

You needn’t be a history buff to enjoy Short History Of. That’s because the past leaps to life in the voice of host and actor John Hopkins (Midsomer Murders and Poldark). Episodes run the gamut from famous people (Albert Einstein) to events (the partition of India) to objects (the Rosetta Stone). Reesor recommends this podcast because, he says, “I find it helpful to look into the past to better understand any lessons to be gleaned from those who have lived through other times of great change. Subjects like the industrial revolution, the Renaissance, the rise and fall of the Mongol empire and the legacy of European colonialism are rich in insights that we can apply to our modern world.”

Smith Business Insight Podcast 

Suggested by: the Smith Business Insight editorial team

Looking for one more podcast to add to your list? Why not listen to the newest season of the Smith Business Insight podcast? In this five-part series, join host Alan Morantz as he explores the key themes of leadership, workplace safety, autonomy and meaning with Professor Julian Barling, one of the world’s top organizational and leadership researchers. They discuss the fallout from some big disruptions in the workplace — everything from the Covid pandemic to changing expectations of what work should offer employees.