It took me 42 years to make a podcast.
A fantasy surfaces when you’re a child, and maybe you follow it. You want to be a fierce warrior or a wood fairy. Or both. More than likely, you don’t follow that fantasy. And you forget about it.
The funny thing is, if we’re paying attention, fantasies to create new worlds or lives surface among some of us grown ups, too.
You know what I’m talking about. That new business, book, persona, performance piece, workshop, PhD, or whatever it is you spend time trying to envision.
Do you follow it? Now, later, never?
Maybe pieces of those childhood dreams secretly have been laid out like hidden breadcrumbs for you to follow – and you don’t even realize it.
It took me four years to launch the Tracking Wonder podcast, but I suspect the podcast’s origins started when I was 11 years old if not younger.
I thought I’d let you in behind the scenes since many readers and clients have asked about starting their own podcasts – and I know that you’re likely at some stage in advancing your business or project.
Johnny Carson and a Recorder
Before I found home in New York, I grew up as a free-range, latch key kid – a quiet, creative, artistic kid – in Texas. We moved often from neighborhood to neighborhood within Fort Worth, and wherever we lived, I roamed and wandered.
When I was 11, my father gave me out of the blue a cassette recorder he once used for recording his ideas and notes. An incredible gift to an ever-curious boy.
Sam, my best friend at the time, and I used it to create mock interviews, imitating the interviews we had watched on weekend sleep overs of Johnny Carson’s Late Night Show. Listening in on those adult conversations fascinated us boys and gave us a skewered glimpse into adulthood. But the idea that grown ups would listen in on other people’s conversations fascinated us even more.
Would we ever be interviewed, we wondered? And what would it be like to be allowed to ask people questions about their lives?
But then real inspiration struck. One of my favorite shows at the time was a Saturday news program called 4 Country Reporter with Bob Phillips. Phillips would interview and tell the stories of ordinary people often in small towns (It turns out, he’s still at it). I didn’t have the words for it then, but Phillips humanized ordinary people, and watching those stories made me all the more curious about the people around me. I wanted to know what it would be like to tell other people’s stories.
So, equipped with a new cassette recorder that came with a cord microphone, we became the 4 Young Country Reporters. We became roaming neighborhood reporters. We got our script down to convince any kids or grown ups we dared to interview: “Have you heard of 4 Country Reporter on Channel 4?” Most grown ups there had. “Well, we’re new members of the 4 Young Country Reporters, and we’re gathering stories of people in the area. Can we ask you a few questions?”
We practiced our script. We practiced asking questions to each other. And we headed out toward the commercial area where people would be out and about. On the way we saw a man mowing his lawn. I got scared. Do we dare? Is this idea just nuts? Will he get mad? Will he call the cops or, worse, Channel 4 on us? Will Bob Philips tell our parents?
We stopped, stood, and smiled. The man stopped his mower. We told him our script, and he humored us. I have no memory what we asked him. I just remember walking away feeling like a superstar. We were living our dream.
The next person – a woman, I think, walking among some shops – seemed hurried and yet she also stopped and humored us. And so did the older man sitting at the bus stop.
What did we ask?
What’s your name? Where do you live? What have you been doing today? What have you done today that was really fun? What kind of music do you listen to?
I really don’t remember. I remember being genuinely curious and kind of thrilled by the whole human adventure. I remember the utter rush of going back home and listening to what we had recorded and playing some of it back for my mother and sometimes my father. Otherwise, I don’t think we had much of an audience, and I don’t think it mattered. What we cared about was that we actually did it.
And what I remember mostly were the grown ups’ smiles.
Who knows? Maybe the five or six minutes reminded them for a moment of their own elaborate fantasies as boys or girls, men or women.
Conversation, Collaboration, & Prototyping
A part of me was – and is – terribly introverted. The idea of walking up to a strange grown up and asking him or her questions to record is not something I would have ever done by myself. Sam and I fueled each other’s audacious imaginations.
I suspect vestiges of that boyhood fantasy lingered with me many years later. Since 2014, I’ve imagined how I might create a podcast that might include a series of conversations with thought leaders and change-makers, artists and scientists.
But the timing wasn’t right then. My business model and family life didn’t allow me the time and bandwidth to do it without utter duress. And I didn’t yet have the Sams on my side to bolster my courage and – in essence – “hold the microphone.” That is, assist me in ways I couldn’t even see.
The dream came up again in 2015. And in 2016. But timing wasn’t right.
Then in 2017 team members and I were re-conceiving our annual Quest experience we hold for free each December. In that meeting a team member, Erin, proposed I interview two people with potentially two different points of view on similar topics. We would release an hour-long audio round table each week. We ran with the idea.
At the same time, the podcast idea still lingered. I wasn’t connecting the dots until I bemoaned to a colleague that I just didn’t have the time to pursue the podcast. “You’re about to have 4 shows in the can, Jeffrey. You’re going to have everything you need. Plus you can see if you like holding the interviews.”
Boom. We had our prototype model. And that last piece is often the most important – yet overlooked – part of a prototype: Would I enjoy the process and the challenges? Was I any good in this role? Would I have the nerve to ask strangers to be on the show? Could I ask better questions than, “What’s your name? What kind of music do you listen to?”
We found support to foresee tech, audio, post-production, and launch issues. I got through my hang ups on how to produce the right audio (although there were still hiccups). Working on four episodes helped us test our own team processes.
You might operate differently from me, but I’ve learned that how I get from dream to reality – and how many of my high-performing clients in different fields get there – is by a similar process.
Have the business model or life model in place that affords you the time & attention necessary. Then learn, gather support, prototype, and run.
Yet there was one thing that – rightfully so, for me – kept hanging me up.
The Planet of a Podcast
I couldn’t quite conceive how the podcast might have a unique flavor amidst the growing number of shows. I wanted the Tracking Wonder podcast to contribute something to the many conversations already happening related to creativity, entrepreneurship, & work. I didn’t need it be original just to be original. I needed it simply to contribute distinct enough value to merit filling the airwaves – and to merit the resources, time, energy, and creativity invested.
I wanted it to feel like its own world, its own planet.
A podcast well conceived is like a planet, isn’t it? You know if you want to hang out there for a while. I want this planet of a podcast to be inhabited by curious people. People who are curious about ideas and about stories of people who pursue ideas and who wonder about ideas. When they arrive on the planet – I like to imagine – they will be filled with delightful surprise, intelligent conversation, a bit of enchantment, and lots of pragmatic possibility.
And, yes, there will often be innocent questions from a guy who remains curious about how ‘ordinary’ people pursue extraordinary ideas, meaningful work, and masterful lives.
Wonder is not kid’s stuff. Wonder is radical grown-up stuff.
After 4 years – or 40 years – we are humbled to announce the launch of the Tracking Wonder podcast.
May it remind you of what matters as you pursue your best ideas and most meaningful work.