As we move from the experience-based economy to consumer spending focused more on transformational activities and products, the old media formats that succeeded in the past will not meet the needs of this new Renaissance. Transformation requires stepping into the Hero’s Journey, standing up to challenge after challenge to the point of giving up and eventually emerging from the encounter a changed person. The process can be messy and complicated, and people will look for tools to assist in the journey. As 70% of the GDP moves to more transformational products and activities, older media formats like TV will find itself ill-suited for the demands of the Hero’s Journey Economy.
The focus on our heroes and outstanding people in our society has always been on their accomplishments and never on their trials and internal personal struggles they may have encountered. The story in hindsight paints people as being almost ordained in their role and executing flawlessly in their achievements. The perspective is like the wall poster showing the tip of an iceberg as the success, but the real substance of the accomplishment is below the surface. It is hard to imagine now, but there was a point in Shakespeare’s life where he had never written a story. Like all writers his first time to sit down with pen and paper staring at the blank white sheet probably brought about enormous self-doubt on his own abilities.
Brad Meltzer, the author of I Am Walt Disney, stated in a recent interview, “One of the things we do with our hero’s today is we dip them in granite or concrete and build these giant statues of them, and we worship at their feet. We do them a huge disservice because anyone you look up to whether it’s George Washington, Walt Disney or Rosa Parks they all had moments when they were scared, terrified and they didn’t think they could go on, but they decided to keep going forward.” [i] This idea that those with great success are separate from us is an all too common lens. We don’t see them as people but rather as iconic personalities existing on a quantum plane. An important driver of this perception is TV.
Television was well suited for the product and experience-based economy because TV played into the notion and amplified the feelings that we lack something in our world and if we just by a new item everything will change, and life will be better. Soap Operas got their name because the major cleaning product companies produced the programming and targeted it towards women. The commercials promised cleaner homes and whiter shirt collars with the products they promoted during the shows. The success of these advertisers hinged on their ability to tap into the idea that we are not whole and that we are victims of the world rather than creators of our lives. Over time the pursuit of more stuff has led to a societal awareness that once the basic needs of modern life are met, the incremental spend often does not lead to the same additional reward.
For people looking for a tool in their transformation journey, TV may be the worst vehicle. Television tends to focus only on the outcome rather than the work involved to get there. It lifts the successful into iconic realms making them appear to be superhuman rather than the result of hard work, base talent and in many cases some good luck and timing. During TV interviews there is a perception that all is well. Often personal interviews involve funny stories about being famous but rarely do the conversations focus on the sweat behind the achievement. Worst of all it perpetuates the myth that it all came easy with little effort, setbacks, failures or sleepless nights.
Julia Cameron author of The Artist Way observed, “When we have the idea that creativity is only in an elite few, we start to disqualify ourselves. When we have a belief system that says artists are fearless, we don’t look accurately at the artists. I think late-night TV did a great disservice because it would invite artists on and egg them on and they would puff up a little bit and present a false persona. When I was married in my 20’s to Martin Scorsese, who is a wonderful artist, but I was with him when they were first screening Taxi Driver. He was in the back of the theater with a brown paper bag hyperventilating from sheer terror that the audience would not like his film. So, we don’t hear great artists can be frightened and keep going anyway. We hear great artists are never frightened.” [ii]
[ii] Julia Cameron Interview on James Altucher Podcast Sept 3, 2019
Bob Dylan shared the same concern about TV and how he felt about the interviews.
“One night I turned on the TV and Joe Tex was on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Joe sang and left. Johnny didn’t talk to him not like he did to other guests. Johnny just waved to him from his desk. Carson used to talk to his guests about golf and things like that, but he had nothing to say to Joe. I didn’t think he would have anything to say to me either. All of his guests tried to be funny, put on a happy face, not to come unglued. Be like Gene Kelly and go singing in the rain even during a downpour. If I did that, I’d get pneumonia. You had to act as if everything was wonderful.” [iii]
[iii] Chronicles Volume One Bob Dylan
No one can blame TV producers for offering up a lighter side to success. Nobody tunes in at 11:30 or 12:30 at night to hear successful people struggling with their work. Viewers have their own problems and don’t want to listen to how hard it was for the rich and famous. So, on TV everything is awesome.
Shuts down the brain
One key aspect of transformation is stepping out of comfort into the unknown which TV does not offer. Mihaly Cskszentmihalyi points out that “TV is far from being a positive experience -generally people report feeling passive, weak, rather irritable, and sad when doing it- at least the flickering screen brings a certain amount of order to consciousness. The predictable plots, familiar characters, and even the redundant commercials provide a reassuring pattern of stimulation. The screen invites attention to itself a manageable restricted aspect of the environment.”[iv] So, if TV is not the vehicle of the Hero’s Journey Economy, what is?
[iv] Flow Mihaly Cskszentmihalyi
Podcast technology has been available as long as the portable digital player has been around and predates the smartphone, but it is now emerging as a significant media device for the transformational Economy.
The technology is portable and allows listeners to replay individual sections of discussions multiple times so that complex topics that are not easily understood can be listened to until the ideas are absorbed.
There is no time limit to Podcast episodes. This extended format allows for the host and guest to go deep into a topic and view an argument, discovery, or idea from several different perspectives. Joe Rogan recently discussed the Ketogenic diet with two researchers in the field that lasted three hours and reviewed the myths and research findings from several different angles.
The longer format lends itself to be a more intimate discussion with the participants. Short talking points don’t hold up under the scrutiny of the podcast format. Podcast guests expecting the light banter of TV may often be surprised by the questions and dialogue they find themselves having.
Podcast hosts have become expert interviewers. Marc Maron, a top-ranked podcaster had President Obama on as a guest in June of 2015. The President was briefed on the themes of Maron’s show, but it got personal very fast. Maron’s Podcast studio garage was not far from where the President spent his teenage years and Maron asked the President in the first seconds of the discussion to talk about that teenager and how different that person was from the Obama of today. The President was immediately candid about being a little lost during his youth in Pasadena and how he had to work to discover who he was and how he began to transform in his twenties. The President discussed how it was both exciting and scary dealing with whom he wanted to be. This candid conversation took place between the President and Marc even before they formally said hi to each other.
Many Podcast hosts focus on the trials of working to succeed. Brian Koppelman, an accomplished screenwriter of Rounders and Billions, hosts a podcast called The Moment that focuses explicitly on that point in a person’s life when they knew what they wanted to do. Koppelman hosts the top artists, thought leaders and elite athletes of our time and focuses on the call to action in the Hero’s Journey when the person decided or knew she was destined for something more. Koppelman continuingly addresses Julia Cameron’s concern that we perceive the successful as predestined with innate abilities. This Podcast digs into the mental and physical work that all these accomplished people journey through to get where they are. The Podcast also highlights that many of the famous figures still feel they are on the journey, and they are always on the Hero’s path with noteworthy victories behind them but challenges ahead.
James Altucher’s Podcast often focuses on the mental mindsets needed to persevere. Altucher himself has through his creativity, and hard work amassed fortunes not once but twice and lost everything both times. An avid reader Altucher often hosts authors and goes deep into conversations on the transformational process of rebuilding lives.
Whether it is Wim Hoff, a pioneer in exposure to extremely cold temperatures or Dom D’angostino, a researcher in ketogenic diet curing epilepsy, podcasts provide a vehicle for new voices and researchers. Some of the ideas are far from the norm and come with special warnings. If their findings do make it to mainstream media, the messages are shortened and distorted. One example is how the media reported on Elon Musk’s smoking marijuana on a podcast. Whether that was a good idea or not, the press missed the entire point of the podcast content that lasted several hours on energy, space travel, and global existential threats. Marijuana was just a short side dialogue from the meat of the discussion.
In addition to bringing these new ideas to the forefront, they inspire others to enter the field of study.
Dan Harris, best known for being a News and anchorperson for ABC television, has a podcast on meditation. He admits to not being an expert, but he does bring experts on to discuss meditation and mindfulness practices. Dan discovered meditation after having a panic attack on live TV. As an investigative reporter, he pursued all possible cures for his anxiety and approached some of the recommended alternative solutions like meditation with a significant amount of skepticism. His podcast goes deep into the process of meditation with a substantial focus on the skeptical beginner and what to expect. His podcast is transformational in two ways. Meditation itself is a transformation endeavor. We think 80,000 thoughts per day and most of those are the same each day and are often negative. It’s challenging to make a change when our brain is on a self-imposed repeat loop. Meditation stops the monkey mind thoughts and makes us more aware of these recurring thoughts.
Harris’ podcast is also transformational because he is on a Hero’s Journey. Dan’s called to action was his anxiety attack in front of millions that propelled him into a quest to find a cure. He is on his journey to master his thoughts, a lifetime battle for him but also to use his Podcast to encourage others to try or think about trying meditation. He offers his candid personal experiences as well as from his guests. The trick with Meditation and many other transformation tools is that it is simple but not easy. Harris has had the Dali Lama on his podcast and admitted he even has days when meditation is a struggle.
There are proven approaches and practices that can propel a person along in their journey, and that is what Matt Bodnar’s Podcast called The Science of Success is all about. The world of personal development is full of fads, unproven tactics, and just flat out scams. Bodnar’s Accenture Consulting and entrepreneur experience leads listeners to a no-nonsense review of the science around performance improvement with a focus on results. No guest leaves without a full examination of their findings and practical advice that listers can try out on their own.
The longer format Podcasts have also influenced the length of YouTube videos. What was once just a collection of short viral cat vignettes, YouTube is now embracing the deeper dive format. Many Podcasts are simultaneously posting a video version of the podcast to YouTube. The visual instruction for topics like Yoga and breathing techniques allow for more detailed coaching.
Just this summer rookie sensation Quinnen Williams showed up for Jets training camp in incredible physical shape. When asked by a reporter what regiment was he following and which elite strength trainer he hired to attain his new physique he replied “YouTube”. Williams is an athlete that is making millions per year solely based on his physical ability so access to some of the leading conditioning guidance was at his fingertips and he chose to follow YouTube.
Leveraging off the deep domain expertise of podcasts, YouTube is becoming more substantial and less focused on the shock to create viral sensations. Thought leaders and experts in specific domains are using YouTube to provide rich visual instruction on everything from Woodworking to Deadlifts. YouTube content creators are focused on building longer-term relationships with viewers by providing high-quality content to foster a sizable loyal viewer base that wants to go deep into topics of transformation.
For people thinking that there is a Podcast bubble, they may have it wrong. Indeed, the low cost of entry and the limited skills needed to stand up a podcast have led to an overabundance of choices. However, history has shown us that innovation comes from the fringe, and everyday people podcasting their Hero’s Journey makes for informative and entertaining content for this new economy.