What We Are Listening To: Our Favourite Podcasts on Business, Investing, and Learning

If you don’t know who Charlie Munger is, then here’s a quick introduction. He’s a billionaire and he’s 93 years old. He’s not the oldest and he is not the wealthiest but when it comes to being the “oldest billionaire”, he doesn’t have any competition.

In other words, he has the two most coveted things in this world – wealth and a long life.

His advice to us – minimize stupidity. Remarkably simple, isn’t it?

The most effective way to follow Charlie’s advice is to learn from others’ mistakes. That’s where books come into the picture. They’re the best source of vicarious knowledge.

When humans first discovered that they could persist their words and other information in physical form, it was revolutionary. According to some historians, between the years 3500 BC and 3000 BC, ancient Sumerians from Mesopotamia civilization invented the first system for storing and processing information outside their brains.

In the timescale of millions of years of human evolution, this invention is pretty recent one. Irrespective of how trivial the ability to read/write sounds, it was nothing less than a disrupting technology when it came out. Probably thousands of talented Sumerians, who were employed for memorizing information, lost their jobs.

You don’t have to teach an infant how to swallow liquid or give walking lessons to a toddler. These skills are built into the human genome. But reading isn’t part of our DNA.

The point I am coming to is this: the human brain isn’t naturally built to read. It’s an acquired skill like driving or playing Tennis. Reading involves vision which engages a certain part of the brain which in turn exercises a specific section of our neural machinery.

Although our brain processes signal received from all senses, each of the five senses is wired to different sections of the brain. Which means, reading lights up only the visual component of our brain’s circuitry.

When the brain receives the same information from different senses, it processes them slightly differently. And the interpretation changes based on which instrument (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin) was used to record the information.

Eyes usually get preference over others. McGurk Effect is the proof that our brain gives different weightage to each sense organ.

What would happen if you could involve multiple senses to absorb knowledge?

For one, our brain would frequently run into conflicts. Eyes would tell one story and the ears will say something else. But that’s not a bad news. Fortunately, unusual insights are almost always preceded by conflicts.

So I would like to argue that to learn better, one should be open to the idea of absorbing knowledge through multiple senses.

Making use of multiple senses fires up neurons in different locations inside our brain. This creates the possibility of fresh connections between previously unrelated brain cells. These unprecedented linkages enhance our brain’s ability to perceive the world and generate brand new insights.

Guy Spier, in his book The Education of Value Investor, mentions that someone gifted him an audio CD of Charlie Munger’s talk at Harvard on the 24 standard causes of human misjudgment. And there was an 18-month period, writes Guy, “during which this was the only CD in my car’s entertainment system.”

Guy probably listened to Charlie’s talk hundreds of times.

So to experiment with this idea, I have been trying to learn through my ears. One way to do that is to listen to the audiobooks. For that, I subscribed to Audible and listened to quite a few audiobooks.

My experience with audiobooks led me to the conclusion that listening to biographies and fiction is quite enjoyable. And there are again evolutionary reasons behind it.

If you recall our earlier discussion in this post, the technology of writing and reading came into existence quite late in the history of human evolution. The human brain hasn’t yet adapted naturally to the idea of learning things by reading. However, for millions of years, the knowledge was transferred from one person to another by narrating stories. So sound was the primary mode of sharing and propagating information for the majority of human history.

Which confirms my personal observation about my inability to absorb any information in audio form if the content is not in a story format.

The human brain started comprehending complex matters precisely because of the invention of the written word. We learn to do complex algebra and calculus in school because the process involves delegating all the steps to paper. If you had to do it all in your head, it would be impossible. Our brains aren’t wired to do that.

But the idea of podcasts has kind of broken this barrier. For some strange reason, our mind would find it extremely entertaining and engrossing when it’s privy to a conversation between two fellow humans.

A monologue, when it’s not a story, is boring. On the other hand, listening to a dialogue, even if the topic is fairly complex, isn’t that taxing to the mind. Maybe that’s the reason podcasts are rapidly gaining acceptance and popularity as a very effective medium to share knowledge.

For past one year, I have been listening to podcasts. I have learned a lot. It feels as if two wise people are sitting behind you and informally discussing their experiences. I find it fascinating.

So I thought of sharing the podcasts that I regularly listen to. I am also including some of my favourite episodes of each to get you started.

1. How I Built This

It’s a show hosted by Guy Raz. In his words, “How I Built This is a podcast about innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built.” Unlike many other podcasts, the length of each episode is relatively short i.e. 30-40 minutes. My favorite stories in this podcasts are –

  • Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airline. Airlines is an industry marred by abysmally poor economics. In its entire history, on the whole, the airline industry has destroyed shareholder wealth. Southwest is the only airline in the world which has remained profitable for an almost entire period of its 40+ years of operation.
  • Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, which was bought for a billion dollar by Amazon. After listening to this conversation, I picked up Tony’s book Delivering Happiness and enjoyed reading it.
  • Manoj Bhargava, founder of 5-hour energy. This guy lived as a monk for 13 years and then went on to create a billion-dollar business in less than a decade. He’s now devoting a majority of his time for tackling the hardest problems our world is facing like bringing electricity to those who don’t have it yet, converting seawater to freshwater and a few more.
  • John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods Market grocery chain, which was recently acquired by Amazon. Amazon acquires a company only when Jeff Bezos realizes that he can’t replicate what the acquiree is doing which speaks a ton about what John Mackey has accomplished.
  • Joe Gebbia is the co-founder of Airbnb. Today Airbnb is disrupting the hotel industry. Airbnb has now has more rooms than the biggest hotel chain in the world.

2. The Knowledge Project

Shane Parrish has been relentlessly sharing multidisciplinary ideas on his blog for almost a decade. The knowledge project podcast is another feather in his cap. The publishing schedule is quite infrequent and irregular, nevertheless, there’s enough wisdom here to keep you busy for weeks. My favourite episodes are –

  • Interview with Sanjay Bakshi. Being a Safal Niveshak tribesman, it’s almost impossible that you haven’t heard of Prof. Bakshi. He teaches a course on behavioural finance and business valuation in MDI Gurgaon, a prestigious MBA college. There’s chock full of investing wisdom in this interview. I recommend that you listen to it multiple times.
  • Interview with Naval Ravikant. Naval is the co-founder of AngelList. He’s been an investor in many unicorn startups including Uber, Twitter, Yammer, and many others. This 2+ hours of conversation between Shane and Naval was simply out of the world. I have already listened to this one twice and want to listen to it again few more times. Naval has been interviewed in Tim Ferriss show also and that conversation was equally amazing.
  • Interview with Morgan Housel. I became a fan of  Morgan Housel when I first read his incisive posts at Collaborative Fund’s blog. I have read, at least twice, every single article that he’s written in last one year. He’s perhaps one of the best investment journalists out there. His insights on investing and business are truly jaw-dropping. When I start reading his posts, I always sit tight in my chair lest the Eureka moment throws me off on the ground.

3. The Tim Ferriss Show

Before I tell you what I like about this podcast, let me be honest about two things that I don’t like in this one. First is the excessive promotional content in each episode (from financial products to undergarments) which isn’t really wrong or unethical but a big put off for a new listener. Second, a lot of episodes aren’t interviews but random ranting from Tim which kind of dilutes my original purpose of listening to a podcast i.e. being privy to a dialogue, not a monologue. So if you can get past these two small irritants then there’s quite a bit of wisdom to be gained from Tim’s show. Here are few of the episodes which I liked –

  • Interview with Derek Sivers. Sivers is a fascinating personality. He was a musician who accidentally created a multi-million dollar company called CDBaby. He later sold the company for USD 22 million and gave away the money to a trust dedicated to musicians. I loved Sivers’ book Anything You Want and go back to all his TED talks again and again. There are actually two episodes with Derek Sivers. Like Scott Adams, Sivers has spoken to James Altucher also.
  • Interview with Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal and the first investor in Facebook. Thiel has written a book called Zero to One which mind stretching insights about future. He’s a true contrarian and he starts every decision by asking, “What important truth that I know which most people disagree with me on this one.” A fascinating conversation. Thiel interviewed with James Altucher also, so do check out that episode also.

4. The James Altucher Show

James Altucher is a prolific blogger and podcaster. His podcast has already crossed 250 episodes and his guest list is pretty awesome. James’ book Choose Yourself had a profound impact on how I think and it’s a book that I recommend very frequently. Here are my picks from Altucher’s show –

  • Interview with Yuval Noah Harari who shot into limelight with his book Sapiens when it was recommended by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama, and Bill Gates. I have read Sapiens twice already and, ignoring my bias about non-narrative audiobooks, have listened to the audio version also, more than once. Harari is an outstanding thinker and a gifted writer. I challenge you that once you read Sapiens, two things will happen to you. One, you will immediately want to read it again and you won’t be able to see the world with the same eyes as you do now. His second book Homo Deus is equally fascinating.
  • Scott Adams is the creator of famous cartoon strip Dilbert. Adams’ story is a remarkable tale of series of lifelong experiments that he undertook to tilt the odds of success in his favour. He consciously pursued a strategy which eventually catapulted him to wealth and world fame. His insights on the science of persuasion are just out of this world. Scott Adams has appeared in Tim Ferriss show also. I loved Scott’s two books – How To Fail… and Win Bigly.

5. Masters In Business

Barry Ritholtz hosts this show. The archive contains more than 100 episodes but I have just started listening to this podcast.

  • The first one which I listened was a conversation with Marc Andreessen, creator of first internet browser Mosaic and founder of Netscape. Marc is also the co-founder of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. It’s was a fascinating dialogue. The breadth and depth of Marc’s knowledge about how the world works are truly remarkable.
  • Vishal shares that a few other wonderful podcasts from this series includes the ones with Ed Thorp, Howard Marks, and Michael Lewis.

A couple of Indian podcasts around investing we like are the ones from Stoic Podcast and Shyam Sekhar. Lastly, don’t miss Vishal’s recent interview on a podcast.

I use a podcast aggregation app (Podcast Addict, on Android) to subscribe to these podcasts. There are many other similar apps which you can use. I find Podcast Addict quite good because it has useful features like playback speeds (slowing down or speeding up), bookmarking, adding notes, skipping, downloading for offline consumption, creating playlists etc.

Listening to podcasts is a great way to make use of your commute/travel time especially if you use public transport or taxi. I call this mode of learning – university on wheels.

I hope you’ll try out this mode of learning and if you’ve already been doing it, I would love to know about your podcasts list.

Take care and keep learning.

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