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What Works

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It's easy to lose your way in the 21st-century economy. The world of work and business is changing so rapidly that you might start focusing more on how to keep up than how to live a meaningful life. What Works is a podcast for entrepreneurs, independent workers, and employees who don't want to lose themselves to the whims of late-stage capitalism. Host Tara McMullin covers money, management, culture, media, philosophy, and more to figure out what's working (and what's not) today. Tara offers a … Continue Reading >>
It's easy to lose your way in the 21st-century economy. The world of work and business is changing so rapidly that you might start focusing more on how to keep up than how to live a meaningful life. What Works is a podcast for entrepreneurs, independent workers, and employees who don't want to lose themselves to the whims of late-stage capitalism. Host Tara McMullin covers money, management, culture, media, philosophy, and more to figure out what's working (and what's not) today. Tara offers a distinctly interdisciplinary approach to the discourse around business, work, and personal growth. << Show Less
Featured Audio
EP 391: How do human decisions shape the economy? with Stacey Vanek Smith The economy seems like a monolithic entity we measure, manage, and adapt to. But really, economics (as a field) and the economy (as a system) is really just an agglomeration of human decisions. What’s in? What’s out? What’s up? What’s down? And most importantly: Why? In this episode, I talk with Stacey Vanek Smith, a co-host of NPR’s The Indicator from Planet Money and this summer’s guide for Planet Money Summer School. We talk about how someone with no economics background can get so obsessed, how the economy is a profoundly human system, and, of course, inflation.Footnotes:
Planet Money Summer School
“GDP & What Counts” (Summer School 2)
“Why is the Fed so boring?”
The Indicator from Planet Money
More about Stacey Vanek Smith
Episodes of What Works are published as articles every Thursday. Get them delivered straight to your inbox at explorewhatworks.com/weekly Leave a review, browse old episodes, or leave a voicemail at whatworkspodcast.com Pre-order What Works: A Comprehensive Framework to Change the Way We Approach Goal-Setting at explorewhatworks.com/book Radically rethink how you set goals: pre-order Tara's new book, What Works: A Comprehensive Framework to Change the Way We Approach Goal-Setting. Find it anywhere books are sold or at explorewhatworks.com/book.★ Support this podcast ★
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EP 391: How do human decisions shape the economy? with Stacey Vanek Smith The economy seems like a monolithic entity we measure, manage, and adapt to. But really, economics (as a field) and the economy (as a system) is really just an agglomeration of human decisions. What’s in? What’s out? What’s up? What’s down? And most importantly: Why? In this episode, I talk with Stacey Vanek Smith, a co-host of NPR’s The Indicator from Planet Money and this summer’s guide for Planet Money Summer School. We talk about how someone with no economics background can get so obsessed, how the economy is a profoundly human system, and, of course, inflation.Footnotes:
Planet Money Summer School
“GDP & What Counts” (Summer School 2)
“Why is the Fed so boring?”
The Indicator from Planet Money
More about Stacey Vanek Smith
Episodes of What Works are published as articles every Thursday. Get them delivered straight to your inbox at explorewhatworks.com/weekly Leave a review, browse old episodes, or leave a voicemail at whatworkspodcast.com Pre-order What Works: A Comprehensive Framework to Change the Way We Approach Goal-Setting at explorewhatworks.com/book Radically rethink how you set goals: pre-order Tara's new book, What Works: A Comprehensive Framework to Change the Way We Approach Goal-Setting. Find it anywhere books are sold or at explorewhatworks.com/book.★ Support this podcast ★
THE BOOK: Do your Big-G Goals Serve You? What’s a Big-G Goal? Well, those are the kind of milestone targets we set. At that time, my Big G Goals were about how many new members I could enroll or what kind of stages I could speak on. At another time in my life, writing a book was a Big G Goal of mine. And before that, completing a Ph.D. was my Big G Goal. They’re the kind of goals that make you feel validated for about 24 hours after you achieve them—or make you feel like a failure if you don’t.Well, "a failure" was exactly what I felt like. So I went back to the drawing board. I wiped the slate so clean that I started to question whether Big-G Goals were helping me make my life better or whether they were simply squeezing me into stories someone else was telling.My new book, What Works: A Comprehensive Framework to Change the Way We Approach Goal-Setting, arrives on November 1. But you can pre-order wherever you buy books: explorewhatworks.com/bookMy guess is that, as a listener of this podcast, you’re interested in approaching life and work in new ways. You think critically about the shoulds and supposed-tos you grew up with. You notice how it always seems to be “up to you” to fix yourself, rather than questioning whether you’re broken at all.You question conventional ideas of success and achievement. You notice when conventional wisdom starts to infringe on your values.This book is for you.I can guarantee you that it’s different than any other book on goal-setting—because it’s not really about goal-setting at all. It’s not a thinly veiled pep talk. It’s not about turning structural problems into your personal to-do list.What Works will change the way you think about goal-setting—but it will also change the story you live in. Life and work don’t have to be structured around the next achievement or milestone.What Works will help you take on the big questions that bubble under the surface of most advice on success and productivity—the philosophical, cultural, and political discourses that unconsciously shape how we think.But in the end, What Works will also offer you a practical framework you can use to discover what works for you.Pre-Order What Works today!★ Support this podcast ★
EP 390: Context Clues: Is a recession inevitable? How do you prepare your small business for economic ups and downs? Is a recession inevitable? And what even is a recession? In this episode, unpack why the economy cycles through periods of boom and bust. I also demonstrate how a similar cycle is at play in the online business space. And I offer some strategies for making sustainable business decisions—no matter what happens with the economy.Footnotes:
Gates of the Arctic National Park
Caribou population cycles

Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Sea by Bathsheba Demuth
Beargrass
Mast fruiting

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
“Are recessions normal?” on Make Me Smart


Economic cycles on Investopedia


Spotted lanternfly and tree of heaven

Timothy Snyder on the Ezra Klein Show
“The best of all possible worlds” from Candide

A history of recessions in the 20th and 21st centuries
Rana Foroohar on the Ezra Klein Show
Article versions of episodes are posted at explorewhatworks.com every Thursday. To get those articles delivered straight to you, free of charge, go to explorewhatworks.com/weeklyHave a question about an episode of What Works? Is there something you've noticed online, in the news, or in your business that you're curious about? Go to zipmessage.com/whatworks! Leave me a message, and I'll try to respond in a future episode!★ Support this podcast ★
EP 389: Context Clues: Does everyone need a personal brand? Personal brand development is now a mainstay of college career preparation. Young social media influencers are well-versed on the language of personal branding. It seems cultivating your personal brand is a prerequisite for navigating the 21st-century economy. Public image has a long history, of course. But how has our relationship with ourselves changed since we started to put so much effort into emphasizing the most marketable parts of our identities? This episode tackles the history of personal branding, the labor of self-branding, and why so much value is being created in the “social factory.”Footnotes:

“Sentimental ‘Greenbacks’ of Civilization”: Cartes de Visite and the Pre-History of Self-Branding by Alison Hearn (The Routledge Companion to Advertising and Promotional Culture)
“Cartes de Visite,” Art Gallery of New South Wales (YouTube)

The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act by Isaac Butler
“Meat, Mask, Burden: Probing the Contours of the Branded Self” by Alison Hearn (Journal of Consumer Culture)


The Anti-Capitalist Chronicles by David Harvey

EP.385: Who do you work for? on What Works

Connect with Tyler McCall on Twitter

“On the internet, we’re always famous” by Chris Hayes (The New Yorker)
“The Problem with Personal Brands and the Labor of Authenticity” by Tara McMullin
Essay versions of each episode are available every Thursday at explorewhatworks.com. To get them delivered straight to your inbox, sign up free at explorewhatworks.com/weekly★ Support this podcast ★
EP 388: Extra Context: Not Getting Paid “You could make money with that!” That’s probably the first thing you hear when someone discovers you’re an excellent baker, or designer, or potter. Even if your hobby is collecting super hero figurines, someone has probably suggesting “monetizing” that interest. There is all sorts of historical, economic, and sociological context for this. But in this episode, I talk with someone who typifies not getting paid for what you love to do: my husband, Sean McMullin. You’ll hear how Sean’s extended family in Utah and Montana, as well as his time living in an Iñupiat village in rural Alaska, shaped how he thinks about work he doesn’t get paid for.



Footnotes:



* More about the Iñupiat people* “I grew up in a church led by a prophet” by Meg Conley* YellowHouse.Media* Sean McMullin on Instagram



Essay versions of each episode are published every Thursday at explorewhatworks.com. Get the delivered straight to you by signing up at explorewhatworks.com/weekly
EP 387: Context Clues: Is there hope beyond positive thinking? “Positive thinking” comes in many forms: New Thought, the prosperity gospel, manifestation teaching, self-help guides, and more. It’s hard to argue with thinking positive thoughts! But when positive thoughts become a substitute for curiosity and inquiry about real challenges, positive thinking can lead us away from real solutions. In this episode, I explore my own encounters with the world of positive thinking and how facing reality has actually given me more hope.



Footnotes:



* More about Mary Baker Eddy* More about Ernest Holmes and The Science of Mind* More about Norman Vincent Peale* The Power of Positive Thinking* Mary Kay Ash on YouTube* Confidence Culture by Shani Orgad and Rosalind Gill* Rhonda Byrne on YouTube* “Farm-To-Table: Reciprocity in Every Seam” (Christy Dawn ad)* “Manifestation, eugenics, and flower oil” by Meg Conley* Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell* At The Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Bakewell* Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit



Essay versions of each episode are available at explorewhatworks.com each Thursday. Get them delivered straight to you by signing up at explorewhatworks.com/weekly
EP 386: Extra Context: Getting Paid Who doesn’t love to get paid? So we’re going to talk about how that actually happens. Not the dollars and cents of getting paid, but the form and structure. In the previous two episodes, we examined our relationships to work—both paid and unpaid. And it got me thinking about how we actually account for the ways paid work, well, pays—and especially how that impacts business owners and independent workers. I’m talking the difference between wages and profit, how surplus labor creates profit, and specifically how I structure my own pay in order to have a better perspective on my work.



Footnotes:



* Surplus Labor in Radical Economics* Karl Marx via The School of Life* “The ‘Cult’ of Passive Income” via Tiffany Ferguson
EP 385: Context Clues: Who do you work for? It seems like every business owner or freelancer I know wants to quit social media. But very few people are actually doing it. It seems easier to imagine the end of your business than the end of social media, to paraphrase Mark Fisher. There’s something about our relationship to social platforms that makes them feel inescapable. And, perhaps without even noticing, it’s started to see like we’re working for them more than working for ourselves. In this episode, I unpack our relationship to platforms and who profits from our labor. And it starts in an unusual place: the recent Etsy strike.



Footnotes:



* “Etsy sellers will go on strike in April and ask customers to boycott” on The Verge* “Why Etsy sellers are going on strike” on Yahoo Finance* “16,000 shops join Etsy strike” via KERO* Rob Kalin speaking to the World Economic Forum* Mark Zuckerberg testifying before the House Energy & Commerce Committee* “How Facebook (Meta), Twitter, social media make money from you” via Investopedia* Tyler McCall on Instagram and Twitter
EP 384: Context Clues: Do you love your work? I grew up expecting to love what I did for a living. I was encouraged to choose a career that I was passionate about. But when I did, I bumped up against the stark reality that work I loved didn’t pay the bills. At least not in any straightforward way. In this episode, I explore the context of “doing what you love” and how it shapes the way we build our businesses or careers today.



Footnotes:



* Analysis of wages during the 90s (BLS)* Eupsychian Management by Abraham Maslow* Target Commercial: “Come in for workout gear, leave feeling empowered.”* Dan Olsen on The Ezra Klein Show* The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord* “The Passion Paradigm: Professional Adherence to and Consequences of the Ideology of ‘Do What You Love’” by Lindsay DePalma* “Down with Love: Feminist Critique and the New Ideologies of Work” by Kathi Weeks* Work Won’t Love You Back by Sarah Jaffe* More about Lou Blaser and Midlife Cues* “To My Brothers and Sisters In The Failure Business” by Seymour Krim* Works Progress Administration
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