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What Works

Author: Tara McMullin

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"Work" is broken. We're overcommitted, underutilized, and out of whack. But it doesn't have to be this way. What Works is a podcast about rethinking work, business, and leadership as we navigate the 21st-century economy. When you're an entrepreneur, independent worker, or employee who doesn't want to lose yourself to the whims of late-stage capitalism, this show is for you. 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 deep-dive analysis of how we work and how work shapes us.
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For justice-minded people, navigating the world of work in the 21st-century economy can feel... impossible. A real no-win scenario. There's a constant tension between what's good for the communities we inhabit and what's good (and necessary) for us as individuals. But it's in this tension that we find a "margin of maneuverability"—a source of hope, possibility, and creativity.That's the theme of a new book called The Myth of Making It by Samhita Mukhopadhyay, a feminist writer and editor, and the former executive editor of Teen Vogue. I sat down with Samhita to talk about the book and explore our margins of maneuverability. Footnotes:Grab your copy of The Myth of Making It by Samhita MukhopadhyayFind out more about SamhitaStar Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and more on the Kobayashi Maru in Star Trek loreThe Politics of Affect by Brian Massumi"At 20, Teen Vogue knows its readers contain multitudes" by Annie Aguiar for PoynterRelated episodes:466: Making Room for Others with Leonie Smith455: The Case for Uncertainty (and How to Navigate It)457: How to Define Hard-to-Define Work Stress450: The Will to Share Power with Tania LunaJoin me for Summer Seminar x What Works! It's an 8-week guided learning and reflection experience that provides a structure for examining your relationship with rest. Learn more and register here! ★ Support this podcast ★
Our podcast feeds and streaming services are full of real stories of real people. And not all of those stories feel... true. I mean, even if the facts are accurate, the way something is edited, packaged, and marketed can dramatically alter a story's impact.Artist and audio producer Jess Shane wanted to create a project that would expose some of the problematic elements of this booming (and highly profitable) industry. The result is a podcast series for Radiotopia Presents called Shocking, Heartbreaking, Transformative. Listening to it made me deeply uncomfortable, so I knew I needed to have her on What Works to discuss it!In this episode, you'll get the behind-the-scenes on this project. And you'll learn what happens when attention becomes a fetish.Footnotes:Listen to Shocking, Heartbreaking, Transformative from Radiotopia PresentsFind out more about Jess ShaneCurated Stories: The Uses and Misuses of Storytelling by Sujatha FernandesThe Crisis of Narration by Byung-Chul Han ★ Support this podcast ★
Okay, this isn't really an episode about speculative investing. Well, it is. But I'm not talking about crypto or meme stocks. I'm talking about the challenges of living and working as a speculative investment.Today's episode is a brief reflection on self-speculation, the "anticipatory, speculative self," and why the second person is so ubiquitous on social media. Footnotes:"Verified: Self-presentation, identity management, and selfhood in the age of big data" by Alison Hearn in Self-(Re)presentation Now"The Truth About Influence" by Alison Hearn in Re-thinking Mediations of Post-Truth Politics and TrustPsychopolitics by Byung-Chul Han"What 'You' and 'We' Say About Me" by Ariana OrvellAs always, find an essay version of today's episode at whatworks.fyi ★ Support this podcast ★
What would happen if you archived all of your Instagram content, announced that you had taken a job at a fictional wellness company, and then got fired for disclosing your experience with company-mandated colonic hydrotherapy? Well, Leigh Stein did exactly that.Leigh wears many hats—novelist, poet, cultural critic, book coach, publishing expert. And when she realized that she wasn't wearing the hat she wanted to wear on Instagram, she decided to have some fun with a satirical performance art project.Listen for the whole story and a provocation to embrace your own social media use as a project of identity performance!Footnotes:Leigh Stein's books and cultural criticismLeigh Stein on Instagram, TikTok, and SubstackGender Trouble by Judith ButlerJudith Butler on Why Is This Happening with Chris HayesSarah Urist Green on performance art for The Art AssignmentPerformance by RoseLee Goldberg"From Work to Text" by Roland BarthesRuPaul explaining drag on The PreachersAlso in this series:Organizing Indie Labor with Chiarra Lohr of the Indie Sellers GuildFiguring Out the Creator Economy with Charlie Gilkey & Kate TysonBuilding Solidarity in the Creator Economy with Charlie Gilkey & Kate TysonRethinking Creativity: An InterludeFind an essay version of this episode at whatworks.fyi***I'm teaching a new workshop on May 15 & 16, 2024! It's called World-Building for Business Owners, and it's based on a process I've been honing for more than a decade. I'll help you apply creative, even playful thinking to your business strategy—and help you create an internally consistent business that causes fewer headaches, meets your needs more efficiently, plays to your strengths, and creates satisfying work.Click here for all the details or go to explorewhatworks.com/world ★ Support this podcast ★
Good luck going anywhere today without running into a message about creativity.I was going to say, "anywhere online," but really, it's just about anywhere. We get creative in the kitchen. Creative in our workouts. Creative in bed. And of course, creative at work. Creativity is somewhat of a "cult object," as Samuel Franklin put it in his cultural history of creativity.Today, I want to get uncomfortably close to that cult object and ask, "What is our fascination with creativity hiding?" So join me as I venture onto the third rail of the 21st-century economy.Footnotes:The Cult of Creativity: A Surprisingly Recent History by Samuel W. Franklin"The Surprising Origins of Our Obsession with Creativity" by Samuel W. Franklin in Behavioral Scientist"The Origins of Creativity" by Louis Menard (book review) in The New YorkerCapitalist Realism by Mark FisherAlso in this series:Organizing Indie Labor with Chiarra Lohr of the Indie Sellers GuildFiguring Out the Creator Economy with Charlie Gilkey & Kate TysonBuilding Solidarity in the Creator Economy with Charlie Gilkey & Kate TysonFind an essay version of this episode at whatworks.fyi***I'm teaching a new workshop on May 15 & 16, 2024! It's called World-Building for Business Owners, and it's based on a process I've been honing for more than a decade. I'll help you apply creative, even playful thinking to your business strategy—and help you create an internally consistent business that causes fewer headaches, meets your needs more efficiently, plays to your strengths, and creates satisfying work.Click here for all the details or go to explorewhatworks.com/world***If you enjoy What Works, please consider supporting this work by becoming a premium subscriber for just $7 per month. ★ Support this podcast ★
I'm teaching a new workshop on May 15 & 16, 2024! It's called World-Building for Business Owners, and it's based on a process I've been honing for more than a decade. I'll help you apply creative, even playful thinking to your business strategy—and help you create an internally consistent business that causes fewer headaches, meets your needs more efficiently, plays to your strengths, and creates satisfying work.Click here for all the details or go to explorewhatworks.com/world ★ Support this podcast ★
"How do I want to live?" Philosopher Rahel Jaeggi says this question is bound up in the concept of alienation. Our disconnection and dissatisfaction keep us from answering that question—but they also keep us from asking it in the first place.So in this episode, Kate, Charlie, and I ask that question—and five more. We examine how work in the creator economy can reinforce competition and individualism when what we really need is solidarity and collective action. If you're curious what you can do to join with others for your own success and theirs, this episode has some ideas.Footnotes:Kate Tyson: Whiskey Fridays (podcast), Wanderings (on Substack) and Wanderwell ConsultingCharlie Gilkey: Productive Flourishing and Better Team Habits"What the creator economy promises and what it actually does" by Kyla Chayka in The New Yorker"Surplus populations are all around us" by Tara McMullinAlienation by Rahel Jaeggi"Metrics, Incentives, and the Seduction of Clarity" by Tara McMullinCasey Newton on Decoder with Nilay Patel"Algorithms at Work" (algoactivism) by Katherine Kellogg, Melissa Valentine, and Angéle ChristinAs always, find an essay version of today's episode at whatworks.fyiAnd speaking of the creator economy, if you appreciate the work I do, I'd be so grateful if you became a premium subscriber of What Works for just $7/month. Your support makes a world of difference when it comes to my ability to do this work. ★ Support this podcast ★
It seems the creator economy is booming. Or is it?And what even is the creator economy??Platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and TechTalk are quite happy to advertise the ways they support creators with features and advice. Their aspirational creator hubs give the distinct impression that becoming a creator is akin to getting paid to be yourself.But that said, when Kate Tyson told me that she doesn’t think the creator economy should exist but that she couldn’t put that in writing, I told her she was wrong—about not being able to put that in writing. Turns out, our mutual friend Charlie Gilkey had told her the same thing. So I arranged a meeting of the minds.Today's episode is Part 1 of 2 of that conversation. We get into who a creator is, how the creator economy really works, why we value what we value, and how platforms distort the market for our creative work.Footnotes:Kate Tyson: Whiskey Fridays (podcast), Wanderings (on Substack) and Wanderwell ConsultingCharlie Gilkey: Productive Flourishing and Better Team Habits"Millions work as content creators. In official records, they barely exist." by Taylor Lorenz and Drew Harwell on The Washington Post"Digital sharecropping" by Nicholas Carr"Preferential attachment" via Wikipedia"You Gotta Be in it to Win It" by Collin BrookeCapital Is Dead: Is This Something Worse? by McKenzie Wark"'Wait, I think you're platform-pilled'" by Tara McMullinCory Doctorow on 'enshittification' and platforms being 'too big to care'The Twittering Machine by Richard Seymour ★ Support this podcast ★
The labor market has undergone a sea change in the last 20 years. A full third of US workers are part of the independent workforce, including gig workers, contract workers, freelancers, and sole proprietors. And yet, key provisions in our labor regulations do not cover independent workers.What's more, platform companies have further changed our idea of work. If you sell your labor on a platform, you're not an employee of the platform—you're an entrepreneur.Well, those entrepreneurs are starting to ask questions. I am, too.Today's episode examines one organization's attempt to organize the indie workforce. The Indie Sellers Guild formed in the wake of a strike action in April 2022 by 30,000 Etsy sellers. I spoke with executive director Chiarra Lohr about what they've been up to, the challenges they face, and the victories they've already celebrated.Plus, you'll learn a bit about the history of working women's organizing in the US—starting back in the 1830s!Footnotes:Learn more about the Indie Sellers GuildWhat Works Ep 385: "Who do you work for?"The Lowell Offering by Benita EislerThe Voice of Industry digital archive"History & Culture" — Lowell National Historical ParkPlatform Capitalism by Nick SrincekMonopsony 101 via InvestopediaNational Labor Relations Act of 1935Check out the Indie Sellers Guild Convention ★ Support this podcast ★
The Center for Nonviolent Communication describes what they teach as "empathy in action." And so it seems fitting to close out this series on Decoding Empathy with a look at nonviolence, Nonviolent Communication, and making social spaces at work & beyond that work for more people. I talked with Leonie Smith, founder of The Thoughtful Workplace, about how she uses the tools and practices of nonviolence to help individuals and teams feel more seen and understood.Footnotes:Find out more about Leonie Smith and The Thoughtful WorkplaceWatch the Ask Leonie video seriesThe Expulsion of the Other by Byung-Chul Han"Ahimsa" on WikipediaThe Center for Nonviolent Communication"The 'Magic' of Meeting in Person" by Devon PriceThe Notebooks of Simone Weil edited and translated by Arthur WillsRelated:My conversation with Mara Glatzel on the economics of "neediness"My conversation with Charlie Gilkey about implied rules and better team habitsCheck out the full Decoding Empathy series!Every episode of What Works is also released in essay form at whatworks.fyi! ★ Support this podcast ★
I have learned a lot about cognitive empathy by learning copywriting. After all, copywriting is a puzzle—the puzzle of figuring out what someone is thinking or feeling and how you can connect your idea to that thought or feeling. So, it seemed only fitting that I would invite a copywriter to this series on decoding empathy to share her process and give you a behind-the-scenes look at cognitive empathy in practical application. In this episode, I get real nerdy with Samantha Pollack, a positioning strategist and copywriter, and think about how the digital doppelgangers we create via our personal brands might help us get curious about who is behind others' digital doppelgangers. Footnotes:Find out more about Samantha Pollack and Cult of PersonalityDoppelganger by Naomi Klein"The Politics of Recognition" by Charles Taylor in MulticulturalismFind every essay and episode in the Decoding Empathy series.Every episode of What Works is also released in essay form at whatworks.fyi! ★ Support this podcast ★
Typically, the question of accessibility online is considered in technical terms: How does this website need to be designed? What ALT text is appropriate for this image? Are captions available for this video? And obviously, knowing the technical aspects of accessibility is important.But if accessibility stops at the technical requirements, we forget that there are people on the other side of those checklists and manuals. We forget that even the most rigorous checklist can’t account for everyone and their experiences. We forget to ask critical questions that seem obvious when it comes to a backstage pass but are readily dismissed when it comes to most other social spaces.In the 3rd episode of my 5-part series on Decoding Empathy, I talk with Erin Perkins, an accessibility educator and the founder of MabelyQ, and draw on the work of disability studies scholar Tanya Titchkosky to theorize the overlap between access and empathy—and what it means for you.Footnotes:Learn more about Erin Perkins and MabelyQThe Question of Access by Tanya TitchkoskyImpact of post-COVID symptoms on US adults via the CDCWC3's Web Accessibility Initiative tips for online content"Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis as biographical illumination" by Catherine Tan"Coming Out Disabled" by Tanya TitchkoskyEvery episode of What Works is also available in essay form at whatworks.fyi What Works is funded by readers and listeners. To help support this work, upgrade to a premium subscription for just $7 per month. ★ Support this podcast ★
How do you get seen in a world that doesn't see you? How do you get recognized when so many systems are designed to keep you unrecognized? Those are the questions at the heart of today's episode. In the 2nd episode in my 5-part series on decoding empathy, I talk with behavioral scientist and brand strategist N. Chloé Nwangwu about how she helps underrecognized people "emerge from the margins" and get noticed.Footnotes:Find out more about Chloé Nwangwu and Nobi WorksSister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre LordeThe Question of Access by Tanya Titchkosky"Why We Should Stop Saying Underrepresented" by Chloé Nwangwu on HBR"Racial attention deficit" by Sheen Levine, et al"Forget the ambition gap, it's the ‘ambition penalty’ that's really holding women back at work" by Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez on GlamourSpeech by Angela Bassett Every episode of What Works is also available in essay form at whatworks.fyi What Works is funded by readers and listeners. To help support this work, upgrade to a premium subscription for just $7 per month. ★ Support this podcast ★
Today, we peel back the layers of a term that's become ubiquitous in the business world and beyond: empathy. In this episode, empathy's origin story. Er, stories. We'll explore its philosophical roots deep in the 19th century, through my personal trials and errors with empathy, to some of the challenges we face in empathizing with people we have less in common with. Ultimately, I want to explore the ways empathy invites curiosity, leverages imagination, and recognizes our differences.This is the first in a 5-part series in which I'm decoding empathy. We'll talk brand strategy, non-violent communication, disability, and copywriting. And all throughout the series, we'll look for ways to recognize difference instead of assuming sameness.Footnotes:"Build Your Creative Confidence: Empathy Maps" via IDEOBewilderment by Richard Powers"Double empathy, explained" by Rachel Zamzow "On the Ontological Status of Autism: the 'double empathy' problem" by Damian Milton"Don't Mourn for Us" by Jim SinclairEmpathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives by Amy Coplan and Peter GoldieWaiting for God by Simone WeilNot Mentioned:Anderson, Ellie , and David Peña-Guzmán. 2020. “Episode 07: What’s the Deal with Empathy?” Overthink Podcast. December 1, 2020. Ganczarek, J., Hünefeldt, T., & Olivetti Belardinelli, M. (2018). From "Einfühlung" to empathy: exploring the relationship between aesthetic and interpersonal experience. Cognitive processing, 19(2), 141–145. Every episode of What Works is also published in essay form at whatworks.fyiIf you love deep dives like this series, please consider becoming a premium subscriber. You get access to my premium columns, quarterly live workshops, and discussion thread. Visit: whatworks.fyi/subscribe ★ Support this podcast ★
Are you waiting for a glorious day with your system, plan, or business just work? I hate to tell you this—but you will be waiting a long time.Plans, systems, and businesses evolve. Change isn't a bad thing—it's the only thing.In today's edition of This is Not Advice, I share how I recently coached Sean through a run-in with process entropy and process evolution.To get the full essay or episode, visit: https://www.whatworks.fyi/p/process-entropy-and-process-evolution ★ Support this podcast ★
EP 461: My Nemesis

EP 461: My Nemesis

2024-02-1521:43

Our beliefs leave an indelible mark on how we interact with others and our environment. Even when those beliefs aren't conscious. Beliefs about quality of life are a whole other can of worms. Who gets to decide the relative quality of a life? Or what lives are worth living? And how do our beliefs about quality of life and worthiness impact the way interact with others and the way we treat ourselves?In this episode, I reflect on how my beliefs about quality of life were influenced by my favorite Star Trek character, Data. I discuss technoableism, narratives of overcoming, and the unnecessary self-judgment we can put ourselves through on the path to becoming like everyone else.Footnotes:Rethink Work: An 8-week cohort-based courseStar Trek: NemesisAgainst Technoableism by Ashley Shew"Valuing Disability, Causing Disability" by Elizabeth BarnesMore on "narratives of overcoming" in my book, What WorksIf you're a sci-fi nerd like me, check out my limited podcast, Strange New Work, wherever you listen to podcasts!All new episodes of What Works are available in written essay form at whatworks.fyi***If you’re questioning your relationship to work but finding it difficult to make lasting changes, I’d love to help.I’m committed to helping you confront and deconstruct big assumptions that compete with your good intentions. And that’s exactly what we’re doing in my new 8-week cohort-based course, Rethink Work.We’ll examine the beliefs, stories, and systems that keep us hustling—even when it hurts—so you can make changes that last and create a more sustainable approach to work. ★ Support this podcast ★
The proliferation of derivative nonsense on various social media platforms begs the question: Is it possible to make a TikTok video, Instagram post, or LinkedIn update that's remarkable? Is it possible for repetition to be an asset? For repetition to even be remarkable?In this episode, I take a deep dive into gimmicks—the formulaic and repetitive media that can help us think in new ways. Specifically, I'm looking at Frankie's Cultural Observations. If you don't know the series, I'm delighted to share it with you today!This is the 3rd in my series, What Makes This Remarkable, where I break down remarkable content I come across to give you new perspectives on your own work (creative or otherwise). Premium subscribers also get "Remarkable Homework"—prompts for thinking differently about your projects—and the chance to ask questions or discuss that week's lessons. Upgrade your subscription to join in!Footnotes:What Makes This Remarkable (60 Songs That Explain the '90s, Savior Complex)Frankie's Cultural Observations on YouTube"Observing Frankie McNamara's Observations" by Brandon Tauczik in Paper MagazineSandwiches of History on YouTubeGirl with the Dogs on YouTubeWorking definition for the gimmick as a medium: A gimmick is a nonsequential series of works that utilize a novel scheme, angle, or device to explore a network of ideas."Why Write In Form?" by Rebecca Hazelton via The Poetry FoundationAmusing Ourselves to Death by Neil PostmanHyperculture by Byung-Chul HanTed Nelson & "intertwingularity"The Cluetrain ManifestoAll new episodes are available in written essay form at whatworks.fyi***If you’re questioning your relationship to work but finding it difficult to make lasting changes, I’d love to help.I’m committed to helping you confront and deconstruct big assumptions that compete with your good intentions. And that’s exactly what we’re doing in my new 8-week cohort-based course, Rethink Work.We’ll examine the beliefs, stories, and systems that keep us hustling—even when it hurts—so you can make changes that last and create a more sustainable approach to work. ★ Support this podcast ★
Last week, Vox published an article by internet culture reporter Rebecca Jennings about how everybody needs to be a self-promoter now—and we all hate it. Then, I read a response by writer and book coach Leigh Stein, who was quoted in the Vox piece, in which she admitted to actually enjoying creating her social media content. Stein said that she was considerably more optimistic about the state of things than Jennings article was.I found the exchange fascinating. I find it hard to disagree with either of their perspectives! And Stein wasn't really disagreeing with Jennings either—which left me with one thought: I don't think we're talking about the same things here.So I resurrected an old piece from July 2021 that made the case I wanted to make—that self-promotion sucks and is contentless, but that self-promotion is not the only mode for creating content that gets the job done on social media—and updated it for today's social media moment. This episode has my response to both Jennings's and Stein's articles, as well as a description of how enshittification doesn't only apply to platforms but to creators, too. And then, I share the 3 Rs of Digital Content.Footnotes:"Everyone's a sell-out now" by Rebecca Jennings on Vox"who told you it would be easy?" by Leigh Stein on The Attention Economy"autofanfic" by Leigh Stein on The Attention Economy"The 'Enshittification' of TikTok" by Cory Doctorow on Wired"Always On: The Hidden Labor We Do Everyday" by Tara McMullin on What Works"To Quit or Not to Quit Social Media" by Tara McMullin on What Works"Revisiting Remarkable Content to Consider Digital Ecology" by Tara McMullin on What WorksAll new episodes are available in written essay form at whatworks.fyi***If you’re questioning your relationship to work but finding it difficult to make lasting changes, I’d love to help.I’m committed to helping you confront and deconstruct big assumptions that compete with your good intentions. And that’s exactly what we’re doing in my new 8-week cohort-based course, Rethink Work.We’ll examine the beliefs, stories, and systems that keep us hustling—even when it hurts—so you can make changes that last and create a more sustainable approach to work. ★ Support this podcast ★
Layers. Unless we're talking about cake, you can have too many layers. In today's episode, I share a recent metaphorical revelation I had about sound and sensory sensitivity. And then, I introduce you to a different way of thinking about stress that can help you identify better ways to manage it.Footnotes:Rethink Work: an 8-week cohort-based courseThe Highly Sensitive Brain by Bianca AcevedoStress: A Brief History by Cary Cooper & Philip DeweStress, Appraisal, and Coping by Richard Lazarus and Susan FolkmanEvery episode of What Works is also published in essay form at whatworks.fyi! ★ Support this podcast ★
So, you're stressed. Or work feels intense. Or you're putting more energy than you should into manifesting a day with "no surprises."But why? Even if you're not working on an especially challenging project or hustling to get in under a deadline, the work we do can be stressful in a sort of ambient and ambiguous way. And we might downplay that stress because, hey, aren't we just lucky to have a cool job like this?When we think about work, we're often dealing with an outdated metaphor—The Factory. But if you work in a creative, knowledge-based, service, or caring field, that metaphor doesn't have as much to offer as we think it does, especially when it comes to understanding work stress.Today's episode offers a way to rethink the ways your work can be stressful so you can rethink the resources you need to feel better and do more remarkable work.Footnotes:Rethink Work, an 8-week cohort-based course"Sources of intensity in work organizations" by Armand Hatchuel in Creating Sustainable Work Systems (1st ed)Every episode of What Works is also published in essay form at whatworks.fyi! ★ Support this podcast ★
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