Andrew McAfee’s role as principal research scientist at MIT Sloan and co-founder of the Initiative on the Digital Economy often finds him in conversations with technology and business leaders at conferences and speaking engagements all over the world.
Among the many topics that kept coming up: The popularity of the podcast. “It’s a communication channel that’s exploding,” McAfee said. With that in mind, he decided to start recording some of those conversations with interesting people and turn a self-described “hobby and side project” into a professionally produced podcast of his own.
The series, “Minds and Machines with Andrew McAfee,” has been in the works for more than a year. The first episode, with venture capitalist Reid Hoffman, who co-founded LinkedIn, debuted May 14. Additional interview subjects include Eric Schmidt, former Google and Alphabet executive chairman; former Major League Baseball All-Star Alex Rodriguez, now a baseball announcer and “Shark Tank” cast member; and Mary Lou Jepsen, co-founder and chief technology officer of One Laptop per Child.
McAfee said the primary goal of the podcast is to learn about what’s happening at the intersection of technology, entrepreneurship, and economics — the topics most interesting to him and relevant to his work. His conversations with Hoffman and Schmidt, for example, touched on how to succeed in Silicon Valley — but also how to succeed in a responsible and respectful way.
Podcast guests will have a few predetermined topics to discuss, but McAfee intends to let the conversation flow. Both Jepsen and Rodriguez opened up about their life experiences — Jepsen about how a lifesaving MRI in 1995 has motivated her to build portable MRI machines, and Rodriguez about what he learned while serving a suspension for the use of performance-enhancing substances.
“I want listeners to feel like they are pulling up a chair and listening to a conversation that they might not ordinarily be part of,” McAfee said. “My goal is to create a comfortable environment where … that immediacy comes through.”
The first four “Minds and Machines” podcasts range in length from 40 to 70 minutes; McAfee said future episodes will clock in at under an hour. A 2015 Microsoft study pegged the human attention span at eight seconds — one second shorter than a goldfish — but McAfee has found listeners to his podcast (and others) willing to tune in at home, at the gym, or on their commute.
Wherever the conversation goes, McAfee ends each podcast with the same set of questions: What makes guests optimistic and pessimistic about the future? And what one life hack keeps them productive and focused? (For McAfee, it’s never leaving the house without a notebook and a pen.)
“Everyone I talk to is extraordinary busy and accomplished,” he said. “I’m curious about the things they do to get their work done.”