How can technology transform the way we do business? What kind of forces are at play now that technology is intimately involved in everything we do? For over two decades, Dr. David Alan Grier, associate professor in the Center for International Science & Technology Policy in the Elliott School and Dr. Tamara Carleton, CCAS BA ’98, CEO and founder of Innovation Leadership Board LLC, have maintained an ongoing discourse about the deeper implications of technology and the role it plays inside organizations.
“Tamara and I have been in contact, off and on, ever since she graduated,” says David. “She was the ringleader of a group of students that met in my office to discuss ideas and things we were reading.” For years afterward, David and Tamara kept the conversation going via email and over an occasional cup of coffee when Tamara’s research brought her back to the D.C. area. Over time, they both felt drawn to sharing their ideas with a wider audience.
After toying with multiple platforms, in June of 2015, David and Tamara launched a weekly podcast titled How We Manage Stuff. A quirky mashup of TechCrunch-style reporting and the offbeat humor of the Daily Show, How We Manage Stuff asks questions, poses answers, and otherwise explores how technology intersects work and life.
“In the early podcasts, scripting was rough,” Tamara recalls. “It was difficult to keep the flow going. But we became more comfortable, more sophisticated. We created a voice and added audio effects and music.” One early show featured the concept of “lean and agile,” after which the developing series began to incorporate some of the same practices. “We experimented with new software and we added a number of cast members,” says Tamara, “but the show still kept its original spirit and lighthearted approach to bringing awareness of how technology impacts peoples’ lives.”
Listeners skew toward a younger crowd—under 40—and are mostly involved in businesses that use technology. The audience is about 60 percent female, which is unusual for a technical podcast, and the majority of listeners live in or around big cities.
“The podcast is targeted at people who use hi-tech in business,” says David. “We are asking them to think about technology in a deeper way.” According to David, we live in a period of disruptive innovation, where companies try to develop technologies that have never been thought of before. “But disruption is not always good,” says David. Rather, multiple episodes take a closer look at how technology can be used better, and not necessarily in breakthrough ways that upend an entire system. “Many of the GW alumni who have heard the podcast have said it’s like being back in class,” he says. “Sometimes we can be pretty earnest about teaching, assessing goals, coming up with strategies, but we also recognize that learning can come from absurdity, too.”
To that end, How We Manage Stuff incorporates a cast of characters (played by actors) who blunder their way through work and technology-related issues by inadvertently demonstrating how NOT to do things.
For starters, meet Anna, the executive intern, convinced that all it takes to be a leader is character. (And don’t bother trying to tell Anna how to do anything—she already knows!) Then there’s Rohit, who believes technology is the solution to everything. Next, there’s Vinny, the CTO who hit it big in the 90s on “a piece of software that no one remembers.” And everybody loves Maddie, the 8-year-old entrepreneur who barely takes a breath when she talks: “I had a startup last year with Chloe, who was my best friend, but she’s not my best friend anymore because she’s Caitlyn’s best friend, so she can’t be in my startup.”
Humor aside, David and Tamara bring years of research and a deep knowledge to the exploration of how technology impacts organizations and the people in them, and they continually challenge listeners to think about technology from a fresh perspective. “I see a lot of students coming back for master’s degrees in science and technology policy because they are involved in managing technology and don’t know much about the technological ecosystem,” says David. “In some ways, this podcast is geared for people like them.”
David encourages all alumni to tune in, if for no other reason than to engage with GW beyond the college experience, outside of Foggy Bottom. According to David, the content can help anyone deal better with the world of technology. “It helps you to think about yourself, your job, and your organization better,” he says.
And to keep it entertaining, the hosts never take themselves too seriously.
“Part of what makes it fun is that the podcast is not overly formalized,” says Tamara. “It’s an open exploration. We started a year ago, and we definitely see it going another year, but perhaps in a different format. We’re always looking for newer and smarter ways to bring ideas to folks who can benefit from this knowledge.” In other words, the conversation that began in a professor’s office at GW over 20 years ago will continue to evolve, and will most likely carry on for a long, long time.
How We Manage Stuff is available at the iTunes Store and Google Play, or you can go to www.howwemanagestuff.com.