Inspiring Things to Read, Follow, Watch and Listen


I was recently listening to a podcast where Harvey Brofman, healthcare entrepreneur turned angel investor, emphasized how important it is to step back and get some perspective when you’re in the trenches. It’s a good reminder for everyone, whether you’re grinding away on a new federal rulemaking process or into year three of planning for a new transportation system in your city. Taking a step back to gain some perspective can many times lead to clearer thinking or better ideas – just ask Archimedes or John Lennon. More broadly, this kind of perspective is essential to both personal and professional development.

Practically, the best way to gain some perspective is to pursue lots of different subjects that interest you. If you’re a government employee, that means you shouldn’t only read blogs about government. We’re huge proponents of learning from your peers, but there is also a lot to be learned from people in other industries and sectors. And that’s the thing about stepping back…you never know what’s going to inspire you or what relevant tidbit you’re going to learn. Side benefit: lots of interesting things to talk about at parties.

Since we’re wrapping up here on Govloop, we figured it was worth taking a moment to share some of the sources that inspire us to live fuller, richer and more fulfilling professional and personal lives.

For personal & career development:

  • Harvard Business Review: It’s easy to go down – almost always – productive rabbit holes.
  • TED talk by Simon Sinek, “How great leaders inspire action.”
  • Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!” TED talk by Ernesto Sirolli
  • Happier with Gretchen Rubin, a podcast with practical tips for making yourself happier in your daily life
  • Self-help books get a bad rep, but these books have really helped us better understand ourselves, our goals and how to achieve them:
    • Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World by Donald Sull
    • How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton Christensen
    • Escape from Cubicle Nation by Pamela Slim
    • Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin
    • Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff
    • An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

On human psychology because there’s no better way to understand others, including your colleagues, than through psychology:

  • Emotions Revealed by Paul Ekman for a primer on human emotions and associated facial expressions and body language – excellent for anyone who wants to become a better listener
  • The podcasts You are Not So Smart and Hidden Brain – both about hidden bias and how it affects decision-making
  • Freakonomics Radio sits at the intersection of psychology, decision-making and economics – so interesting!

On innovation:

  • Medium is a great place to get lost in once a week because it always has good content. Our favorite publications on innovation are Re:invent, How to Get to Next and CitySpeak.
  • @ImpactAlpha, @stephenshapiro, @timkastelle, @Digitaltonto are great accounts to follow on Twitter. They regularly share ideas about how to embrace innovation to improve your life and your world. Lofty, I know, but also a great pick-me-up. Also, follow @tomfishburne for a little entertainment.
  • Adam Grant’s new book The Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World is a really thought-provoking read that draws on stories from business, politics, sports and entertainment to give advice on both how to recognize and act on a good idea.
  • The podcast Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders

Because we love learning about cities and how policy issues impact our everyday lives:

And for the sake of casting a wide net:

  • Podcasts like NPR Morning Edition and TED Radio Hour are great for understanding the world we live in.
  • We love watching livestreamed debates on Intelligence Squared Debates or listening to podcast debates on The More Perfect Union. Both are helpful reminders that on any policy issue there are two sides to every story, and it’s important to hear them both.
  • Literally any TED talk by Hans Rosling. Not only is he entertaining, but his approach to making data actionable is really important for anyone dealing with big problems – like most government employees.

Finally, our favorite, completely un-work-related reads of the last eight months:

  • Essays: Letters from Leaders by Henry O. Dormann
  • Science Fiction/Fantasy: Dune by Frank Herbert, Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
  • Fiction: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, Sunflowers by Sheramy Bundrick, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, Circling the Sun by Paula McLain, The Alice Network by Kate Quinn and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
  • Nonfiction: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, The Originals by Adam Grant, A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypotheticals by Randall Monroe
  • Poetry: Good Poems, American Places by Garrison Keillor

Sometimes taking time to learn – free of expectations – feels overly indulgent and is hard to institutionalize in an already busy life. But it’s incredibly important for both personal and professional development, and it’s worth prioritizing. So, join us in our commitment to getting lost learning! The Grateful Dead probably had it right, “Once in a while you can get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

We’re always on the hunt for new things to read, follow, watch and listen to. What are some of the books, blogs, YouTube Channels, TED Talks and podcasts that inspire you?


Elle Hempen is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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