Jad Abumrad on Radiolab's inception

A recent piece by Jad Abumrad (creator of Radiolab) called The Terrors & Occasional Virtues of Not Knowing What You’re Doing is probably the most interesting thing I’ve read in a while. Here are just a few of the many archive-worthy quotes for those of you who haven’t read it or listened to Dan and Merlin’s excellent commentary recently on Back To Work.

On nauseating fear:

So somehow early Radiolab created gut churn, which is actually a fear of death. […] For some reason, at the beginning, every decision DID feel like life or death. Like I would literally die if a story didn’t work. There was a kind of existential dread that hung over the entire endeavor, even though we were just making a radio show…heard…by no one. […] The dread might be the cost of freedom.

On finding his voice in the process:

I cannot tell you WHY that collection of noises was important. But it was the first thing I’d heard that I was like…hey, that’s not bad. I think I might hear myself in there somewhere. It was like being lost in the dark and then an arrow appears. A pointing arrow; placed there by your future self, that says, “Follow me.”

On discovering (vs creating) something great:

My point in all of this is that when I look back, we didn’t plan Radiolab. It was not a conductive process, with two guys standing on pedestals waving it all into being. It was an inductive process.

On rapid prototyping and iteration:

Get comfortable with the idea that you won’t know what’s good until it’s already happened. Not to say you shouldn’t make plans. You should. But if your real aim is to be surprised, plans only get you so far. And so now, at Radiolab, our process contains an irritating but vital amount of “recognition time.” We decide on an experiment, try not to overthink it, then do it. Quickly. Then we tear it apart. What worked? What didn’t? (Actually, in the end, who cares what didn’t work. Most things don’t work. Better to ask, what can I carry forward?)

Just go and read the whole thing already: The Terrors & Occasional Virtues of Not Knowing What You’re Doing by Jad Abumrad

Via Back To Work, Episode 78: Scream, Poop, and Run