The newly minted Best Podcast of 2021 “A Slight Change of Plans with Maya Shankar” has been making (audio) waves since it’s release earlier this year. Shankar’s podcast comes at a time of immense changes for many of us through the COVID-19 pandemic, but, don’t worry, this podcast isn’t about that. Instead, it’s about the science of human behavior and how it can help us understand radical changes both internally and externally.
Going strong since it’s start in May of 2021, “A Slight Change of Plans” has produced nearly 30 incredible episodes and shows no sign of stopping. Episodes run between 30 and 40 minutes long and don’t need to be listened to in any particular order.
“A Slight Change of Plans” was inspired by Shankar’s own change of plans, when a hand injury forced her out of her dreams of being a violinist while she was studying under Itzhak Perlman at the Juilliard School. She had to figure out who she was outside of the violin – and found herself she did. She was drawn to the field of cognitive science, earning her PhD as a Rhodes Scholar before founding the White House Behavioral Science Team and serving as the first Behavioral Science Advisor to the United Nations.
In her Pushkin Industries podcast, she’s interviewing people on their own experiences with change, on a scale small and large. She has conversations with people like Tiffany Haddish, Hillary Clinton, and Kacey Musgraves on what changes impacted the trajectory of their lives, and how they continue to push for change in their respective industries. She speaks with fellow scientists and doctors, like Dr. Laurie Santos of “The Happiness Lab,” on the cognitive necessities to create lasting change and happiness within our own heads.
Daryl Davis and the KKK
The first episode is particularly exceptional. Daryl Davis, a Black jazz musician, has inspired hundreds of people to leave the KKK and other white supremacist groups – and he first did it without the intent of changing their minds. He accidentally met a Klansman at a bar decades ago while performing. He was invited to sit with the man as he was so impressed with his playing, and then Davis found out that this man was actually a member of the KKK. Shocked, he actually didn’t walk away, like most people probably would have done. He sat and chatted, and before he went back to finish his set, the man gave him his phone number and told him to let him know whenever he’d be performing at that bar again.
And again, shockingly, Davis did contact him when his band returned to the bar. Over the years, he continued to perform and call up the man who had become his friend. Eventually, Davis decided to write a book on racism and the Klan, seeing as only white people had written books on the group. He went over to his friends’ house and told him about his book, saying that he wanted to interview him on the Klan. But, the man had quit the white supremacist group years prior. In fact, he even befriended Roger Kelly, Imperial Wizard of the KKK in Maryland, and Kelly eventually not only quit the group, but helped dismantle the group’s presence in the state.
From there, Davis continued to write his book, befriend members of the KKK and other hate groups, and change their minds. Something that is so fabulous about “A Slight Change of Plans” is that Shankar let’s her guests tell their stories with few interruptions. She comments her disbelief every once in a while, asks questions when extremely necessary, and whether it’s her amazing editing or unparalleled listening skills, you just get to listen as these people speak about what they do best.
Maya Shankar has gone on to interview people who have left religious cults, overcome deadly eating disorders, come out as transgender and more. Filled with her own personal stories of pain, change, and jow, “A Slight Change of Plans” is truly deserving of it’s new Best of 2021 title.