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  • judymperlman

Six months ago, I started a weekly TV show and podcast. Here are some of my takeaways.

On July 1, 2019 the first episode of Meet The Problem Solvers aired.

From the beginning, the approach was straightforward: ask an expert or two to explain a problem they are working on, outline the solutions they are putting into practice, and leave us with actionable steps – with our new knowledge, how can we help?

I’m told that the diversity of guests is part of what makes the show interesting. Just take my last three guests:

  • Feb. 3, 2020: Foodies Without Borders. Chef Tony Njigua, who teaches culinary skills to low-income young Kenyans, also giving them their own bag of kitchen equipment and setting them up with jobs in beachfront hotels.

  • Jan. 27, 2020: Protect the Vote. Quentin Palfrey, who has worked on voting-related initiatives for nearly 20 years and leads the national Voter Protection Corps.

  • Jan. 13, 2020: Rethinking Treatment: Collaborative Approaches to Substance Abuse. Emergency Services physician Dr. Chris Fischer, who describes the collaborative, cross-sector and peer-support efforts he is part of and that may be leading to reduced opioid deaths observed in Cambridge and its surrounding communities.

Where do we find such interesting guests? At first, I asked people I know well to come on. In other cases, an issue grabs my attention and I find a local expert. I ask family and friends. Guests enjoy the show and its preparation, and often refer others. It just keeps rolling on.

The conversations take place in a space of friendly yet urgent inquiry. Mondays after the show I hear myself saying: “This is clearly an issue that everyone should know about and WOW it’s great to know that someone so passionate and hard-working is committed to it.”

The 27-minute interviews are done live at the studio of Cambridge Community TV, most Monday nights at 6:30 PM. People there are consistently helpful and supportive. Cable customers in Cambridge can watch it on CCTV directly, and everyone can watch the live-stream. Previous episodes can be seen or listened to through our website, updated weekly: You can also subscribe to “Meet The Problem Solvers” on YouTube or Apple podcasts to learn when new shows are up and ready.

Here are some “Lessons Learned” at this six-month mark:

1. Follow your heart.

I started this show after 10 years working as a consultant on housing and homelessness initiatives in communities across the US. The goal of this work, which I still do, is to improve services, systems and outcomes for people being served in that community. Often real improvement does follow these community change processes.

Through the course of this work I helped document two projects – a 2015 video and case study on a service-delivery redesign project I worked on in Flint, Michigan, and a report on HUD’s website describing the remarkable way New Orleans ended Veterans Homelessness a year before the federal deadline.

I have come to understand that these efforts led directly to my starting this show. That is, my own passion turns out to be bringing out important stories to educate and mobilize people who need to hear them.

2. Another useful lesson: Do what you are good at, and get others to do what you can’t.

I had already hired a college friend of my older daughter’s, Krista White, to set up my consulting/communications website. I asked Krista if she’d want to “do some social media stuff” for this new show, Meet The Problem Solvers. She said yes and we continue to meet weekly to keep the ball rolling. She set up our Facebook page, and started researching and posting great stuff in the days before each show. She writes for and manages the website, she cleans up the videos, and she consistently finds arresting images for everything.

Two months in, we knew we needed to add a podcast component and, with the help of a super-helpful media production guy I met at CCTV, Rock Louis of Rockdreams Video, we have created videos and podcasts for all shows since October. Rock’s sharp eye and good ear have helped me improve my interviewing and provide greater consistency.

I seriously could not have handled ANY of this tech stuff without these two young aces. I knew I would fail, and that that would mean the whole thing would fail. Their ideas and input have elevated the show in many ways. Appreciate and utilize expertise in others for what you cannot do.

3. A painful lesson: Put time and attention to fixing things you’re not happy about.

Live camera is pretty darn unforgiving. I have made some missteps that still make my stomach clench at the thought. (Note: I do NOT rewatch them. Seared in my brain is enough). I recall that dreadful, sudden, very personal and very public experience at two such moments as being “drenched in cortisol.” Specifics need not be outlined here.

The fact is, I want every show to be something I’m thrilled with and proud to offer to the world. I realized I needed to go into each show with a deeper level of preparation than I had been, so if I found myself off balance – a guest was late or grouchy, or a topic turned out be loaded for me – I would be less likely to drive off the cliff (doing so on camera, held there for eternity).

The real learning was that I needed to fix this, not allow myself to be paralyzed by embarrassment and shame and a wish to forget what happened. This is a weekly show – I owed it to my viewers to get it together immediately! No shame, no blame, just solve the problem.

The fix was very simple. I already had a one-page “guest template” to send to guests. We’d use it loosely as a discussion guide when we talked on the phone, usually a week or two before the show, to pull out the ideas we wanted to highlight. After the second time I couldn’t articulate an episode’s title in the first minute – embarrassing and unsettling the guests as well as myself right off the bat – I tightened things up. Now I fill that form in carefully and thoroughly, and write all over it besides, during those conversations. I usually do remember what I need and want to say but now I KNOW that if memory fails or something throws me off my game, I have a safety net in place.

I’m still working on achieving smooth and seamless endings to shows, and I haven’t mastered the opening, either. Far too often a squeaky “HI!” is what comes out first. This problem is one I’m still working on as, by definition, all Problem Solvers are perpetually “works in progress.”

What else have I learned, and where am I at six months in?

I love this.

Meet The Problem Solvers has truly enriched my life. Each week I dive into new information, interact with a far greater diversity of people than I would otherwise, and regularly consider and query new ideas and approaches. Best of all, I am working with people who are brimming over with passion and commitment to their life’s work. And I get to collaborate with them to create an interesting, efficient and informative communication piece specifically about their topic. How fortunate am I?

Feeling an expansive sense of possibility.

As great as this weekly half-hour format is, I can also see this show evolving and finding ways to go deeper into inquiry and learning. That might mean doing fewer shows to allow us to dig more deeply into topics, providing resources and referrals and/or hosting online or web-based group chats, informed and supported by one of our experts. I also can imagine affiliating with an institution or a nonprofit organization and reshaping what we do to align with something larger. I’ll be reaching out to others in coming weeks and months to explore these ideas, and others.

In sum – I couldn’t have imagined where this would take me. I continue to feel urgency to find and tell stories. And through these months and experiences I have come to trust that the show is a worthy contribution to the world, and that it will continue to evolve and grow, even as it allows me to do the same.

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