Working in IT can often feel like long periods of soul-crushing depression and frustration as we work through a technical issue, punctuated by brief moments of insane euphoria when we find a solution, followed by yet another period of soul crushing depression and frustration when we move on to the next problem. In this light, learning to take time to celebrate and express gratitude is essential. In this episode, Leon, Josh, and Doug explore the habits we've developed as IT pros to get us through the hard parts of the job; and the lessons from our religious, moral, or ethical tradition can we bring to bear. Listen or read the transcript below.
Leon: 00:06 Welcome to our podcast where we talk about the interesting, frustrating and inspiring experiences we have as people with strongly held religious views working in corporate IT. We're not here to preach or teach you our religion. We're here to explore ways we make our career as IT professionals mesh, or at least not conflict, with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.
Leon: 00:53 This is a continuation of the discussion we started last week. Thank you for coming back to join our conversation.
Leon: 00:59 Another area that I think, um, we can in it build a sense of gratitude is in the amount of work that we do, um, that we need to recognize in IT the difference between hours and accomplishments. How much time we spend, and how much we accomplish. Um, and I'm gonna have a really radical idea and anybody who's listening to this, who, who manages people or runs or owns a business is probably not gonna like me saying this, but salaried employee employment cuts both ways. Do not try this at home. Do not push this at work if you are in a shaky situation or whatever. But I am telling you right now that if it is okay for work to say, "Well you know there was an emergency or you have to get this done and if it takes you 50 hours to get to do it, then I guess that's what it takes." Then equally so is if you get your work done today in four hours you can go home because you have got it done. And I think sometimes we need to recognize that "I got it done, I did it, yay me." I don't need to spend more hours sitting here pretending or looking like or looking for trouble again or picking that next thing off the pile because this is what I intended to get done today.
Doug: 02:09 Absolutely. And I mean even on the flip side of that, I've had days where things just weren't going well and all of a sudden I realized if I keep going, I'm going to break something way worse than it is. And it is much better for me to just walk, get up and walk away and come back tomorrow. Now, by the same token, I'm not currently a salary employee, so that should indicate that it hasn't always worked well.
Speaker 4: 02:30 Right. When you're in trouble. I think that that's a technique, but I just, I want to hit this again for just a moment and say that when we're talking about gratitude and talking about appreciating something, how amazing would it be if at two o'clock in the afternoon you realized "I got it done. I fixed the problem, I, I did it. I'm going home." You show up at home to your family, your dog, your TV, whatever it is, your, your Halo, your Quake cooperative. Whenever you know, World of Warcraft team, whatever it is, they're like, "Why are you here?" "I got my work done. I had, I get extra time. I'm finished. Free recess for the rest of the day. Yay me." That is powerful.
Josh: 03:11 I recently had to go through an experience just like that where for 20 years I have been the person who has always been present. I learned from my parents that showing up to work is, is even more important than doing well at work. And not that my parents did a poor job, but they were there. They taught me that always being at work showed value. And so I fell into the trap, Leon, that you talked about. I routinely would work 50, 60, 70, and 80 hours a week, uh, during my 20 year career because that's what I thought I had to do. And in my new job, I am very much have the autonomy to decide when I've had enough, and that I'm expected to not be at work all day when I don't need to be at work all day. And this is, it's a really weird dichotomy for me because I've had to reprogram my mind to work around that. I mean, I think again, another podcast episode another date, another time, but we need to, we need to realize that again, Doug's sins aren't my sins, right?
Doug: 04:24 I hope not for your sake.
Josh: 04:28 So quote a famous Mormon, um, whose name was J. Golden Kimball. Uh, he was also known as "the swearing apostle". Um, he, he used to say... in fact he used to swear over the pulpit at the conference center in Salt Lake. Um, but he used to say famously, "I'm not going to hell. I repent too damn fast!" Don't worry, Doug. We're, we're fine.
Doug: 04:54 All right.
Leon: 04:55 Another habit I think that can lead to a better sense of gratitude is, um, actually just thankfulness, which I know is kind of buzzwordy these days. Saying thank you a lot. Just say thank you to other folks for the things that they do a lot. It has an incredible effect on you. It has an incredible effect on people around you, but just get into the habit of saying thank you.
Doug: 05:25 And it's important to be able to do that, to actually be aware of the people that are doing stuff for you. I mean, I, I actually went to an exercise program today. I know, hard to believe. Um, but it was our first time going and I didn't know how it worked. And I got my wife there and she's settled and I was looking around. I could tell that we were supposed to get some equipment, but I couldn't tell what, you know, how some people had it and some people didn't. So this lady came up and she said, "Let me show you where to get this stuff." And she took me over there and I got all my equipment. We did the exercise and... But I made sure that when I went back I said, "I really appreciate you finding me wandering around and putting me in the right direction. And because people don't do that, you could have just let me..." There were 50 people in the room, one person came up to help me. And so, but I made sure that I went, I noticed that she had helped me, of course, but then I made sure I went back and thanked her. So it just, it's so you're grateful when people do stuff for you, but you have to, people do things for you all the time. And you may not even notice.
Josh: 06:30 And I think this ties back to the authentic comment that I made earlier. You were appreciative for a very specific thing and you went and found someone and you didn't just say, "Hey, thanks for your help." You said, "Hey, thank you for helping me to do this thing you saw me in need. I'm grateful for that." That is way better than getting the traditional hallmark "Hey, thank you for being a great person." 'Cause, why? Like what, what did I do as a great person? I mean for me,
Doug: 07:03 participation award!
Josh: 07:07 In Canada, we used to call them the "partici-paction". It was an exercise program. So very... And I..., Anyway, Canada's weird and you used to get a participation. It was, you know, gold, silver, bronze, these little, um, knitted, uh, medallions and did, yeah, well kind of knitted. And then if you didn't get a gold, silver or bronze, then you got a participation award? Uh, anyway, it was growing up in the 80s was weird, man. It was really weird. But I wanna I'm curious for, for both of you, how do you show your true, authentic nature when you're expressing gratitude to others? In Doug, you gave us a great example, uh, an evidence of how you do it. Are there any other ways that we can pull that off? Because I want to be more authentic in 2020.
Leon: 08:01 I think that that some of your comments hit on it. First of all, recognizing what the person did and that it was, and also understanding that it was exceptional. I mean, it's always important to say thank you to your wait staff. It's always important to say thank you to the people who are, who are, there being paid to help you because you know, yes, they're being paid. You don't go, you know, you don't fall on your knees for that, but you still thank them. Like "I recognize that you just did something for me." But when somebody is not there in that capacity or role to say, "Hey, I know you took time out of your exercise routine just to put me on the right track. I saw that. I see you. You are not invisible to me." I think that that in itself is powerful and then also expressing how it helped you or how it made you feel. And Doug, I know feelings are not always things that you are, you know, thrilled about talking about or sharing or anything like that. Um, again, we've known each other a really long time but, but saying you know, it really, you know, "I was, I was really uncomfortable. It's our first day here. I didn't know what to do and you made it a lot easier for me." Tells that person how they impacted your life and you want to call it positive reinforcement. Fine. You want to call it paying it forward, fine. But it, you know, in the same way that you would probably want to be thanked and recognized by a stranger on the street.
Doug: 09:31 Yeah. It's just being appreciated for what you're doing. I mean when, when I go through checkout on a holiday when I can just tell that they are just being slammed. I tell generally tell the cashout guy, I said, I really appreciate you being here cause I needed to get this food today. And the fact that you're here just made my life so I could do this. I mean if you think of that, think of none of the cashiers showed up. You'd have to steal all the food. I mean, excuse me. No, you, they wouldn't open the store.
Josh: 09:59 I was surprised. I recently took a trip and I went into the airport lounge. First time in my entire life that I've ever gone into an airport lounge. Um, had to look at the, the podcast episode we did where we talked about, uh, you know, the travel hacks, right? So that, that was good. So I went into the lounge and I, one of the times I spent seven hours in this lounge on a layover. I always surprised how many people in the lounge did not say thank you when the staff in the lounge came by and picked up your, your plates and your cups and stuff. Come on, people! Say thank you to the, the people who are like, you don't tip these folks that they, they, they're only thing that they're there for is to make your life in the lounge more pleasant. The least you can do is look up, smile at them and say thank you.
Leon: 11:01 Right. Again, I see you, I see what you did. He appreciated what you did exactly. Doug, before we started recording. You talked about, um, something else about hearing the 'thank you' when it's not said, and I want to give you a chance to tell that story over.
Doug: 11:15 It's really, it may be big because this is the flip side. This is, yeah, we were talking about we should be grateful. We should be thanking other people, but we're also looking at ways that we can go ahead and find gratitude and in our own lives. And sometimes the reality is we are not thanked for the wonderful things that we do for other people. I know this comes as a shock to everybody, but it's true. And when I had my own consultancy, uh, for the longest time I would base it, you know, I would be doing work for clients and doing work for clients and doing work for clients and clients never thank you. I mean, yeah, they pay, but they never actually thank you. But then all of a sudden I realized every time they said, "Okay, now that's done. Now what I want is..." They were essentially "Thank you for the thing that you just did." Because they wouldn't ask me to do the next thing if they weren't grateful for the fact that I had accomplished the first thing. So every time from then on that I heard now what I want is in my head. I just flipped it to, "Thank you Doug," and we were off and rolling.
Leon: 12:09 That's why I wanted you to tell it over it because that's really powerful. If you think about all the times at work that people say, "Okay, next I want you to do blah, blah," and just realize that there is an implicit, not explicit, but an implicit, Thank you. Great job. Because if you screwed it up, believe me, I would have told ya."
Doug: 12:31 Right and they wouldn't be asking you to do work on anything else ever again. That there's a, there's a very strong thank you every time they give you something new and if it's bigger, it's a big thank you.
Josh: 12:41 I want to point out to our listeners because I'm sure a number of them have had these moments, the weekly team meeting where we all start off by the usually the managers saying, "I just want to point out that Josh showed up to work today." Or or something really mundane. Those co, those scenarios where you as a manager or a team lead are compelled to call out the things that your team does well, completely backfire on your team. Don't do them. If you're going to do them, make sure that it's for things that are exceptional to the norm. For example, me showing up at work today is not normally exceptional. May showing up to work today after I worked all weekend. That might be exceptional. "Hey Josh we really appreciate the fact that you worked all weekend and that you're here on Monday morning and that you have pants on." So those are exceptional things, but don't, don't force that gratitude because that just hurts your team. I don't know.
Leon: 13:48 This goes back to the authenticity, but I had a very different experience. I had a manager who was himself exceptional in this regard that he would first look for, and then began to solicit and curate recognition... Points of recognition for the team. And, um, I'll post an example of it in the show notes. So if you're listening to this on a Tuesday, it'll be posted on Wednesday. But, um, it was really remarkable the effect it had. Because to your point, Josh, he was recognizing the exceptional mostly. Mostly he would say, "Okay, we saw that, you know, we, I noticed that you were online at two o'clock in the morning. It wasn't your on-call, but you just noticed it and that's really incredible. Please don't feel obligated to do that. But I know that you did and we appreciate it." But there was one thank you in the example I'm thinking of where he said, uh, you know, "George or whatever his name was. Um, there was nothing really noticeable about you this week. Um, you're fired. No joking." He said, "Really what was interesting was that everything that you accomplished was remarkably normal and under the wire it was consistent and it was typical. And it's what everyone has come to expect from you because you do it all the time. And I just want you to understand that that consistency is also appreciated." So here is a way to take a person who had had a normal week. Nothing to your point, Josh. Nothing exceptional. No 2:00 AM Sev1 calls, no working the weekend and say, but that's valuable too.
Doug: 15:24 That's managerially brilliant. Because the problem is when the only thing that you ever reward is people putting out fires. You get a lot of people who put out fires, and so they let fires happen so that they can then put them out. As opposed to the person that goes ahead and does their job day in and day out so that there are no fires. They never get recognition.
Leon: 15:45 Charity majors, uh, about a year ago talked about this, that one of her techniques was to recognize people who, um, first of all, people who pay down technical debt, that that was one of the things and that got higher praise than, uh, either fixing a bug or you know, resolving a crisis because that was valuable. But also she made sure that she recognized people who submitted things to, you know, submitted their code and there were no defects. That submitting with zero defects was more valuable than bug fixes. Because it meant there weren't, you know, cause it meant everything that it meant. And I think that that was really good.
Josh: 16:28 I would suggest that being consistently good at your job and our job is to either build things, fix problems, whatever it might be. That individual who did everything that they were asked to do and the things that they weren't asked to do without being asked. That is unfortunately, truly exceptional.
Doug: 16:49 It's true,
New Speaker: 16:50 I hate to, I hate to be that type of person, but I tell my kids all the time, "It is not hard to be exceptional. You just need to be consistent and transparent. That makes you exceptional because so many people are not both consistent and transparent in the things that they're doing." So my name, maybe for us, we're like, Oh that, that's cool that they're, my boss recognized somebody who wasn't exceptional. But what's your boss was really saying was, "Hey Sally, that was really awesome that you did those things." And you know, the backhand was "All the rest of y'all need to look at what Sally's doing and say, Hey, this is what's valued, not you off saving the world, you know, from a calamity that you created."
Leon: 17:41 Another point just bringing in, um, a Jewish habit. So there's a Jewish tradition that you're supposed to say at least a hundred blessings a day, which is actually not hard in the Jewish tradition because there is a blessing for just about everything from the moment you wake up, before you even get out of bed, there's a blessing for, 'thank you for letting me wake up this morning' to a blessing for going to the bathroom. Yes, there's a blessing for it to go to the bathroom. There's a blessing for every bite of food in your mouth... Every bite of food you put in your mouth, there's a blessing for everything. And so that's the first thing. And, and uh, we can recognize, I think regardless of your religious tradition that when you say a blessing, you're saying 'thank you'. But there's a deeper level that I think is worth pointing out, which is that in, in the phrasing of a blessing, it's not. "Thank you for this thing." "Thank you for this apple." Thank you for... You're saying 'thank you for this moment.' "Thank you for this moment where I get to have this apple; where I get to get out of bed; where I get to go to work." I get to, you know, all these things. "Thank you for bringing me to this moment in time because that wasn't a guarantee." And the result of that for many people being that thankful, being thankful for every moment and saying, did I get my hundred blessings in today? Because that's, that's the goal. Okay, fine. That you become more grateful for things because you're looking for the things to say thank you for.
Josh: 19:13 I'm disappointed Leon. I thought when you were going to talk about Jewish traditions, you were going to invoke the holiday where we all get drunk.
Leon: 19:21 There is one of those, there's the get drunk holiday. There's also the eat cheesecake holiday was also, yes, there's also the eat fried foods holiday. This is an entirely other podcast episode. Um,
Josh: 19:34 Holy crap. I should have been Jewish.
Doug: 19:38 Well now that you're an ex-Mormon you still have an option.
Leon: 19:40 There's... Okay. There's no, okay... Yes, I'd like to point out Judaism does not have a tradition of proselytizing. Uh, everyone, everyone goes to heaven. You don't need to be on the team. And everyone can, can participate in some of these holidays even if you're not on the team. Uh, and, and my house is always, we have an open door policy. So you're welcome to come for the cheesecake holiday or the fried foods holiday or the get drunk holiday.
Josh: 20:02 I was going to say, who needs to proselytize when you've got holidays, like get drunk, eat cheese cake and eat fried foods. Like, Oh my goodness.
Leon: 20:10 Okay. Not all at the same time. There are separate days, separate days,
Josh: 20:14 But I thought you had like Christmas every day as a...
Leon: 20:18 Okay. Alright. And I think what we're doing is we're a.tually demonstrating another idea, which is really to experience joy and laugh, laugh at things, laugh at moments, try to bring more laughter in. If you feel like you're work in IT is becoming really hard to take, finding ways to bring some laughter in, whether that's listening to a really good funny podcast or I know some people who watch, you know, slapstick, they watch, um, old, you know, 1930s, um, like the Marx brothers movies or whatever. Whatever tickles your funny bone, you know. Three Stooges or um, Monte Python or whatever it is that that does it for you. But bringing more laughter into your life makes a difference. That just laughing helps.
Josh: 21:08 I agree. I also recommend laughing at yourself.
Leon: 21:12 For some of us it's easier than others.
Doug: 21:14 I have no problem with that. I'm about the funniest thing. I, uh,
Leon: 21:20 right.
Doug: 21:20 I don't have to wait too long to see me screw up.
Josh: 21:22 I mean, being self-deprecating is something that I do really well and I don't know if it's a me being Canadian or me being British or me being Canadian and British, but self-deprecation is a way for me to laugh at myself. I I, for a long time I took myself pretty darn seriously and to be blunt, it nearly killed me. So now I take myself seriously when I need to be serious, but I also know that there's an awful lot in life that is not nearly as serious as we make it.
Leon: 21:53 Yes, exactly. Now I will say that laughing at yourself, especially as a way to diffuse a tense situation, even if a tense situation is in your own head, is wonderful. Sharing that at work is sometimes not safe. And I want to recognize on this podcast that not everyone is in a situation where they feel like they can highlight and laugh publicly. "HAH I just screwed that up, that was pretty funny, wasn't it?!?" Because not only will the answer be no, the answer will be "and it's going to get you, you know, everything you say can and will be held against you in a court of public opinion."
Doug: 22:27 I did. I did that. I, I've, I've rarely worked for a large corporation because I always thought I wouldn't do very well there and I have now proved it because, well no, there, there was a situation where we just, we didn't meet something and it didn't, it didn't work and everybody was like really down and there was nothing we could have done to, to have actually accomplished what was supposed to been accomplished, so I made a joke. Cause really what are you going to do? And it was not taken well at all. It's like I was, I was accused of not taking the problem seriously. And the answer is yeah, no I knew the pro... And I also knew that it wasn't our fault. There was nothing we could have done. We were torpedoed by another department intentionally (because big corporations do that) and everybody was down about it. It's like why should the, why should this team be depressed? Because of what happened. But the humor was not taken well in that situation. I no longer work for that company. That's not the only reason. But enough episodes like that pretty much made it easy for me to be in the 10% that get chopped. You know, any place that automatically chops 10% of their, their people every year? You can get, I'm going to be in that. I'll eventually be in that 10% for some reason.
Josh: 23:34 Oh, that two letter company that we love to hate, hate to love. I don't know.
Leon: 23:40 Yeah, yeah. No, that's a, that's a challenging one. But I think also, Doug, what you're talking about that, um, again, contextualizing what you're doing. You know, putting it into context, put, you know, framing it in a way that says, Hey, you know, let's just be clear about this. Whether again, for the good or the bad, especially when something doesn't go well, the ability to be grateful, the ability to be thankful, the ability to see the humor in it also means recognizing that really, what are we doing here? Like at the end of the day, we're writing software. And just one story about that. Um, one of my really good friends that I grew up with is Lee Unkrich, who for many years was a director at Pixar and just retired from there not too long ago. And he was on the team working on "Monsters, Inc." And they were in a, they were in a meeting room. It was day one and a half of what ended up being a three day effort to come up with one particular sequence in the movie, which is where they got thrown out of a door and they're in the, you know, the Arctic or something. And they meet up with the abominable snowman. And they're trying to work one gag and they couldn't quite get it. And in again, at day one and a half, Lee stopped everything and he said, "I just need us all to recognize that we are here being paid a not-insignificant-amount of money to come up with the perfect pee in the snow joke. That's what we're being paid to do right now. And we just need to recognize how incredibly awesome our jobs are."
Josh: 25:17 I want that job so badly. Oh my God.
Leon: 25:20 Right? Because there was a lot of pressure in the room. Like we've got to get this right.
Josh: 25:25 I used to work for a major automotive manufacturer, one of the big three. And when the line shut down, it was, it was an awful lot of money a minute that was not being realized because they weren't working. And I used to say to people, I worked in support, uh, in, in one of the, in a couple of their facilities for a period of time. "We're not curing cancer here folks..." Cause people, I, I, I have never been, I've never been in the military, but I have been torn up one side and down the other because of the line going down and some shift manager freaking out. And I'm just like, we are literally not curing cancer. I switched companies and a few years later I was working for a company that was helping cure cancer.
Leon: 26:17 Okay. Context,
Josh: 26:19 Jokes on me, right? Uh, but I, I think we need to remember that even when we're trying to cure cancer or... There's only so much that you can do, you can only move mountains so far and then that's it. I mean, don't it. Yes. It's not a laughing matter. When you, when you fail to deliver in spite of your best efforts and someone dies. Not a laughing matter. But we can be grateful. The effort that we put in, I could never be a first responder because I would want to save everybody. And that just is not what happens as a first responder. Uh, uh, an, uh, a friend of mine, uh, is a doctor and I, I remember listening to stories from him being an intern and the people dying on the gurney as he was doing his ER rotation. And I thought 'there was no way,' just no way I can do that. But on one hand, I'm very grateful that I, I'm not a doctor. On the other hand, I'm also very grateful that he had the wherewithal to understand that he couldn't save everyone, but he was going to give 100%. and every day he was like, I give it, I give him my all. I can't save that person who came in with, you know, shot seven times. And being grateful that you put in the effort. That is really okay.
Doug: 27:41 I was going to say, even though we're looking for ways to be grateful, when you know that you've done the best job that you can do, that's the time to be great. That's the time to be thankful. Even if nobody else knows that you did the best you could and that's assuming that you bring your, you know, the best you got at any given day, sometimes the best you've got is not all that great.
Leon: 27:59 A number of decades ago, Doug and I were working at the same company and I had a situation where in the evening I was working on a, a co, a client's computer and the hard drive completely and utterly crashed. And this person lost all of their data and I really kind of lost it, uh, because I was working on the computer at the time and the hard drive crashed and I, it was early enough in my career that I did not know what to do and I did not know how to take it. And I spent some fairly emotional minutes in your office. Like, "I don't know how to face this person. I don't know how to deal with this. What am I going to do?" And you said, "You know, the system died on you, but you didn't take a hammer to it. It just died. Hardware does that. And you did everything you could. They didn't have backups. That's not your fault." And put, you know, both putting it in context and basically saying everything you just said about you did the best you could, you don't need to carry this. And I did anyway. Because, right. And it was a sleepless, you know, sleepless night until, uh, the angry words were said and the client recovered their composure. And you know, we moved on from that and a week later I was able to look back with a little bit more perspective. But, um, a, I was grateful to have somebody who had a little bit, you know, a little bit better perspective on it. But also, um, I was eventually able to have that point of view that I had done everything I could and this happened anyway and you know, I, and I was there. And in one respect I was there to at least be able to say "It was a blah... It was at this and a this and this and then this happened. "And explain to the client coherently the sequence of events so they could at least be prepared for it next time and wouldn't, you know, at that client took religious backups after that. So, you know, lessons learned,
Josh: 30:06 Call me, not surprised.
Leon: 30:08 Um, any final words, any, any last thoughts before we wrap this up?
Josh: 30:12 You know, I, I do. And because I know Leon how much you love when I quote songs. And because I think in this particular case we missed talking about something that we uh, that we should be grateful for. I am going to quote James Taylor from his song. "You've Got A Friend." The first verse says, "When you're down and troubled; and you need a helping hand; and nothing, nothing is going right." I mean it sounds like every day in IT, right? "Close your eyes and think of me; and soon I will be there; to brighten up even your darkest night..." (When you're on call.) No... That's not what James Taylor said, but I mean you just shared a story about how Doug was there for you. Having friends and IT having friends when you work in IT that aren't in IT is really powerful. But I think that having friends who also have been there, they've gone through the experiences that they, you can commiserate with them, you can laugh and have joy with them. You can cry and probably string together a fairly long sentence filled exclusively with curse words. That is also very powerful. So my final words have, have friends and listen to James Taylor. You've got a friend.
Doug: 31:31 My final word is you can't be grateful enough. I mean, if you think you've done it all yourself, you're wrong. If you think you've screwed it all up yourself, you're wrong. Just be grateful for what you've managed to accomplish and that just makes everything goes so much better.
Leon: 31:45 All right. And with that thought, I'm going to close it out with a quote from Mr. Rogers. Um, there's now a movie out that highlights this, but it's something that I have, uh, kept up on the wall here in my office and talk about from time to time. Mr. Rogers, when he received a lifetime achievement award, uh, he said something that just has stuck with me forever.
New Speaker: 32:05 "All of us have special ones who loved us into being. Would you just take along with me 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are, those who cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life? 10 seconds. I'll watch the time."
Destiny: 32:22 Thanks for making time for us this week. To hear more of Technically Religious visit our website, https://www.technicallyreligious.com, where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions, and connect to us on social media.
Josh: 32:36 To quote Jacques Maritain, "Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy."
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