The courage to connect

If only she could see what I see.

We don’t know each other. But even a quick scan made it clear that she’s highly-skilled, has done interesting and relevant work in a company I admire, and is in a location I enjoy visiting and working in.

Her first email to me was lovely and generous. She had been following me and wrote to offer support and assistance - for free - just because she believes in what I'm doing.

Yet she almost didn’t send that message.

“I just finished part 1 of your book which provided me with the courage to reach out to you.”

I re-read that line several times. "The courage to reach out." It struck me that she has so much to contribute and was offering it in such a nice way, and yet she felt constrained, held back by a fear of some kind. I thanked her and shared what I was thinking.

“I'm thrilled that you took the time to write your note which was both kind and generous. Isn't it fascinating that we hold back even when we have such gifts to offer? If we could change that mindset and unlock more such gifts, the world and workplace would be better for everyone.”

We continued our email exchange (she’s also witty and a good writer), and I look forward to speaking with her about her work and to ask for her ideas and opinions about mine. Given her experience, I can easily imagine a wide range of collaboration opportunities. 

What about you? Is there something holding you back from reaching out to someone? Something preventing you from making the contributions and connections you want to make?

There are so many people who could benefit from all you have to offer. Developing the courage to share it just takes practice

 Sketch by Janine Kirchhof -  janinekirchhof.com  &  @ THE_HR_GIRL

Sketch by Janine Kirchhof - janinekirchhof.com@THE_HR_GIRL

The life & death of Quality Circles (and a more modern way to implement them)

By the time I first heard of a Quality Circle, the idea was already almost 30 years old. It’s “a group of workers who do the same or similar work, who meet regularly to identify, analyze and solve work-related problems.” I was in my twenties at the time, doing research for my first book, and I believed these Circles could make a huge difference.

The method was introduced in the 1960s by Professor Kaoru Ishikawa. By the late 1970s, more than 10 million Japanese workers were in Circles. More recently, China is reported to have formed over 20 million Circles in a a range of industries.

But in the US, at least, “quality circles are almost universally consigned to the dustbin of management techniques.”

Why? What can we do to make a good idea even better?

Out of the Crisis

Dr. W. Edwards Deming, a pioneer of the quality management movement, was one of my early heroes when it came to work. His management philosophy wasn’t just for managers, but for everyone. Remarkably, his 14 principles put people at the center of quality and statistical process control.

“8. Drive out fear. 
12. Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship.
13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone.
14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.”

When Out of the Crisis was published, Deming was already in his 80s. He referenced Quality Control Circles (or QC-Circles) several times. Though he was familiar with their success in Japan, he had also seen failed implementations in the US, and he was not optimistic about their success there.

“The idea has appeal. The production worker can tell us a lot about what is wrong and how improvements can be made: why not tap into the source of information and help?
[But] a QC-Circle can thrive only if the management will take action on the recommendations of the Circle. Many QC-Circles are, I fear, management’s hope for a lazy way out.”

Do you treat them as human beings? Or not?

Something went wrong. QC Circles were designed to be a way for people to actively take pride in their work by having a voice in making it better. But Circles often became a management tool focused on cutting costs (and jobs), and on finding fault. 

In his book, Deming excerpted a speech from Dr. Akira Ishikawa (who became president of Texas Instruments in Japan) about why Circles worked in Japan but not in the US.

“In the U.S., a QC-Circle is normally organized as a formal staff organization, wheres a QC-Circle in Japan is an informal group of workers. A manager in Japan serves as an advisor or consultant. In the U.S., a manager of production, to get rid of the job, appoints facilitators for Quality of Work Life, Employee Involvement, Employee Participation, QC-Circles, all of which disintegrate. 
The second contrast is the selection of the theme for a meeting and the way in which the meeting is guided. In the U.S., the selection of a theme or project and how to proceed on it are proposed by a manager. In contrast, in Japan, the things are decided by the initiative of the member-workers.
The third feature is the difference in hours for a meeting. A meeting in the U.S. is held within working hours. A meeting in Japan may be held during working hours, during the lunch period, or after working hours.
In the U.S., monetary reward for a suggestion goes to the individual. In Japan, the benefit is distributed to all employees. Recognition of group achievement supersedes monetary benefit to the individual.”

These aren’t just procedural or technical differences. They’re fundamental. The way that Circles are implemented can determine whether or not employees tap into their innate needs for control, competence, and connection. 

“One Japanese plant manager who turned an unproductive U.S. factory into a profitable venture in less than three months told me: ‘It is simple. You treat American workers as human beings with ordinary needs and values. They react like human beings.’
Once the superficial, adversarial relationship between managers and workers is eliminated, they are more likely to pull together during difficult times and to defend their common interest in the firm’s health. Without a cultural revolution in management, quality control circles will not produce the desired effects in America.”

“WOL for Quality”

When Deming observed Quality Circles, it was well before enterprise social networks, before 4 billion people were using the Internet, before modern research on why people do what they do. Today, it’s easier than ever for employees in any environment to make their ideas visible, to tap into what others in the company know, and to connect and collaborate with them. 

One experiment I plan to work on is to apply the basic elements of WOL Circles - a voluntary, self-organized, safe and confidential space using structured guides - to making work better in a wider range of environments. Call it “WOL for Manufacturing” or “WOL for Hospitals” or even “WOL in the Classroom.”

To suit each specific kind of environment, I would adapt the guides to include different ways for Circles to form and interact, different contributions to make, and different technologies for making them. If a company is already spreading WOL Circles, then such an experiment would be a natural extension, a way to include people in non-office environments.

Perhaps, instead of waiting for “the cultural revolution in management” that Deming thought was necessary, we can take action now. Perhaps we finally have the tools and practices we need to create grassroots movements that matter, that can show management what’s possible and inspire them to enable broader institutional changes.

When WOL doesn’t work

It was Silke’s comment in the WOL Community that inspired this post.

“Hello, everyone.
While it is quite easy to find enthusiastic to enthusiastic reports about #WOL, I find it hard to find posts that say it didn't work and why. As an L&D manager I am always interested in both: when does a method work (probably) and when should one do something else? Not every method is suitable for every context.
Do you know of any texts / articles / reports about the failure of WOL Circles? German or English doesn't matter. DANKE!”

If you care about making something better, you have to be open to learning from negative experiences. Here are some of the most common reasons for WOL failing to make a difference for an individual or an organization, and here’s what we can do about it.

Broken Circles.png

For you

The three top challenges by far are related to logistics, choosing individual goals, and managing to do the exercises each week. 

To align the schedules  of five people 12 times, whether it’s for lunch or personal development, can seem nearly impossible.  Everyone’s time is already fully allocated, and it’s natural that personal and business demands disrupt attempts at planning ahead. As a famous film director once said, “80 percent of success is just showing up” - and that’s the biggest issue for WOL Circles.

Goals are another major challenge. I originally thought choosing a goal would be easy, but it isn’t. In later versions of the Circle Guides, I included more instructions in Week 1, but for some people it’s not enough. They wind up picking a goal that doesn’t spark their curiosity or interest, or that’s too big or small, and it’s not enough to sustain their motivation for the full 12 weeks.

A third challenge is finding time to do the exercises. I purposefully packed the agenda week so the pace would be fast and people wouldn't be bored. I also provided additional sections in the guides if you needed to do less or wanted to do more. Still, for some people it’s too much in an hour and they want to spend more time on exercises. Others want more time for discussion. Some Circles never find a balance, and people may get frustrated and leave,

For your organization

The challenges in an organization are different. The spread of WOL seems to follow a common pattern: 

  1. A person or group experiments with WOL Circles.
  2. They tell friends & colleagues, and more Circles form.
  3. A grassroots movement forms, including a small core team (or “co-creation team”) of volunteers that emerges to spread WOL.
  4. The WOL team secures institutional support, integrating WOL into existing HR programs, or as part of change management for digital transformation or innovation or culture programs. 

The proliferation of Circles can stop at any point in between these different stages. Maybe the initial Circle didn’t have a good experience. Or a core team never emerges and the grassroots movement remains small and ad hoc. Sometimes, even in the face of a passionate and persistent people, the institution is resistant to doing things differently.

One thing I’ve observed is that it’s usually not an issue of company culture, but about people. I’ve seen WOL spread in even the most conservative, hierarchical organizations because of the persistence of people who felt that WOL helped them, and they were committed to helping others at their company. 

But there are a few places where change fatigue has set in. Maybe the company is under threat, or going through yet another major reorganization, and it’s all people can do to make it through the day. WOL may be “a lifeboat in a sea of change,” but they’re too tired to row.

What you & I can do

For all of these challenges, I’ve seen practitioners try different experiments and come up with innovations that help. They’ve found ways to ease the logistical burdens for Circles, trained WOL Mentors who can help with goals and other challenges that may come up, and even begun conducting “Week 0” meetings so people have a better understanding of what’s involved and expected before they commit to a Circle. For my part, I’m doing my own experiments, continuing to work on ways to make Circles easier and more engaging, and creating more resources for those who want to spread the practice.

Though WOL isn't a perfect method, I'm more optimistic than ever. Because every day I see feedback from people like Karin in Vienna who wrote something quite poignant about her Circle experience:

"If I had to describe in a word what I have learned through #WOL in the last few weeks, then that word would be 'courage'."

What if you could have that feeling? What if you could help others have the confidence to give voice to their opinions and ideas, to work in a more open, connected way, to be generous and even kind at work? How would that change your company's culture?

As Silke said, “Not every method is suitable for every context.” Yet by openly sharing what worked and didn’t work - by “working out loud about Working Out Loud” - we can help more people and make a bigger impact. Whether you make a difference for yourself, for your Circle, or for a movement of thousands of people, it all starts with making the attempt.

WOL Circle Guides now in Portuguese

I’m not sure which is more amazing to me, that the Circle Guides are now in Portuguese or how those translations were done. 

A few months ago, I wrote about Tiago Caldas in Sao Paolo who wanted to translate the guides and spread Circles in his company and country. He made his intention visible online, and Portuguese-speaking people from around the world decided to join him, like Gleyce in Munich. 

“Why I have contributed to this project? When I first saw Tiago's post in the WOL community in LinkedIn asking for support to translate the guides into Portuguese, I immediately thought: how nice is that!?
Since WOL is based on generosity, I saw his post as an opportunity to keep the generosity ball rolling! As a bonus I got the opportunity to expand my network with others WOLies in Brazil and Germany that I hope to meet in person soon.”

The group grew to 11 people from multiple countries, and from companies including ZF, Bosch, Daimler, Airbus, and Schaeffler. They’re all busy professionals, yet something drove them to volunteer and take on this extra work. Daniella from Bosch wrote to me explaining why she did it.

“3 things have moved me to join the translation group:
1.       I wanted to contribute to spreading the WOL method to a wider audience, specially Brazil which is in dear need of a positive cultural transformation movement.
2.       I wanted to help the Portuguese-speaking community to better engage their emotions, having the guides in their mother-language when they are going through their WOL journey.
3.       I wanted to experience cross-company collaboration and to get to know amazing, engaged people from other companies to reach something together.
I would like to thank Tiago for the organization of the group and all the participants for the TOP engagement! It was fun, let us continue our cooperation! On an individual level our resources maybe limited, but together we can move mountains!!”

Though these people are working in very different environments, they share two things in common: their love for Brazil and their generosity. Danilo told me, "I fully agree with Tiago when he says that it will be very useful for Brazilians, assisting us to have one organized tool for development. Let's make it happen.”

When Tiago sent me the guides, he said, “I feel very good working for something that will help a lot of people to develop themselves and connect to a new world of possibilities. WOL captured in us this sense of how we feel good in being generous.”

Generous indeed! I am extremely grateful to this wonderful group of people for their tremendous contribution. I hope these guides help spark a WOL movement in Brazil and beyond, and that I get to thank each of the translators in person someday.

Ademir de Souza

Caroline Bremberger

Daniella Cunha Teichert

Danilo Diniz Cintra

Fabrício de Almeida Mozer

Gleyce Kastl Lima

Isabel Duarte

João Senise

Patricia Coelho dos Santos Nascimento

Sergio Scabar

Tiago Caldas

WOL for Teams didn’t work, but this will

You might call it “WOL for Shared Purpose” or “WOL for Communities.” I like “WOL for Passion.” There’s no need for special materials or training. You can use the free WOL Circle Guides and start now. 

The idea is a result of a failed experiment with WOL for Teams. By applying what we learned, and making some small adjustments to Circles, I think we can help a wide range of communities and causes.

Why WOL for Teams failed

WOL for Teams, as you may have guessed from the name, is a WOL Circle in which the goal and relationship list are shared by everyone in the group, and so the method emphasizes the group over the individual. A modified set of Circle Guides includes other adaptations that flow from that. For example, the goals we suggested in Week 1 are different.

  • Raise awareness about what we do
  • Get feedback from stakeholders
  • Find and learn from others who do related work

Some of the exercises were different too. You would work on the team’s online presence instead of your own. The “Letter from Your Future Self” exercise became “The President’s Award” where you speak about how your team accomplished its goal. And so on.

In the pilot, two kinds of challenges led to us deeming it a failure. The first was procedural. Having a single relationship list in the group made it unclear who was supposed to do what with each person on the list. Would the whole team suddenly offer attention and appreciation to someone? That seemed odd. (The word “stalking” was used.) Also, some teams were larger, making the meetings hard to manage.

More insidious was that we explicitly undermined one of the most important elements of WOL: intrinsic motivation. While some people in the pilot may have truly cared about their team’s goal, it wasn’t enough for most people to spark their motivation to do things differently. The Circle meeting began to feel like yet another team meeting and, as a result, most pilot members stopped showing up.

WOL for Passion

WOL for Passion is subtly different. As in WOL Circles, you're still in a group of 4 - 5 people, and each individual still chooses an individual goal they care about. However, Circles are formed based on goals that are related. By grouping people based on the goal they choose, we preserve each member’s intrinsic motivation while creating possibilities for more interaction within the Circle.

The thematic goals can be anything one truly cares about. Maybe you're passionate about a work topic like autonomous vehicles or cryptocurrencies or the Internet of Things. Or maybe you care deeply about more general topics like innovation or diversity, or education or the environment. Whatever it is, you're likely to find people who share your interests in related online communities inside and outside your company. WOL for Passion would give you all a simple and structured way to contribute and connect.

Because your goals are related, you'll be able to share more resources within your Circle. And as more Circles form related to a given theme, resources could be curated within communities of practice. “Here’s a list of people related to the topic and useful resources. Here’s a sample Contribution Checklist.” All of that would enable WOL for Passion members to make progress more quickly.

In short, WOL for Passion accelerates connecting people and knowledge around a topic, tapping into each individual's intrinsic motivation to do so.

An example in Nebraska

I've been thinking about this idea since I first heard the results of the WOL for Teams pilot over a year ago. Recently, I saw a tweet from John Porter - aka the Urban Agriculture Guru - that pushed me to do something. John had been in a WOL Circle and found it helpful for developing and growing his business and personal relationships. He also cares deeply about urban agriculture and the many benefits of consuming locally-produced food. So he wanted to see if he could use WOL to connect urban food producers with other parts of the food eco-system.

“Our local food system is in its beginning phases here in Omaha, and I really think I can be a catalyst in helping connect the dots between producers and from producers to consumers, retailers, etc.  I’d love to build an informal network of producers so that I can better support this growth, and I think WOL would be a good tool to do this.”

John said there were already meet-ups, Facebook pages, and other efforts to connect people, but that nothing so far had formed a sense of community. 

“We post announcements - but nobody is contributing. I want to use WOL to build purpose for the community. I want to be able to build collaborations between them.”

So I asked John if he would be willing to do an experiment. He would form a few Circles of people with goals related to his, and I would help him along the way. He agreed.

What are you passionate about?

The exercises in Week 11 of the Circle Guides (“Imagine the possibilities”) are about this kind of community building. “As you aim higher, your purpose is no longer about you and what you alone might accomplish but what your tribe will accomplish together.” WOL for Passion builds on this, helping you find people who care about what you care about, build deep relationships with them, and connect and equip them to make progress towards related goals.

What about you? Is there something you care so much about that you want to create connections and possibilities related to it? Try your own experiment by forming WOL Circles of people with related goals. Experience what kind of a difference that can make. I'll be glad to help you, too.

 An example of community-building: Nebraska local foods 

An example of community-building: Nebraska local foods 

 

 

A cross-company WOL event in Shanghai on June 28, 2018

It all started with a phone call from Connie Wu. After her experience in the first WOL Circle in China, she wanted to spread Working Out Loud to more companies there. So she reached out to the dean of the business school she had attended, connected the three of us on WeChat, and together we came up with an idea.

Though we’re still in the planning stages, we're committed to the project. By sharing what we intend to do we hope to include more people and make the plans even better.

The main idea

Originally, I thought a simple event for multiple companies would be a good way to introduce WOL and launch WOL Circles. For global companies already spreading WOL, the event would give them a way to expand the movement in China. For others, it would give them an easy way to experiment with it.

It was Prof. William Hua Wang, the dean of the EM Lyon business school in Shanghai, who suggested we turn it into a kind of case study. We would still aim to launch Circles, but the business school would collect data before, during, and afterwards to measure effectiveness. I would also offer coaching webinars at several points throughout the 12 weeks.

Some details

This isn’t a marketing event, it's a learning event. We want to discover how and why WOL could help individuals and organizations in China. Over the course of a full, interactive day, there will be talks and workshops from a range of practitioners to help people understand and experience WOL, and to decide if they’d like to participate in a Circle and in the case study.

The date is Thursday, June 28th. We expect several large companies to join, and perhaps 100 or so attendees. In anticipation of the event, we’ll translate the guides into Mandarin and adapt them so they refer to more relevant tools and examples.

The case study data should help us understand whether cultural differences affect the adoption of the practice, and how we might handle those differences. For example, in Chinese culture there’s the concept of guanxi (关系) - social networks built on “implicit mutual obligations, reciprocity, and trust.” Would Working Out Loud complement or conflict with this idea? Besides translating guides into Mandarin, what other adjustments would we need to make?

If you or your colleagues are near Shanghai on June 28th…

I’m fascinated by the prospects for WOL in China. After all, more and more companies have employees, customers, partners, and suppliers there. And even if only 1% of the people in China Work Out Loud, that’s more than 13 million people. Learning how to better collaborate in and with China - how to develop a deeper sense of relatedness - is both interesting and valuable. 

If you or your organization is interested in attending the event, or would like to be part of the planning, please contact me at john.stepper@workingoutloud.com. I hope to see you there.

謝謝 (Thank you.)

 

The first draft of the rest of your life

The subject of the email was “Need your help.” Since it was sent by a strong, confident friend who had never asked for help before, I was worried. It turned out it wasn’t a crisis, but she was stuck on something. “I’m in big trouble…do you have time?” So we scheduled a call.

The problem? She had committed to submitting a paper for publication, and she couldn’t get started. Though she has a lot to say on the subject, she had struggled for weeks to make any progress and now the deadline was looming. Her anxiety was evident.

I thought of the many bits of advice I had benefitted from and might share, and then I discarded all of it.

“Open up your laptop,” I said. “Let’s start right now.”

At first we just talked about the topic, and after a few minutes a theme emerged. We exchanged ideas for a phrase or sentence that might capture it until we came up with a headline that felt good to her. “Great,” I said. “Write that down.”

We moved on to headings. What were the main points she was trying to make? She talked about a wide range of ideas, including some resources she found helpful. It was scattered at first. She was still overwhelmed. I listened, and reflected back whatever major points I heard. When one made sense to her, she wrote it down. Then we came up with another. “That reminds me!” she said, erupting with ideas now. She began recalling related things she had written and read and thought about before.

Soon there was less talking and more typing. Her energy had shifted from nervous to excited, and she was still writing as we hung up. A few weeks after our call, she sent me a note that she had finished it. It wasn’t perfect, she told me, and she would do it differently next time, but she was glad for the chance to learn and get better.

Since our call, I’ve been thinking of how my friend’s experience is a metaphor for how many of us live our lives. We struggle to think through what we want our life to be like. We may have ideas but it can be hard to put them into a coherent picture. And we may feel time is running out.

Waiting doesn't help. The only way out is through. Maybe you start with writing a letter from your future self, or describe your perfect month, or do whatever exercise would help you capture the first draft of an intentional life. It may not be exactly right, but that step attunes your attention and opens you up to next steps and new possibilities.

As the poet Mary Oliver asked

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Voice your intention. Pick up your journal or laptop and begin writing. Clip pictures from magazines and craft a vision board. Call a friend if you need to. Let’s start right now.

***

IMG_7626.jpg

When it’s not a contribution

I don’t mean to judge you. If you recognize an item on this list as something you do, perhaps you have good intentions. Perhaps, contrary to my opinion, it is helpful to someone. Perhaps you simply do it without thinking.

All of these are things I’ve done myself, and yet they make me cringe now. I share this list in the hope that you’ll find it helpful and avoid the mistakes I’ve made. 

A partial list

I often tell people to “frame it as a contribution,” by which I mean the things you share should be be helpful to someone in some way. Here are ten of the more egregious ways I failed to follow my own advice.

Automated contributions -  You signed up for some on-line service and it starts spewing out how many people followed you on Twitter, that you Liked a particular video, or that you achieved a new level on a game few have heard of.

Impersonal contributions #1 - You hit a button to connect with someone and offer no explanation as to who you are, why you want to connect, or how the other person might benefit. 

Impersonal contributions #2 - You hit a button to share the latest news or blog post without adding why you’re sharing it or why others might care.

Complaints - You come across something that irritates you and you share it, amplifying your discontent in exchange for a feeling of validation that may come from others agreeing with you. 

Burdens #1 - You introduce people to each other via email without asking them first, thus forcing them to follow up or risk the embarrassment of seeming unresponsive. 

Burdens #2 - You send lengthy emails with requests hidden deep inside them, or  share lengthy articles without explanation.

Burdens #3 - You ask people you barely know vague questions via email or text - "How are you?" - that are just crude disguises to lure them into a conversation. 

Burdens #4 - You overwhelm someone with “helpfulness,” sharing a wild array of things - links, videos, articles, comments, feedback - that they didn’t ask for and can’t possibly keep up with. 

Purpose-less contributions - Your posts of food or cats or kids are too frequent (unless you’re in a food or cat or kid community).

Narcissism - Me, me, me, me. While sharing something you’ve done can be genuinely helpful, talking only about you and your accomplishments verges on narcissistic and creepy. 

I could go on, but you get the point. The theme throughout this list is that you make such mistakes when don’t listen. You think of sharing as a megaphone, amplifying who you are but at the expense of being sensitive to the people around you. Or, worse, you don’t think at all. Like the irritated driver honking in traffic, you see something and offer something without a thought as to how the other person might receive it.

The one technique you need

The trick to “framing it as a contribution” is to know that “helpful” is in the eye of the recipient. So to be genuinely helpful, you need to reflect and practice empathy, to put yourself in the position of the other person. 

Who might find this helpful? 

Why should they? 

How might I feel if I received this?

What’s my real motivation in sharing this?

Working Out Loud Circles make it easy to practice this. Week after week, you get the chance to make a wide range of contributions - from appreciation to visible work to vulnerability - with genuine generosity and empathy until it becomes a habit and a mindset. 

Over time, you develop a short pause before you send something, a tiny moment of reflection that can make a fundamental difference in what you share and how it’s received. It takes practice, but it’s worth it.

If it feels like you’re trying to get something in return

He felt uneasy about Working Out Loud. After a few weeks in a WOL Circle at work, he felt like he was trying to win people over by doing something for them, and it seemed wrong. So he posted his concern on his company’s intranet, along with a question.

“My understanding of Working Out Loud is that I should contribute and ‘do good’ without the idea of getting things in return….On the other hand, I consciously create a relationship list where I collect the names of certain people who can help me with achieving my personal goal. Then I specifically target them with my ‘contribution’ - attention, support, whatever it may be. Effectively, I am trying to get their support by doing them favors.
What am I missing?”
If it feels wrong.jpg

Some responses

His colleagues responded with their own opinions and experiences, and the person managing the community shared the discussion with me. Some responded that they don’t expect anything in return from a particular individual, and yet believed that, across their entire network, there would naturally be a benefit to them. Others shared how the listing of names helped them to go far beyond the individuals they already knew in a purposeful way, and gave them access to learning they didn’t have before. One woman said she didn’t see it as currying favor with people but rather  “improving the odds” or “creating one’s luck.”

Everyone agreed that intention mattered, that the core principle was to offer things without expectations. I had the chance to send in my own reply.

"If WOL ever feels like you're ‘targeting’ people or trying to manipulate them into reciprocating, you should stop. That's not the intention nor is it a healthy, sustainable practice.
Think of your relationship list not as a set of targets but as people who can help you explore. You're not doing something TO them but rather being OPEN TO them, to their work and ideas and more. 
Each person is like a door. The greater the sense of trust and relatedness, the more that door may open, giving both of you greater access to each other's knowledge, resources, and other people. Now, if a particular door never opens, if a person never responds or you never develop any sense of relatedness, that's okay. Your contributions, if offered in a positive, empathetic way without expectations, can still benefit them (in ways you may never know). As you contribute to more people on your list, you simply increase the chances that you'll develop genuine trust & relatedness with some of them.”

And another question…

As the discussion unfolded, the topic shifted to the relationship list. After all, he wondered, if you’re offering things without expectations, why do you need a list? I replied, “If the relationship list makes the practice feel artificial, don’t use it.” 

The reason I put the relationship list in Week 1 of a Circle is because it helps you attune your attention, opening you up to people (and thus ideas, resources, and more) related to your goal. Right from the beginning, that simple act can help you see things you may have never noticed before. But if I’ve been working on a goal for a long time, or if I find the list to be a barrier of some kind, I may stop maintaining it. 

A practice like any other

Though there is a reason for each of the exercises in a WOL Circle, what’s more important is whether or not you find the exercise to be helpful. I added:

“You can think of your initial relationship list as “scaffolding” that helps you set up your practice. Eventually, you may no longer need it if you feel your practice can stand on its own.”

And that’s true for much of Working Out Loud. Like any practice, there are guides and traditions and even rules, but those are really just meant to help you get started. There is no one right way. Rather, the best practice is the one that’s right for you at a particular time, one you discover and adapt through practice, feedback, and...questions.

“Like a pebble in a pond”

“Each contribution you make,” I’ll often tell an audience, “is like a pebble in a pond, rippling out and bringing you into contact with more people and possibilities.”

It sounds a bit lofty, doesn’t it? Like an exaggeration? Here’s an example of what I mean.

A simple contribution

After reading Working Out Loud, Andrea could have quietly put the book on the shelf, but instead she offered public appreciation on LinkedIn and asked a simple question

“Is there anyone in the Munich area who is interested in forming a local #wol circle?”

Though I didn’t know Andrea, I was notified of her post because she mentioned me in it. So I offered some ways she could find potential Circle members and added that, by coincidence, I would be in her city in a few weeks.

“Fabelhaft! :-) One way to find Circle members is to ask in the WOL groups on Facebook or LinkedIn. There are many WOL practitioners in Munich. I'll be there myself in 2 weeks!”

One step unlocks another

Andrea’s short post didn’t exactly go viral, but it did draw a reaction from people in a few dozen companies and at least half a dozen countries. One of the comments, from someone who neither Andrea nor I knew,  said he would also be in Munich and perhaps we could meet. That led to a group message with a growing number of people. Soon, we had a date, time, and place to meet for dinner

There were 12 of us, and we had fun discovering connections between each of us. What motivated each person to attend? Did they know anyone else there? How did they even hear about WOL?

If that was all that happened, it would be enough, and Andrea summed it up nicely in a post.

“12 people from different companies with various backgrounds- and one common denominator: an interest in working out loud...It was a pleasure to see you all today! I feel enriched by your stories and I hope to meet you again in a circle, or otherwise :-)”

More people and possibilities

But the ripples kept spreading (and keep spreading). For example, six of the people there were from Airbus. Several of them brought a book, inscribed by their manager who, unbeknownst to me, was giving it to her team members. As we talked, we discovered other connections with Airbus in France, and the team resolved to start their own WOL Circles inside the company.

Stranger still, the woman I sat next, Gleyce, was already part of a group led by someone in Brazil working to translate the Circle Guides into Portuguese. The web of connections and coincidences seemed to grow, and we all remarked on how it all began with a simple post.

 "Airbus starting to Working Out Loud - Elina Golke, Clotilde Martin, John Stepper, Gleyce Kastl Lima, Philipp Rathjen, Bernd Schmid" 

"Airbus starting to Working Out Loud - Elina Golke, Clotilde Martin, John Stepper, Gleyce Kastl Lima, Philipp Rathjen, Bernd Schmid" 

Pebbles and butterflies

In Week 10 of the Circle Guides, there’s a contribution checklist to help people become more systematic about what they have to offer. Your gift can be as simple as attention or appreciation, or it can be making your work visible: sharing what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, resources and people that have helped you, things you’ve learned, questions you have, and more.

When I write posts like the one you’re reading now, most of the readers are people I don’t know, and aren't even connected to me, and the ripples take me and my work to some surprising places. Just this week I got a note from the principal of a school in Austria who wants to use WOL to help teachers with their professional development. It's a topic my wife and I are both interested in, and that I wrote about almost four years ago, and the Austrian principal and I agreed on an experiment we'll do together in a few weeks.

How do such things happen? And how can you make them happen more often?

In chaos theory, as a way to demonstrate that small changes can have dramatic and unpredictable consequences, it's said that a butterfly flapping its wings in China can affect the weather in New York City.

What if, like Andrea, you unleashed your own butterflies each day, offering contributions without expectations? What kind of changes could you make possible, for yourself and for others?