A short blog vacation (with photos)

With August comes the arrival of more holiday photos, fewer emails, and a short break for this blog. The next post will be in mid-September. 

Even vacations can be a kind of contribution. In Week 5 of a WOL Circle, there’s an exercise to share one of fifty facts about you. For those who find this challenging, I suggest they send me their favorite holiday destination and I promise to reply with my own. I want them to see how even something seemingly mundane can be the basis for a connection with someone else. That has led to me learning about beautiful places, and to many wonderful exchanges. 

Some of you may know that I’ve been in Japan this summer. I've written about my love for Japan before, and that love keeps growing with each trip. Below are some of my new favorite places that I’ll be sharing. 

Aside from exploring, I’ve also been writing - creating the new WOL-SC guides, finalizing the WOL Circle Journal, and drafting additional material for the second edition of the book. So for me August also brings with it a mounting anticipation of things to come.

Wherever you are in the world, I wish you well. Enjoy.

Iriomote, Japan

Nuno, Japan

Nuno, Japan

Nuno, Japan

Naena Falls, Niigata, Japan

Togakushi Forest, Nagano, Japan

WOL Circle Guides now in Dutch

As I began to write this post about the Dutch translation project, I looked again at the letter that Marc Van De Velde wrote telling me the work was complete. After reading it several times, I realized there were no better words than his, and so I include his note in full below. His last paragraph on his motivation for doing it is especially powerful.

My only addition is to add my personal thanks to Marc, Annemie, Geert, Frederik, Natasja, Saskia, and Jeroen for their translation, and to Peter for his review of it. It is a tremendous effort, inspired solely by their desire to help others.

Annemie told me, “I am proud to have participated in this project. Grateful and happy to have met beautiful people who I trust deeply.” What a truly wonderful collaboration. I hope to thank them all in person some day.

***

“Amazed by the first steps I set myself in relation to Working Out Loud, I saw the richness that the Working Out Loud method has to offer to other individuals, teams, and companies. I also became convinced that it would be beneficial for many Dutch-speaking people to have the circle guides in their own native language. 
Triggered by the initiatives from Fiona Michaux and Tiago Caldas who translated the guides into French and Portugese, I contacted you in the beginning of this year to see whether you would agree that I would launch such an initiative. 
Grateful to have received your formal agreement I’ve launched a request for help on the WOL-facebook page and other networks I was involved in. I was proud that a group of six people responded enthusiastic and committed to help me out on this project. With the help from Fiona Michaux I was introduced to the way she and her team approached this translation into French so that our NL-team could have a head-start in our own translation project. 
On March 20th of this year I held the formal kick-off for our WOL-NL-Translation-project together with Annemie Martens, Geert Nijs, Frederik Maesen, Natasja van Schaik, Saskia Wenniger and Jeroen Brands. As a team we discussed on how to approach this project and divided work amongst each other. As in any project, also this project was not spared the difficulties and problems that we had to solve as a team. Every member did what she/he could in order to complete this project and to deliver a great result to you. 
Before delivering our work to you, the Dutch circle guides have been reviewed by Peter De Troch and are currently tested within the company Annemie is working for. 
I’m proud that we made it work as I am with the result achieved. I feel humble as I’m allowed by the team to deliver our great result to you and hope that you also like what we’ve done and that you will make the Dutch version of the circle guides available on the Working Out Loud website. As you will notice we’ve also tried to respect the original layout as much as possible although we’re aware that it might still need some corrections in order to be delivered in a final version. 
As to the question “Why we’ve done this?” I think I speak for the all team in saying that we have done this project out of generosity towards the growing WOL community while at the same time being convinced that this will help others in experiencing the fun and effect of Working Out Loud. Working as a team felt as in participating in a WOL-circle in which we all experienced how great it is to work with peers who are their to help and support the other when facing a problem, issue or difficulty. In being part of this each one has built on the intimacy level with other team members so we became more closely related with each other. As a result of this we’re now even explore on how we can do more things together.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to initiate this project.
Marc"

***

Annemie Martens

Frederik Maesen

Geert Nijs (Author of "De netwerkexpeditie. Slimmer samenwerken met sociale technologie" available November 2018)

Jeroen Brands

Marc Van de Velde

Natasja van Schaik 

Peter De Troch

Saskia Wenniger

Thank you very much in Dutch.png

 

 

The first WOL-SC Circles are ready to start in September

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I hit “publish” last week, asking for volunteers to test a new kind of Circle, so I kept my expectations low. 

When the first response arrived nine minutes later, I breathed a small sigh of relief. Then more and more emails kept trickling in. Within 24 hours, I realized I had a good problem: I would have far more volunteers than I could accommodate in the first test of the new materials.

The diversity of those who responded is remarkable. Some work in big companies like Bosch and Daimler, and others in governmental and non-profit organizations related to healthcare, training, and education. Some are coaches or work in small consulting firms. There’s even someone who has their own “small fashion brand.” Respondents wrote to me from 16 different countries.

  1. Argentina
  2. Australia
  3. Austria
  4. Belgium
  5. Brazil
  6. Canada
  7. China
  8. Germany
  9. India
  10. Italy
  11. Netherlands
  12. New Zealand
  13. Poland
  14. Switzerland
  15. Turkey
  16. USA

I was going to form just three Circles so I could be sure to support each one and make use of their feedback. But I quickly decided to expand the experiment to 15 Circles to accommodate more volunteers. Still, I had to ask many people to wait for the next version of the guides before trying WOL-SC. I expect to publish them on workingoutloud.com in early 2019, after the experiment is complete and I’ve made improvements and adjustments to the method.

When people wrote to me, some said they hoped they would “make the cut” and some sent me their qualifications to be included. For those of you who could not join, please know this was not meant to be a contest of any kind. In selecting volunteers, I aimed simply for diversity, attempting to have a healthy mix of different countries, organizations, genders, and jobs.

In the next few days, I’ll be sending out emails to everyone who responded. I want to thank every single person for their support, and for their willingness to try something new and to offer their feedback. It is encouraging and inspiring, and i greatly appreciate it. 

Screen Shot 2018-07-23 at 2.20.41 PM.png

Introducing a new kind of Circle: WOL-SC

For people who have participated in a WOL Circle, a common question is, ”What comes next?” Many people want to keep going, so some join another Circle with new members. Others just continue to meet every so often, updating and supporting each other. 

Now there’s another option. It’s a new way to deepen the insights and practice you began developing in your WOL Circle, and it’s called WOL-SC.

 

Screen Shot 2018-07-23 at 2.20.41 PM.png

What is WOL-SC?

The “SC” in “WOL-SC” can stand for many things: “Self-Care,” “Self-Compassion,” “SuperCharge,” or whatever other label you can come up with that expresses a sense of investing in yourself and and developing important skills. In many ways, a WOL-SC Circle can be thought of as a prequel to a WOL Circle. Whereas Working Out Loud improves how you relate to others, WOL-SC helps you improve how you relate to yourself.

WOL-SC is comprised of five discrete practices that you experiment with one after the other. Without exaggeration, these practices have changed my life. When I compare my current self to myself in years past, I am happier and calmer. I act with more confidence and clarity. I am a better father, husband, and friend. WOL-SC is an attempt to distill what I’ve learned from years of experiments aimed at improving my own work and life. It is not meant as a prescription that will work for everyone, or to presume that anyone should do what I do. Rather, it's offered in the spirit of “this helped me, and I hope you find it useful too.”

The main ideas are not new. The WOL-SC Circle Guides are all based on ancient wisdom, much of it thousands of years old and increasingly supported by scientific research. My intended contribution is to make it easier for anyone to apply these fundamentally good practices till they become habits, so more people can realize the many well-documented benefits.

How does it compare to a WOL Circle?

If you have already been in a WOL Circle, then certain aspects of WOL-SC will be familiar to you. You will meet as a group of four or five. It will be a psychologically safe, confidential space without judgment or competition. Your Circle can meet in person or via video across locations, and there will be guides with instructions on what to do in those meetings.

Beyond that, there are several important differences. You will meet only once a month for six months. You will do daily exercises on your own each month, and your meetings will be for you to share what happened and to prepare for a different practice the next month.

Also, unlike a WOL Circle, there is no goal or relationship list. The practices are largely focused on yourself. The only goals are to develop greater self-awareness and mindfulness. These are the keys to realizing more of your potential as well as a greater sense of fulfillment and happiness. The reason for the Circle meetings is that the structure, shared accountability, and support can help each person make progress. Also, reflecting on and exchanging experiences each month can advance your learning. 

Better for you. Better for your organization.

The personal benefits of the five practices in WOL-SC have been thoroughly studied and documented, and the new Circle Guides include resources to help you explore further and learn more. But there are benefits for organizations, too. Companies clearly recognize the need to do more to help employees handle the strains of work and life. Every company I've met with, for example, has a Wellness at Work or Mindfulness program. And hundreds of companies are spreading Working Out Loud Circles, proving that they are willing to create a safe, confidential space for employees to develop themselves.

What if we could build on that, and use Circles to enhance employees' focus, self-control, and stress management while helping them be kinder and happier? How many people would benefit if all those wellness programs had a new method that was easy to implement and spread? 

If you would like to be the first to try it…

I’ve been toying with this idea for a few years. While staying in Japan this summer, I finally drafted a set of guides that are ready to test, but not yet ready to publish. For the first experiment, I’d like to form 3 Circles, comprised of people I don’t know well and all of whom have been in at least one WOL Circle. We will start in September.

  • Circle #1 would meet in person in New York City, and I would be a member. So I would need four volunteers who live in or near NYC.
  • Circle #2 would meet via video and would span timezones. I would be a member of this Circle too, so I would need four volunteers from different countries.
  • Circle #3 would not include me. This will help me understand if the new guides are self-explanatory and what changes I may need to make. For this Circle, I would need five volunteers who would meet via video (unless five people in the same location volunteer as a group).

If you would like to volunteer for the WOL-SC experiment, send me an email at john.stepper@workingoutloud.com and let me know if you have a preference for which Circle you’d like to join. This is version 1.0 of something that may take many iterations to get right, but I am committed to working on it and to making the guides available for free. I appreciate your interest and support.

Your beautiful faces

Sometimes, in Week 12, they will share a group photo. That final meeting often takes place over dinner or a glass of wine (or both). Even groups meeting via video will take a screenshot. Then they’ll post the photo with a comment about their experience together. 

It’s like looking through a window that connects me to them, and I smile every time. 

The first WOL Circle selfie I remember was over two years ago. I included it in the TEDx talk and still use it in most of my presentations. Since then, there have been photos from many kinds of people in many different places. China, Italy, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Turkey.  

I’ve always wanted to do something more with these photos, and now I have two ideas.

The first is to display them on a dedicated page on the website, so that anyone interested in Circles can see them. Your beautiful faces would be more interesting and persuasive than any words I could write. And each photo would be a small tribute to your shared experience. 

The other idea is to include at least a dozen of them in a video series I’m finishing now. I’ll put one or more photos at the beginning of every video. Showing people how a Circle can feel, how relationships can develop, would be a wonderful way to start each week.

If you would like a photo of your Circle to be included (and everyone in your group agrees), email the best quality image you have to john.stepper@workingoutloud.com. Also send me what you would like to include in a short caption. It could be the countries you’re from, your first names, your company, or anything else you would like to add.

Each photo reminds me that Working Out Loud is about improving how we relate to each other, to ourselves, and to the work we do. One Circle at a time. 

WOL Circle selfie - Welcome Friends of WOL.png

WOL Circle selfie - with hastag.JPG

WOL Circle self - Bologna.JPG

WOL Circle selfie - Deutsche Messe.JPG

WOL Circle selfie - China.jpg

WOL Circle selfie - Turkey.JPG

WOL Site - For You - Circle Selfie.JPG

WOL Circle Guides now in Spanish

When Barbara Wietasch first told me she wanted to translate the Circle Guides into Spanish, I was confused. We had corresponded a few months earlier, and I remembered she was German, living in Vienna. She even blogs in German

She explained, “I lived 14 years in Madrid studying and living and working within the Spanish culture. So my emotional part is always there.” My next question was, "Why would you volunteer to take on such an extraordinary project?"

“I believe in agile work and want to make the world and organizations a better place to live, and I’m sure that WOL is an important method….a clear structure, a method, and a mindset of “who gives – wins.” I’m a fan of WOL and feel like an ambassador, having the need to spread and share it.”

She reached out to Spanish-speaking friends in Madrid, Vienna, and Munich and came into contact with new people who wanted to contribute. Gabriela participated because she “firmly believes in collaborative work and work methodologies such as WOL." Ana volunteered because of her own experience in a Circle. 

“I think WOL is really good. The change of mindset and how it worked for me in the first two weeks made it already worth it. My network is already larger than it had been before and my working area is known better only by doing WOL.”

Julia is someone I have written about before. She contributed so more people could experience the benefits.

“I am a great fan/follower of WOL and I have not thought twice when I saw they were looking for people to translate it into Spanish. I think there are many people who feel more comfortable reading in their native language and I wanted to support facilitating the dissemination of WOL in Spanish speaking countries.”

Daniella, who worked on the Portuguese translation and who used her Circles to do amazing things, said, 

“When I heard Barbara was putting together a team for translating the guides to Spanish, I did not hesitate in activating my network and bringing together some amazing women. Again, another wonderful team was formed that contributed to spread Working Out Loud! It was a great experience.”

In total, a dozen people self-organized around an idea they care about, and created something that can help hundreds or even thousands. I’m grateful to all of them for these new Circle Guides, and hope to thank each of them in person someday. 

Team Members:

Barbara Wietasch - Coordination & translation

Juan Salgado Bito – Proof reading

Daniella Cunha Teichert – Layout

Translators:

Rosa Reyero

Rosa Maria García Torres

Julia Flug

Julia Bustamante

Dolores Santiago

Jose Manuel Benedetti

Perla Saucedo

Gabriela Melicchio

Ana Belén Salcines

Muchas gracias.png

If there is an Us and Them in your organization

Like it or not, there is certainly an Us and Them in your organization. Indeed, there are many, as employees identify with different divisions, locations, and teams. Human beings desperately seek group affiliations and have evolved to quickly identify who’s in our group and who isn’t. Even infants do it.

The reason we developed this deeply-ingrained tendency most likely started with genetics. The forces of group-level natural selection led to prosocial behaviors within a group and competition between groups. That helped related members pass on their genes. But now it goes way beyond that. 

The Trolley Experiments

A classic thought experiment used in ethics can tell us a lot about our innate tribalism and how the brain works. It’s called “The Trolley Problem.” 

“You see a runaway trolley moving toward five tied-up (or otherwise incapacitated) people lying on the tracks. You are standing next to a level that controls a switch. If you pull the lever, the trolley will be redirected onto a side track and the five people on the main track will be saved. However, there is a single person lying on the side track. You have two choices:
1. Do nothing and also the trolley to kill the five people on the main track.
2. Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.”

In Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, Prof. Richard Sapolsky describes experiments involving variations of this problem. What if one of the people were related to you? Or were of the same ethnicity? Or wore the jersey of your favorite team? 

Would that affect your choice? Of course it would. “According to one astonishing survey, 46% of women would save their own dog rather than a foreign tourist if both were menaced by a runaway bus. The evolutionary explanation is that they feel more ‘kinship’ with the dog.”

The Trolley Problem.png

The part of you that decides

In another version of this experiment, instead of pulling a lever, you have to push a person onto the tracks to save the other five. Experimenters gave subjects both versions while neuro-imaging their brains. They found that those pushing a person activated “emotion-related regions that respond to aversive stimuli.” Those pulling a lever did not activate those regions. For them, it was “as purely cerebral a decision as choosing which wrench to use to fix a widget.”

Remove the human element from mistreating someone, and it literally changes how you think about it. 

What to do?

Sapolsky offered no easy answers. Human behavior is complicated, the research is often contradictory, and the best you can do is point to rough probabilities.

“From massive, breathtaking barbarity to countless pinpricks of microaggression, Us versus Them has produced oceans of pain. Yet our generic goal is not to cure us of Us/Them dichotomizing. It can’t be done…"

Instead, in the final pages he had advice for how to at least mitigate our ingrained tribal tendencies and tap into more prosocial behaviors. “Focus on the larger shared, goals. Practice perspective taking. Individuate, individuate, individuate.” Seeing the other person as someone you can relate to engages other parts of your brain, allowing you to feel empathy and compassion.

Perhaps you have two divisions that don’t get along, or the merger of two organizations still hasn’t resulted in one culture, or there’s friction between headquarters and the branch locations. Consider purposefully forming WOL Circles with people from the different groups. Over the twelve weeks, they’ll relate to each other as individuals who have much in common, and those human connections can serve as bridges between the groups. 

When you go beyond the labels and categories, go beyond “Them,” it can change everything.

WOL Circle Guides now in Mandarin

I’m writing this overlooking Changfeng Park in Shanghai, and it all seems like a bit of a miracle to me. 

I first wrote about Working Out Loud in China in September of last year, after Connie Wu had me join her WOL Circle via WeChat. Little did I know that I would travel to Beijing and Shanghai, work with companies and a business school there, and see the Circle Guides in Mandarin

Now you know why I’ve begun calling her “The unstoppable Connie Wu.”

After her experience in a Circle, Connie wanted to help others have that same experience, that same feeling of confidence and connection. So she organized a team of 20 volunteers to translate the guides, and now they’re ready

Every one of these people has a busy work or school schedule (or both), and yet, motivated simply by the desire to help others, they generously worked to make the material accessible to more people in China.

I met Connie in person for the first time this week, and met her daughter and other members of the translation team. They’re smart, kind, determined people. I can imagine many more miracles in the future.

Chen Chanyu (Aimee)

Chen Jing (Lynn)

Chen Qin

Chen Yanyan (Dora)

Fan Yingying 

Fu Haoxuan

Liu Yi

Meng Na (Mona)

Pan Jiaqi (Olivia)

Shen Jie (Jane)

Shi Jing (Ivy) 

Wang Hui (Emma)

Wu Chuanjuan (Connie)

Xia Yunxin

Yang Mengyun (Daisy) 

Zhang Lingli (Angela)

Zhou Diya (Delia)

Zhou Jing

Thank you in Mandarin - Xie Xie.png

WOL Circle Guides now in French

An incredibly dedicated group of volunteers wanted to make it easier for French speakers to Work Out Loud, so over the past few months they translated the WOL Circle Guides

It’s a tremendous amount of effort. In addition to the work of translating, proofreading, and editing, there are all the challenges of navigating the different opinions, work styles, and busy schedules of people in different companies and countries. 

I asked them, “Why would you do such a thing?” Most said it was because they enjoyed their WOL Circle, and they wanted to help others experience it. 

“Having the WOL Circle Guides in French will open the potential of the WOL Method to our colleagues and beyond.”
“I hope that the French WOL method will spread a new way of collaborating as we did for the translation. This shows how it is possible to go ahead together without knowing each other.”

They wrote a blog post about what they did, and I smiled at the last lines. 

“Now the guides are ready to be read in the language of Molière, and I hope it will touch many persons and increase the chances they benefit from the method.
It doesn’t feel like the end but rather, as Humphrey Bogart said to Louis Renault in the movie Casablanca, it’s “the beginning of a beautiful friendship” between WOL and the French-speaking community.”

I am deeply grateful to everyone who contributed, and look forward to thanking each of the them in person someday. I hope these guides help spark a WOL movement in France and beyond.

Translations:

Christine Montes

Fiona Michaux

Marie Dalleur

Marie-Anne Schroeder

Proofreading & more:

Aude Latreille

Celine Sauriac

Charline Lomba

Howard Joanne

Malika Boussetta

Marc Van de Velde

Monique Roullet

Vincent Kosiba

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 5.43.12 PM.png

If the odds are 100-to-1 in your favor

Suppose you were offered a bet that was practically a sure thing. If you win, you get smarter, you get access to more opportunities, and you feel more empowered and fulfilled. If you lose, you risk a small hit to your ego.

What would you do?

When the odds are in your favor.png

The game we play

This isn’t an abstract exercise. It’s a game you already play multiple times a day whenever you consider making a contribution.

When you have something you think is helpful, you hesitate even if your experience tells you that others would appreciate it. There’s a chance that someone won’t like it or won't like how you offered it. That person could be someone specific, like your manager, or it could be someone you imagine when you wonder “What will they think?”

Time after time after time, I come across people who are doing extraordinary things - people who are admired by colleagues and a network of people around the world - and they'll tell me privately, “My boss doesn’t like what I’m doing.” Yet even if it was upsetting for them at the time, they persisted. 

More common is the person who doesn’t take a step at all. The mere possibility that someone may not approve is enough to prevent them from making the contributions they would like to make.

I say this without judgment. For me, all it takes is one contrary opinion to fuel my doubts, even in the face of a hundred expressions of support. It took me almost five decades to realize I was ceding control of my life to anyone who said “no.”

Take a spin

The truth is that we have a negative bias in our heads that amplifies our fears and causes us to hang back. We hesitate to reach out, to share our ideas and experiences, to offer what we have to offer. But when it comes to making contributions, “Better safe than sorry” is a terrible long-term strategy, one that leads to regret and a haunting lack of fulfillment. Instead, "it is better to ask for forgiveness than for permission" - advice commonly shared but seldom heeded.

The point isn't that you ignore feedback, or that you need to rebel against the system. It's just that you decide whether the negative opinions have merit, choose what adjustments you might make, and continue on with clarity and confidence.

It means you claim your right to having a voice and being heard, to realizing more of your potential, to living an authentic life.

The odds are clear. The benefits far outweigh the risks. What will you do?