WOL updates after the summer break

School started in New York City this week. We bought supplies, packed the backpacks, set the kids’ alarms again, and now they’re ready to return to a structured routine.

Me, too. 

After a wonderful summer break, which included exploring ideas as well as places, I’m excited about the work ahead. Here are a few things I’ve been working on and thinking about since my last post. If you’d like to contribute your own feedback or ideas in the comments, I would appreciate it. 

One of the highlights of the summer was seeing Niagara Falls for the first time

Two new ways to help people practice WOL

I always enjoy talking with people who are in a WOL Circle. Sometimes it’s helping them one-on-one by email or phone. Sometimes I’ll join a Circle meeting or have a Q&A call with an organization that’s spreading Circles. Since I can only do that for a limited number of people, though, I’ve been looking for ways to scale it, ways I could include elements of my talks and workshops without making the Circle Guides too long.

So I’ve been working on a video coaching series. The idea is that for each week of your Circle, you’ll be able to watch a video on your phone that includes me walking you through the exercises, offering tips on each one, and describing research and examples about why and how they work. I just finished writing the scripts, and I’m working with a fantastic coach to prepare for filming. With some luck, I’ll have a version that I can share with clients in a few months.

The other thing I’ve been working on is experimenting with different workbook formats to complement the videos. A workbook would allow you to have a single place to do all the exercises that would serve as a journal of your Circle experience. It also gives me a place to offer more tips and templates, reinforcing what’s in the videos. These should be available for sale on the site in early 2018.

Some delicious research

The words “delicious” and “research” may not often go together, but that’s what came to mind while I was doing summer reading on the science of relatedness - how we relate to ourselves and to others. The feeling of relatedness leads to certain positive behaviors and feelings that are good for individuals as well as groups (and companies). The more we know about the biology and psychology of relatedness, the more readily we can help people develop it.

Among the books I’ve enjoyed devouring this summer are Mind and The Mindful Brain by Dr. Dan Siegel; Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff; The Compassionate Instinct edited by Dacher Keltner et al; and Social Bonding and Nurture Kinship by Maximillian Holland. That last one is actually a Ph. D. thesis on “inclusive fitness theory,” providing insights on the evolutionary development of pro-social behaviors among “related” individuals.

My intention is to use this line of research to create another set of guides in 2018 that would build on Working Out Loud. My thinking is that, if you’ve already been in a WOL Circle, then you could use a similar social learning format to experience other practices that can make you happier and more effective. 

Not a map but a direction

Are these the right next steps for Working Out Loud? I don’t know. What I do know, based on emails and other feedback I’m receiving, is that WOL Circles are helping people make progress towards goals while they’re feel more curious, more confident, and happier. That’s enough for me to keep looking for ways to reach more people and develop more practices. It’s all in the service of the broader WOL mission: “changing how we relate to each other, to ourselves, and to the work we do.” 

That may sound ambitious, but you needn’t reach everyone to make a meaningful difference. A quote from the Dalai Lama helps me put things in perspective. (It’s from an interview I read this week in The Compassionate Instinct.) 

“Our responsibility is to try our best and do what we can. Then that will be a part of things that we may achieve. Ten people follow a practice - good. One hundred - better. A thousand - still better. Not all 6 billion.
If the work is something that is worthwhile, then, regardless whether we can achieve it or not, make attempt. That is, I think, important. Courageous.”

Start where you are. Maybe you’ll join your first Circle, helping yourself and four other people. Or maybe you’ll wind up spreading Circles in your organization, ultimately helping hundreds or thousands or even more. Courage is in making the attempt.

Blog changes!

Hi, everyone. Summer is a good time for some fun and reflection, and that's resulting in two changes to this blog. 

One is that I’ll take a break for 5 weeks or so, taking some time for vacation and for working on a new project I'm excited about. The other is that I’ll shift to publishing once a week, on Wednesdays.

Thank you all for reading and engaging here. I appreciate it.

See you in September! 

John

p.s. Here’s a photo from yesterday to show you what I’m doing this week instead of blogging. This might be the clearest evidence I have that life isn't about what happens to you, but how you react to it. :-)

A look back, a look ahead

This was one of the most notable years in my life. I learned more, met more people around the world, and I am more optimistic about the future than ever. 

So in this last Working Out Loud post for 2016, I thought it was appropriate to reflect on what happened, and to share what I have in mind for 2017.

2016

My first post this year used a beautiful image of a horse breaking free from a carousel, and that turned out to be more apt than I could have imagined. After 30 years of working inside big companies, I had experiences I never thought I would have.

The scariest thing I did was giving a talk at a TEDx event. Part of the fear was about presenting, and part was about sharing my work and aspirations in such a venue. It made me think more deeply about what I was trying to accomplish.

A different kind of fear was leaving the (relative) stability of a big company and going out on my own. Ikigai, LLC is named after the Japanese word for “a reason to get up in the morning.” It's a good name, as my daily work feels more purposeful than ever. 

One of the most thrilling days of the year was in Stuttgart, Germany where the first-ever WOL conference was organized by an extraordinary team at Bosch. I will be forever grateful to that team and that company for all they have done.

The most learning continues to come from working with customers. (I love that word: “customers.”) As much as I enjoy researching and writing, the real learning comes from putting the ideas into practice. Yet it doesn’t feel like work. This video from a recent event at Daimler captures the positive energy, even joy, of working with people who care to make a difference.

Of course, most things did not go nearly this well. The majority of my experiments didn’t turn out the way I hoped, and I made some frustrating mistakes. But those failures shaped my thinking and my aspirations for next year.

2017

My mission is to improve how people relate to each other and the work they do. I aim to do that in a way that’s good for individuals as well as for the organizations they’re a part of. Because if we genuinely make work better, we can use the vast resources of organizations to serve this mission, and people can practice throughout their workday in a way that feels purposeful. Instead of fighting against the corporate machines, I intend to use the best parts of them to change things from the inside.

Here are a few things I’m working on that I think will help.

Customizing Working Out Loud Circles for organizations. I work with customers to tailor the guides specifically for them, incorporating their goals, their collaboration technologies, and real examples from within the organization. That makes it easier for people to practice at work, and helps WOL Circles integrate easily into existing programs for new joiners, leadership development, and more. 

Making the practice more accessible & scalable. I’m developing a set of online coaching resources that will give Circle members help whenever and wherever they need it. That’s an efficient way for organizations to ensure Circles are effective for their people. It will also be a way for individuals to experiment with Circles by themselves, even if they’re not yet ready to join a peer support group.

Publishing a detailed case study. There are many great stories of people using Working Out Loud Circles to change their habits and their mindset. A detailed case study of an organization that includes data on improvements to collaboration and engagement will help accelerate the spread of the practice. 

In addition to these new things, I’ll also keep working on improving the practice. That will include a new edition of the book and upgrades to the free, public Circle Guides. I also intend to publish a set of Advanced Guides. These will help people who have already been through a WOL Circle to deepen their practice even further.

One other small shift

One other small change I’ll make is to this blog. Some of you know I write on johnstepper.com every Saturday, something I started doing well before I was thinking of Working Out Loud. Going forward, I’ll merge the two blogs here. Wednesday posts will be related to organizations, and Saturdays will be for individuals. (That’s my plan at least, or perhaps “aspiration” is again a better word.)

Thank you all for your attention, your support, and your ideas. Wherever you wish to go next with your career & life, I hope you take a step this coming year, and that Working Out Loud can help you in some way.

New WOL courses starting October, 2016

If your organization wants to help people improve their way of working, or wants a more open, collaborative culture, then the new Working Out Loud course is for you. It's designed to help you experience a change in your own habits and mindset, while you learn how to scale those changes across an organization.

In six 90-minute sessions, you’ll go through your own accelerated version of a Working Out Loud circle, and get live coaching from me throughout the process. You’ll see how applying the five elements of Working Out Loud, in small steps with the help of a peer support group, can lead to meaningful personal change and progress towards a goal you care about. You’ll also have two additional sessions to explore the practice further for you and your organization.

I’ll run the course at two different times, one for the US/UK/Europe timezones and one for Asia Pacific. The details are below.

If you’re interested, send email to john.stepper@workingoutloud.com for enrollment. Online registration will be available shortly. 

Who’s it for?

The new course is ideally suited for people interested in applying Working Out Loud inside their organizations, and who want to experience circles for themselves first. Many participants may come from one of the following areas:

  • Human Resources (e.g., Learning & Development, Talent Development, or Diversity)
  • Digital Transformation
  • Culture Change
  • Innovation

Some participants may ultimately opt for customized materials & training via the Accelerated Development Program. The course allows you to sample how this low-cost, scalable program can help your organization.

What’s included? How much does it cost?

I’ll be working with you directly throughout the course, joined by Moyra Mackie for the sessions in the US/UK/Europe timezones, and by Mara Tolja for the course in Asia Pacific. 

The sessions are all run via Zoom, a fantastic videoconferencing platform, so you can join from anywhere. All other interactions are via Slack, a messaging app that makes it easy for circle members to interact with each other as well as with me, Moyra, and Mara.

To begin, you’ll join a WOL circle with 4 other people, based on your profile. Here’s a complete list of what's included.

  • Six 90-minute sessions (30 minutes of live coaching from me + 60 minutes for your circle meeting)
  • Support for identifying your goal in Week 1
  • 60 minutes additional help after Week 3 
  • 60 minutes “What’s next?” session after the course completes
  • Optional one-on-one consultation for adapting the practice for your organization
  • Online support throughout the six weeks plus one week before and after
  • New 100-page Circle Coach’s Guide (available to course participants only)
  • Working Out Loud: For a Better Career & Life shipped to you
  • Certificate of completion

The cost is $995. (That’s about 895 euros, 745 pounds, or 1300 Australian Dollars.) For those who go on to procure the Accelerated Development Program, the course fees are applied as a credit.

When is it?

The sessions are on six consecutive Wednesdays, beginning on October 5th. The sessions are 90 minutes each. Weeks 3 & 6 have an extra optional hour for getting help and exploring possibilities after the course.

Dates: October 5, 12, 19, 26 & November 2, 9

The US/UK/Europe sessions are scheduled for 10am in NY, which is 3pm in the UK and 4pm in Europe.

The Asia Pacific sessions take place at noon in Sydney. That’s 9am in Singapore & Hong Kong, 10am in Japan, 2pm in New Zealand.

This is the third version of this course

In January, there were five sessions in one week meant for people already familiar with Working Out Loud. In June, I partnered with Helen Sanderson Associates and offered a different format, allowing people to experience a circle for themselves for the first time, and offering coaching on how to make them more effective. Helen and her team, led by Nicola Waterworth and Eve Holt, did a wonderful job. When participants were asked for one word to describe how they were feeling, they responded with this:

challenged; supported; connected; positive; uncomfortable; inspired; connected; encouraged; supported; learning; enthusiastic; helpful; excited; nourished; motivated; emotional; personally interesting; curious; inspired; brave.

This will be the third version of course, and I will be focused even more on live coaching and providing more material on how to adapt and spread the practice in organizations.

To sign up, just send me email at john.stepper@workingoutloud.com and I'll follow up with you directly. 

I am thrilled to be offering this course. I hope you, and ultimately your organizations, will find it useful. 

“How did the TEDx talk go?”

The talk was this past Saturday, April 9th, at just after 4pm. I was so far outside my comfort zone that the uneasiness lasted for months, punctuated by alternating fits of excitement and panic. In hindsight, it was more like acting in an eight-minute movie than like any presentation I had ever done.

People who knew about the event will naturally ask, “How did it go?” The most direct answer is, “It went well.” (Or, more precisely, "it went as well as it did in practice." As soon as the video is available on YouTube, I’ll post a link and you can judge for yourself.)

The rest of this post offers a longer answer, and describes the process I went through in case it might help you prepare for something similar.

“Can I give a TEDx talk, please?”

In 2014, my friend Melody was in a Working Out Loud circle with me, and said she knew some of the organizers at TEDxNavesink. “You should apply,” she said.

I sent an email to one of the them, and we met in a cafe and had a great conversation. I submitted an abstract and was excited about the possibility. But I was rejected.

A year later, the organizer sent me a nice message suggesting I should apply again. The conference theme would be “Makers.” He had noticed that Working Out Loud had spread to many countries and organizations - that I was in the early stages of “making a movement” - and he thought the combination of progress and uncertainty about how far things would go would be interesting to the audience.

I hesitated, my pride still stinging a bit from the initial rejection. Thankfully, my friend Melody said what only a good friend would say: “Are you nuts? Get over yourself and apply!” I did, and I was thrilled when I got accepted.

That was in December, almost four months before the event.

Two months before

A draft of the slides was due in February. I’m used to writing stories and putting slides together, and I submitted my slides with reasonable confidence.

Looking back, it was terrible: 29 slides. Five stories. A long description of my work history and the definition of working out loud. Slides showing the book cover and some statistics. It was boring and would never fit in eight minutes.

A rehearsal with the organizers was scheduled for March 14th via Skype. For this, I needed to write a script but didn’t need to memorize it. To help me prepare, my wife bought me a copy of Talk Like TED and it contained good advice I knew I needed to follow.

I wrote the script and read it out loud several times before my rehearsal. I was extremely nervous. There were five or six people listening, and it lasted only 25 minutes. They gave me helpful feedback on things to include and remove. 

I felt relieved. Just a few adjustments, I thought, and I would be all set.

Two weeks before

We went on a family vacation. I shared the latest talk with my wife, and was looking forward to finally having time to go through it together. I re-read the excellent book Resonate to refine the talk further.

But my anxiety was starting to increase. It dawned on me that I needed to memorize this script and I had never done anything like that. Though I’m used to presenting in front of audiences, I always have more time and I’m able to improvise liberally, to interact with people in the room. I’ve never memorized a poem or song lyrics, never mind an eight-minute script. 

My wife pointed out several problems, including the need to make the presentation simpler and the stories more powerful. We discussed Ken Robinson’s TED talk as an example. It’s the most popular talk of all time, and yet all either of us remembered was the story he told of a little girl presumed to have learning disabilities. After going to see a specialist with her mother, the doctor turned on the radio and took the mother out of the room. From the window outside, they watched the girl move to the music. “She isn't sick. She's a dancer. Take her to a dance school.” That little girl went on to become a famous choreographer.

We remembered little else, but we agreed that the one story made it an excellent talk.

All my wife's comments were good but I was resistant. I knew that the more I kept changing things, the less time I’d have for memorizing. I could feel my anxiety about to overwhelm me, and I kept hitting the pause button so I wouldn’t go into a negative spiral. Still, the talk consumed my thoughts. During the vacation, I kept editing and simplifying and sending my wife new versions. Chip, chip, chipping away until the story became simpler and smoother. I sent updates to the organizers too. They needed final slides and had their own feedback. Towards the end of the trip, my wife finally began to like the talk.

It was remarkably better than what I had rehearsed just a few weeks earlier. Now it was just 15 slides and three stories. No long history or definitions or statistics. No book cover. Two of the stories were expanded and took up almost half of the eight minutes.

I start to work on memorizing it. By Wednesday, three days before the event, I was able to record myself giving the talk without notes.

Two days before

On Thursday evening, I gave the talk in my living room in front of my wife and two friends. At this point, I had submitted slides. I was certain I couldn’t change anything and still have time to memorize it. But my small audience pointed out three key adjustments that proved to be crucial.

“Be yourself.” I was so focused on repeating the words I memorized that I wasn’t sounding authentic. The more I could relax and be myself, the more the audience could relate to me.

“Lighten up.” The tone was so serious! My wife suggested a few comments I could make to bring some life and light to the talk, and make it more engaging.

“Say it clearly.” My tendency to write in overly-complex sentences was coming through in the talk, and at times the many clauses and sub-clauses would lead me to mumble. Simplifying the language in places, and enunciating the key words would make it easier to understand.

I made the changes the next morning and made a new recording. Then I headed to the event for a rehearsal at the venue. I entered the theater 15 minutes before my scheduled time, and that was a mistake. Everything was so new: the room, the people, the microphone, the red dot. I began my talk and almost immediately lost my place. By the second slide, I realized I couldn’t continue.

“Can I start over?” I asked. My heart was pounding. Start over?!? That’s the worst thing that can possibly happen! I must have looked panicked. The speaking coach kindly asked if I would like some water. 

I made it through on the second take, and sat in the audience watching other speakers rehearse. I noticed several other people stumble, and realized that’s what rehearsals are for, to get familiar with the environment. I went back to the hotel and practiced.

On Saturday morning, I got up early and practiced more. Thanks to Nicola, my extraordinary friend and a personal stylist (and also a circle member), I brought my best blue suit, white shirt, new brown shoes, and even a neatly tucked-in pocket square.

I felt good, confident, and still anxious. I got there by 9am just as the event began. There were still seven hours remaining till my talk. 

Two hours before

The talks in the morning were excellent. The crowd, estimated at 700 or so people, was clearly supportive and encouraging. All the organizers and volunteer staff were lovely, helpful, and well-prepared. 

My wife and friends came during lunch. They got a seat near the front and I sat next to them, mouthing my script as I continued practicing. It relieved my nerves.

I texted my friend Eve, a singer and actress (among other talents), and asked if she had a ritual before she performs. She shared hers with me and I decided to borrow it for the day. 

An hour before, I’m in a small room with other speakers about to go on. I know that other people do this every day - perform on TV and in plays, give talks - but it feels so new to me. I rehearse how I will say thank you to the person introducing me. How I will advance to my first slide when I step onto the red dot. How I’ll smile and look around the room before I begin.

Ten minutes before it’s my turn, they lead me down a dark hallway behind the stage. They put on my microphone and hand me a clicker. “Don’t press it. It’s live and controls the slides on stage.”

Tick, tick, tick. I do a power pose (thanks to Amy Cuddy's TED talk), whisper my opening line, and recite Eve’s mantra. Then I do it again. And again. I hear the applause for the last speaker, then a short introduction and my name. I bound onto the stage and into the light. I click to advance to my first slide.

As I’m speaking, I’m aware of what I’m saying but I feel oddly detached, as though it's a kind of out-of-body experience. I hear the familiar words and notice the minor mistakes. I advance one slide too quickly, but catch myself and make the point I had intended without anyone noticing.

In the middle of the talk, I’m thinking that it’s all going by so quickly. Perhaps I’ve missed something. But the slides and words are familiar now, and it’s just my experience of time that has changed. Slide by slide, I’m increasingly relaxed and confident, and for my final slides I’m fully present. Then it's over. I hear the applause, and walk off stage.

Afterwards

I feel weightless afterwards. The burden of the talk having been lifted, I am light and unencumbered, not thinking about anything.

I walked back into the theater, watched the final talks, and met up with my wife and friends, who congratulated me.  I checked for messages for the first time since the event began, and so many people had posted comments, Likes, tweets, texts, and emails. It was a beautiful outpouring of support and something I’ll never forget it. Later, at a reception, we all met other speakers and attendees and organizers. I had a glass of wine, and I felt happy and fulfilled.

Once we got home, I fell asleep almost immediately.

The next day, I noticed a shift in my thinking. Before the event, I was afraid of being on camera, and I’ve almost never looked at any recordings of myself. I was also too embarrassed or shy to invite people to the event. But at a spontaneous get-together for dinner, a group of friends watched the talk my wife recorded on her phone.

As we watched, I didn’t feel any embarrassment at all. I didn't feel pride either. I was just comfortable saying - to my friends and to the world - “I made this. I hope you find it useful.”

The 5 Elements of Working Out Loud (Revisited)

A lot has happened since I wrote The 5 Elements of Working Out Loud in early 2014. The book came out, Working Out Loud circles started forming, and those peer support groups are now in fourteen countries and spreading inside a wide range of organizations.

Based on all those people putting the ideas into practice, we've been able to observe what works and doesn't work, and how we can improve things. Though the five elements are roughly the same, the emphasis on the different elements has shifted.

An updated description

The phrase working out loud has its roots in sharing your work online. That was the entire point back in 2010 when the phrase first appeared. However, even as more articles and books appeared about working out loud, only a minority of people tried it or realized the benefits. The vast majority kept working as they always did.

Over the years, I’ve tried to extend the original idea and make it so simple and compelling that anyone could and would practice it. To do that, I reframed what working out loud means so it would appeal to our intrinsic human motivators - our desire for autonomy, for learning, and for purpose, including connections to other people.

Here’s how I describe it now:

Working out loud is an approach to building relationships that can help you in some way. It’s a practice that combines conventional wisdom about relationships with modern ways to reach and engage people. When you work out loud, you feel good and empowered at the same time.

It's a personal practice that evolves over time. And in addition to the individual benefits, it can help HR departments (and organizations generally) create a more engaged, digital-savvy workforce and an open, connected culture.

The 5 Elements

In the original post, I wrote that “Working Out Loud starts with making your work visible in such a way that it might help others.” That turned out to be limiting, as most people found “making your work visible” to be too daunting as a first step. It also wasn’t clear why you would make your work visible, other than the hope that something good might happen.

So here’s an updated version of the 5 elements and how they tend to appeal more directly to our intrinsic motivators. There’s a chapter on each one of them in Part II of Working Out Loud.

Relationships: Relationships are at the heart of working out loud. The path to opportunities and to knowledge is very often via other people. As you deepen relationships with people in your network, they’re more likely to help you or collaborate in some way, and deepening relationships taps into your intrinsic need for feeling connected to something and someone beside yourself.

Generosity: Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, said, “The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, wrote about the power of “small gifts, freely given.” Your contributions can include things as simple (and powerful) as recognition and appreciation. The reason generosity is a good way to build relationships is because we’re wired for reciprocal altruism. That means that you don’t have to keep score or think of giving to people as a quid pro quo transaction. Rather, you can make contributions in a way that feels good and genuine knowing that, over the entirety of your network, there will naturally be a benefit to you too as others reciprocate. 

Visible work: You don't have to be a social media maven to work out loud. You can do it over coffee and email. Using social platforms, though, has a number of advantages. When you make your work visible and frame it as a contribution, social platforms can amplify who you are and what you do; greatly extend your reach; and expand the set of contributions you can make and how you can offer them. The feedback on your visible work can also make you and your work better, thus tapping into your intrinsic need for learning.

Purposeful discovery: Given the infinite amount of contributing and connecting you can do, you need to make it purposeful in order to be effective. It needn't be your One Special Purpose but rather something as simple as “I’d like to learn more about <X>” or “I’d like to explore opportunities in another industry or location.” You can still have room for serendipity, but having a goal in mind orients your activities, including the kinds of relationships you’re trying to develop and contributions you should make. As working out loud becomes a habit, you can apply it towards any goal.

A growth mindset: This last element isn’t about things to do but rather a mindset to have as you do them. Carol Dweck, researcher and author of Growth Mindset, showed how you can develop a more open, curious approach to work and life and be more resilient in the face of setbacks. Adopting such a mindset means you’re more likely to try new things and to persist even when someone, for example, doesn’t respond to your contributions as you had hoped.

Your own practice

You may have noticed I used the word “practice” several times when describing working out loud, and that I offered a general description in lieu of a definition. That’s because working out loud is not a recipe with a prescriptive set of instructions to follow.

It's more personal than that. You start with steps that are simple and can offer some benefits quite quickly. Over time, as your personal practice evolves and you explore what's right for you, you might try some more advanced techniques or seek out some additional resources to help you. Small steps, practiced over time, with feedback and peer support help you develop a set of positive habits - and help you discover your best self.

The Corporate Bathroom Test

Imagine this: You enter the bathroom at work and you notice acleaning person wiping down the sink. Their back is turned to you.

What would you do next?

A) Quietly go about your business.

B) Say “hello.”

C) Thank them for cleaning the bathroom.

D) Any of the above, depending on your mood or the exact circumstances.

 The Corporate Bathroom Test

The Corporate Bathroom Test

Examining your answer

As you put yourself in the situation, think about what you might feel and what you imagine the other person might feel. Although it’s a commonplace, even trivial, interaction, it can bring up some powerful emotions.

My own answer is “Any of the above,” and my feelings vary significantly depending upon what I do. If I ignore the person, I feel a twinge of shame that I’m not acknowledging someone who is cleaning a bathroom I use. If I greet them, that feeling goes away and turns into something positive, especially if they warmly return the greeting as is usually the case.

The best feelings are when I thank them for their work. The person usually responds with mild surprise at my comment, and smiles brightly as they say “you’re welcome” and we wish each other a good day. It’s a small thing, and yet the exchange of authentic good will sparks a bit of joy.

What does this have to do with working out loud?

Working out loud is a practice. It’s through small steps you take, practiced over time, with feedback and (ideally) peer support, that you gradually build a capability and a mindset of deepening relationships through generosity.

Some of the most powerful gifts you have to offer - contributions that are universally valued - are recognition and appreciation. The point of this post is that even mundane interactions are opportunities to practice offering these gifts. Not just with someone doing the cleaning, but with the person delivering the mail or making your coffee, the administrative assistant or the security guard. Not just via social media or email, but every day throughout the day. It's like the Generosity Test I posted a few weeks ago. Each time you do it you gain subtle insights into your motivations and reactions.

Today, as you meet someone you might normally pass by, say “hello” and “thank you.” Be mindful of how that makes you feel. Watch how it makes the other person feel.

The more you practice, the more comfortable you become offering small gifts in a variety of circumstances till, over time, it becomes a habit that makes you happier and more effective.

***

The Best System for Managing Your Network

I'll admit that the phrase “managing your network” makes me uncomfortable. It can seem inauthentic and impersonal. Yet there’s something that makes me feel much worse: losing touch with people I like.

After decades of missing opportunities and missing chances for deeper relationships, I’ve finally come upon a simple system that works for me and might help you too.

When “managing your network” is a good thing

Even the most thoughtful, social, generous people make the mistake of not keeping in touch with people in their network. Whether you’re trying to build a relationship with someone you just met or further develop relationships with family, friends and colleagues, the pattern is the same. Once the person is out of sight, they’re out of mind, and you don’t pay attention until someone or some thing prompts you to act, or until you need a favor.

If this pattern is familiar to you, there's no need to feel bad. You just don’t have the habit or system for regularly keeping in touch with people. It’s something I wrote about in chapter 14 of Working Out Loud:

“Even people who say they know networking is important will routinely tell me, “I know I should follow up, but I don’t.” Maintaining a relationship list will solve that problem. Start with a simple list...Then schedule a time once a week to look at it and update it. It might take ten minutes per week. The practice of reviewing that list will help you to be mindful of the relationships you want to invest in and will relieve you of the need to keep all your intended follow-ups in your head.

My own experiments

It took me several attempts before I came upon a system that works for me. At first I tried spreadsheets, but the information quickly grew stale and updating it felt like a data entry task. I tried notebooks but didn’t always have them handy. I tried individual pieces of paper but they were too much work to rewrite regularly. Friends suggested Evernote and other apps, but I using them never became a habit.

Now, I use index cards.

Yes, I know it’s the 21st century and the Rolodex is no longer in fashion. But this simple system works for me and here’s why.

 Managing your relationship list

Managing your relationship list

Systematic and still authentic

In my Working Out Loud circle, my goal is to deepen relationships with people and organizations who want to spread the practice. So on each card I write the name of a person or organization in my network along with just two other bits of information:

  1. The last contribution I made and the date I made it.
  2. The date I’d like to make another contribution and what that might be.

Then I keep the cards sorted by the date for a next action. The stack is small enough that I can carry it with me in my backpack. If I interact with someone on my list, I’ll update the card. If a card gets full or messy, I’ll rewrite it with just the latest, most relevant information.

Each week, instead of going through everyone on my relationship list every time and thinking of a possible contribution, I only need to go through a few cards that already have helpful reminders. If I notice that someone hasn’t responded, I’ll think of other things I could do and record a date a bit farther out for a different kind of contribution.

Having a simple, convenient system and going through it regularly means I’ll rarely lose touch with someone in my network. And when I’m holding that one card for the one person or organization,it feels different than looking at a row in a crowded spreadsheet. For that moment, I’m focused just on them.

Finding your own best system

It turns out that managing contacts is as idiosyncratic as managing your todo list. While some ways are better than others, there is no single ideal way.

The best system is one that works for you. One that actually helps you to be mindful of people on it and to make progress deepening relationships, one that’s easy and perhaps even sparks joy.

Managing your network isn’t an administrative task. It’s a personal one. Every single time I go though those cards and take some action - every single time - I feel better about those relationships and about progress towards my goal. That's a powerful practice to carry around with you.

Do you manage your network? If you have a system that works for you, please share it in the comments.

The WOL Pilot Program: 25 People in 6 Countries

It was much more intense than I expected. For five days in a row, 25 of us from places as far apart as Auckland, Stuttgart, and Palo Alto worked on how to spread the practice of working out loud.

It was intended as a pilot for a course and certification program, but it may turn out to be something more.

 Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 5.05.03 PM

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 5.05.03 PM

The planned program

The original idea for the program included training, support, and certification.

Training would be delivered via video over a week, with new content prepared specifically for it. Support would last for 6 months after the training, and participants would join monthly calls and get support from me via email. Certification meant recognition on workingoutloud.com for those who completed the training, participated in a circle, and had experience spreading it.

It seemed pretty straightforward. Over the last few months, I prepared for the training, offered it for free, and spent last week delivering it.

What actually happened

Like any course, there was an agenda and material for each day. The technology, thankfully, worked beautifully. But the best part of the week were the things I didn’t expect.

The learning came from everywhere. People didn’t just learn from me or the material. We all learned from each other. Every day,different people presented what they were doing inside their organizations, and we all learned about ways to start, scale, and adapt the practice. This included, for example, detailed techniques for collecting data on circle effectiveness and for nurturing circles as they spread.

It was personal. We got to know each other, and the stories of how people were applying the practice were incredibly varied and inspiring. On listening to people share their personal motivations, one person said, “I sat there with my ears and mouth open, listening to their stories. I am just beginning to realize where WOL can take me.”

New possibilities already appeared. Perhaps most surprising was how several participants already created new possibilities for themselves as a direct result of spreading working out loud. We heard stories of people who spread the practice and gained influence or responsibility. Several participants proposed spreading it and got new jobs or projects. Independent consultants created new opportunities with big clients.

The next 6 months

As one person said during the week, it felt like a community of practice, people who came together to advance the state of a practice we care about.

Now it’s time for all of us to take some steps. That will include the monthly meetings and other support for the next six months, and we’ll expand both ideas. Each month, we’ll feature presentations from other organizations and work through specific coaching examples. We’ll use several collaboration platforms to stay connected, and we’ll expand a common library of material. Some of that will be public, and some will be private within the community so we can share a broader range of examples and content.

The key is that as each of us tries something - spreading working out loud in an organization, adapting it for a client, advancing our individual practice - we’ll know we can rely on the community and a wealth of resources to help us.

The next time the program will be offered

Everyone who participated in the pilot made a contribution that will make future offerings even better. I’m deeply grateful for that and for the entire experience last week.

At the end of the training, I asked people for anonymous feedback as to whether they would recommend the program when it is offered for a fee. They all said yes. My favorite response was “Absolutely, fundamentally, unequivocally, without hesitation….Yes."

They all see that Working Out Loud helps people access more opportunities and feel better each day. Increasingly, they’re seeing that more organizations want to spread the practice - and the benefits of increased engagement, digital literacy, ability to collaborate, and more.

Some organizations will hire people to deliver customized programs for them. Some will try it on their own. And now some will have an option of sending one or more of their employees to become part of a community that will help them and their organization succeed at a fraction of the cost of traditional development or change programs.

I’ll send out an announcement when the next session will take place. In the meantime, you can register your interest with a comment below.

I’m looking forward to our community of practice getting bigger and better.

Want Deeper Relationships? Try This Zen Technique.

Have you ever met someone and, within a few moments, felt like you knew what kind of person they were? Perhaps you’ve read one of the many articles that help you analyze body language or facial expressions. Maybe you’ve even said things like I could read him like a book or I know her type.

The skill of quickly being able to sum people up can be useful - except when you’re wrong, which (as Byron Katie says) is only 100% of the time. 

100% of the time

One of the great skills we have as human beings is our ability to fill in gaps in our knowledge to stitch together a coherent story, one that fits in with what we already know and is consistent with the experience we have. It helps us to make sense of people and the world in general.

As you build a story about someone, you apply a label or two, a shorthand description for the kind of person they are. Once you’ve applied that label, you’re likely to find information that validates it. Now you know you know them.

Except you're wrong, or at least you have a woefully incomplete understanding. Prof. Heidi Halvorson talked about the science of perception with the Harvard Business Review, and they summarized it this way:

"In Ms. Halvorson’s words, during a “brief first meeting, the perceiver has too much to notice, understand, and act on to give you undivided, unbiased attention.” Instead, they form a snap judgement based on “stereotypes, and other assumptions – using cues like your physical appearance, your organizational role, and your body language to fill in the blanks.” It’s not difficult to understand how these snap judgements lead to false impressions. As she puts it, “the way we see one another can be irrational, incomplete, and inflexible.”"

Irrational, incomplete, and inflexible. While it may be handy to make snap judgments about people, it’s grossly limiting. That knowledge you think you have is just a skewed subset of reality, and it's closing you off to developing richer and more meaningful relationships.

It may be human nature to make such snap judgments, but we are not slaves to our nature. With practice, we can develop a better way.

A powerful Zen technique

This Zen technique is actually no technique at all. It’s a state of mind - a perspective - that’s empty and ready instead of closed. It’s called "beginner’s mind" or shoshin (初心): 

“It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would."

Shunryu Suzuki, who pioneered the teaching of Zen in the United States in the late 1960s, described it this way in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s there are few.”

He taught that the goal of practicing Zen was not to accumulate more wisdom and become more of an expert, but rather “the goal of practice is to always keep our beginner’s mind.”

Try this the next time you talk to someone

A friend of mine (distinctly not a Buddhist) uses a similar technique when he meets new people, though he described it in a different way.

“I figure when I enter a roomful of people, each one of them has an interesting story to tell, and it’s my job to find out what that story is.”

Instead of scanning the room and putting people into neatly labelled boxes, my friend is now open to discovering what each person has to offer. He’s a better listener as a result, more open and more curious. These are qualities any relationship expert would recognize.

Whether you’re meeting someone for the first time or discussing something with your spouse, having a beginner’s mind when you talk with them means your mind is empty of preconceived notions and stereotypes and labels and how what they’re saying relates to you and all that goes on in your head while you’re with someone.

Instead, you’re just present, listening with attention. That’s one of the best gifts you have to offer someone, and it can be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

 Beginner's Mind

Beginner's Mind