The engineer who Works Out Loud

Vincent has been working in a big German company for more than a decade, mostly in a manufacturing plant and now in a quality management role. Our first interaction was when he sent me a message on LinkedIn, telling me he was enjoying the book.

Later, he joined a Working Out Loud Circle, and he wrote me again to say he “can already see some improvements.” I thanked him, replied with some questions, and that led to an ongoing exchange. With his permission, I wanted to share some of his answers below.

As you read them, notice how his original goal is quite simple: he wants to use some of the new collaboration tools at work. Yet as he takes steps towards his goal - practicing making contributions and deepening relationships at work - he sees how he can apply his new habits and mindset to other goals. 

His last sentence is full of hope and possibility - and confidence. 

Why did you join a WOL Circle? 

I joined because I wanted to learn and improve myself as a professional and a person. I learned about it and as I was disconnected from social media (latecomer for many good and bad reasons) I thought in the first place that it could help me to reconnect (Which it did!).  

What was your goal in your circle? 

My goal is: 'I want to set up a personal blog, which enables me to share my work with others, to give back to communities that will enable me to connect with people I don't know yet.’

What did you expect to get out of it? 

I was expecting to deepen my social media understanding and how to use it in a professional setting. Also to have my own blog to share work and ideas that comes up.  I started a personal blog on our internal company social network. At first, I thought about sharing only technical content I created to help others improve quicker and avoid the traps I've been in. Some other ideas are starting to come up…It’s interesting to see how it develops, how ideas pop up all alone.  

I also created connections I didn't have…and reconnected with people. So it's great, because I start to have a solid experience with social media, where I was feeling lost before, didn't know what to do with it and how to behave. 

How does this apply at work? How might it help you be a better engineer?

I'm in a department of quality experts, mostly much older. An official target of this job is to improve the processes, challenge them, and introduce social media for collaboration with the other departments. 

That's where WOL kicks in. I will have to set communities and improve the collaboration between QM and the plants that applies the standards defined by the department. We also need to speak about the standards within our division, post them in our blog, and collaborate with other divisions with the same specialties. I think of promoting it to the Deployment of Business Excellence team in our division. It would be a fantastic complement to introduce social media for the managers. Also to promote WOL for team initiatives inside my department.  

I personally consider that when you share your knowledge, your work with others, in the end you are helping others with your work, then becoming more sure of your knowledge. It allows you to take a step back and improve your practice. It will allow me to participate, confront my ideas with others, and then create a 'virtuous circle' of questioning myself. Keeps me humble, feet on the ground, then more open minded. I really think that networking and sharing makes you a better 1. Person, 2. Professional. 

What might you do differently in the future? Asked another way...what changed for you or about you? 

I came from this restricted vision to something broader. For example, I post other things than my work. I post thoughts, advice, experiences. On a personal aspect, I'm less worried to post my thinking publicly, to praise the work of others, to create contacts and invite these people in my network when I feel I know them. A clear enabler to the improvement of my network through social media and 'gift' sharing.  

In the future? I'll extend this to my utilization of social media out of my company. I will try to become a circle moderator, as I think I can handle it. Also, I'll surely join other circles, but perhaps with goals more connected to my personal (selfish?) aspirations. That changed for me, I have personal wills that are sleeping, time will come when I'll need to wake them.  

My last day working in a big company

On Friday, I handed in my badge, walked through the turnstiles, and didn’t look back. Now I’m fully committed to spreading the practice of Working Out Loud.

It’s exciting and daunting at the same time. Here’s what happened and what I intend to do next.

How it happened

I’ve worked in big companies for 30 years, mostly in banks. If I had lost my job ten years ago, my only option would have been to ask a recruiter for help finding a similar one.

As I started working out loud, things changed. Over time, I developed a network of meaningful relationships I never could imagined before. The connections gave me access to learning and to opportunities, and made each day feel a bit better. The last few years have been a kind of goal-oriented exploration - “purposeful discovery” - that has expanded my sense of what’s possible.

By working out loud, I’ve learned that I can do and be much more. 

The trade-offs

Working at a big firm isn’t necessarily bad. I appreciate the many talented people I met and friends I made, and the chance to experiment on a large, global platform. I learned a lot and I’m grateful, and I will certainly miss the predictability of a paycheck every two weeks. 

But the culture, processes, and systems at so many large organizations depress people’s ability to contribute and realize their potential. It’s a tragic waste and it needs to change.

What’s next?

So now is the time for me to take a step. It’s time to fully commit to helping individuals and organizations unlock more possibilities and realize more of their own potential. 

Help might be in the form of giving a talk at your organization. Or the online training for circles launching on June 9th. Or creating a customized development program that can help your firm and all the people in it.

If I can help you or your organization realize your potential, please contact me at john.stepper@workingoutloud.com.

Thank you.

The best kind of testimonials

A highlight of my day is seeing messages from people who find Working Out Loud helpful in some way.

Here are a few from Twitter. They’re written by people who’ve changed in some way - a heightened sense of empowerment or hope, a new outlook. They write them because they feel more positive and want to share that feeling.

It's beautiful to see. As you spread the practice, you’re helping more people experience this. 

The Perimeter of Your Potential

He was a medieval scholar, trying to decipher traces of a poem from the Middle Ages. He was looking at the only remaining manuscript, and it was so badly damaged that he was using an ultraviolet lamp to detect the writing. But the document was too burned and faded. Other scholars had already given up.

What he did next is helping to shape our understanding of history. It’s also an example of how small actions you take can expand your knowledge of what’s possible.

The Chess of Love
The Chess of Love

An email that shaped history

Gregory Heyworth is the name of the scholar, and he gave a talk in October on “How I’m discovering the secrets of ancient texts.”

He described what he did when he realized he was stuck:

“And so I did what many people do. I went online, and there I learned about how multispectral imaging had been used to recover two lost treatises of the famed Greek mathematician Archimedes from a 13th-century palimpsest. A palimpsest is a manuscript which has been erased and overwritten.

And so, out of the blue, I decided to write to the lead imaging scientist on the Archimedes palimpsest project, Professor Roger Easton, with a plan and a plea. And to my surprise, he actually wrote back.”

Like a pebble in a pond

The simple set of steps Heyworth took - searching for people who could help him, deciding to reach out, crafting a compelling letter that earned a response - sent out ripples that changed his career.

“With his help, I was able to win a grant from the US government to build a transportable, multispectral imaging lab, And with this lab, I transformed what was a charred and faded mess into a new medieval classic.”

That same lab then went on to “read even the darkest corners of the Dead Sea Scrolls” and make transcriptions from the Codex Vercellensis, a translation of the Christian Gospels from early in the 4th century.

Then he founded the Lazarus Project, a not-for-profit initiative to bring the technology to individual researchers and smaller institutions. That brought him into contact with researchers and precious documents around the world, like the team working on a map from 1491 used by Columbus that was no longer legible.

He took all these facets of his experience and became a professor of a new “hybrid discipline.”

“There's so much of the past, and so few people with the skills to rescue it before these objects disappear forever. That's why I have begun to teach this new hybrid discipline that I call "textual science." Textual science is a marriage of the traditional skills of a literary scholar -- the ability to read old languages and old handwriting, the knowledge of how texts are made in order to be able to place and date them -- with new techniques like imaging science, the chemistry of inks and pigments, computer-aided optical character recognition.”

Expanding the “perimeter of your potential”

In Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From, he uses the phrase “the adjacent possible” to describe how, at any point in time, only certain kinds of next steps are feasible. Whether it’s how animals evolve or how technical innovation happens, one given change makes other changes possible. “The history of cultural progress is, almost without exception, a story of one door leading to another door, exploring the palace one room at a time.”

Applying it to you individually, an interviewer described the adjacent possible as “the perimeter of your potential” and that you expand the range of your possible next moves by actively bringing yourself into contact with other people and ideas.

When Gregory Heyworth searched for people who could help him and made a meaningful connection, he expanded his adjacent possible and unlocked access to projects, creating a movement, and even a new field of study, things he could never have imagined beforehand when he considered himself “just a medieval scholar.”

What about you and what you’re trying to accomplish? Are you actively looking for people who could help you and trying to build relationships with them?

It’s what people in Working Out Loud circlesaround the world are doing. Learning to take small steps that can gain them access to more possibilities.

You can shape the perimeter of your potential.

***

If You’re Doing It Right, It Feels Like This

Earlier this week, I met with a Working Out Loud circle in Japan, the first one there. We talked about their goals and the relationships they were building, and about the exercises they had done. As they approached the end of their 12 weeks together, they wanted to know if they had done things right, and what to do next.

Enso

Enso

What success looks like

You’ll know you’ve succeeded in a circle if you’ve changed your mindset in some way and taken some action you wouldn’t have taken otherwise.

For this circle in Japan, success came in different forms. For one person it was paying more attention to goals he cared about and investing time in them. For another it was being more open to connecting with people and to new ideas. Trying to develop his hobby into something more, he is now regularly sharing his work, hosting events, and interacting with master craftsmen in Japan. One person said “It already changed my life.”

We didn’t talk about the number of people in their network or the amount of social media activity. We talked about their goals and steps they were taking toward them, and about how they felt.

The conversation with the circle in Japan is similar to those I’ve had with many other groups. When circles work, people say they feel “like their world is bigger” or that they are “more empowered and encouraged.” A new mindset and new habits is a powerful combination.

When circles don’t work 

Not all circles work this way. Some have trouble just organizing the first meeting, or having everyone show up. Others find the 12 weeks too long, or that an hour a week is too much.

They’re not doing anything wrong. People are busy, and getting a group together can be a challenge. Even if you want to take steps toward a goal you care about, it can feel easier to just keep doing what you’re doing.

Each circle that doesn’t work is an opportunity to learn. So in 2016, we’ll collect these experiences in a more systematic way and use that data to make the circle experience even easier and more effective.

What’s happens after 12 weeks?

One of the questions the group in Japan had was about what to do next. Should they keep going as a circle? Did it make sense to use the same guides again?

I told them I’m on my seventh circle now, and I find that including different people each time helps bring new energy and perspectives to my goal. The structure and shared accountability of the process helps me take the steps I need to take. I described how I use the same guides because sometimes my goal is different and so the entire process applies. Even when my goal is unchanged, I get a chance to practice the different steps and exercises and approach them differently now that I have more experience.

The first circle in Japan did beautifully and experienced a wide range of successes they can now apply to other goals. They agreed that next year they’ll form new circles, helping themselves and others take a next step.

Note: The next post will be on January 6th, 2016. Enjoy the holidays!

“You already made my world bigger”

WOL for the individual

WOL for the individual

She’s a much-beloved piano teacher, and she’s extremely good at what she does. Her playing, too, is extraordinary. And yet, one night as a group of us were talking about work, she said something that surprised me.

“My world is too small.”

She’s so popular that I found it hard to believe. She told us she wanted something more than teaching, that she yearned for interactions with people besides the familiar students and their families.

We talked further and I offered her a copy of Working Out Loud. I thought perhaps she could build relationships with other teachers and feel more connected. I wasn’t sure.

A month later, she was carrying the book with her and it was marked with multi-colored tabs. It turns out she had been wanting to do more original compositions and the book helped her. She did a few simple exercises, started searching for composers, and began interacting with a few of them.

“You already made my world bigger,” she said.

Of course, I hadn’t done anything. She was the one brave enough to take a step. Now we’re in a Working Out Loud circle together, and she’s learning about scoring music for movies and getting in touch with independent film makers.

Individuals work out loud to access a better career and life, whatever “better” means for them. And when you help someone work out loud - a friend, a family member, a colleague - your support can empower them to expect more, to do and be more. For some people, it can set them free and set them in motion. As Seth Godin wrote recently:

“If we can help just one person refuse to accept false limits, we've made a contribution. If we can give people the education, the tools and the access they need to reach their goals, we've made a difference.”

Who will you help? What step will you take toward your own goal?

An unexpected benefit, an unexpected gift.

I do it everywhere now. Over lunch or coffee at work. During dinner parties. In the elevator and even on Twitter. “You should form a Working Out Loud circle,” I’ll say.

It’s not to promote Working Out Loud or even circles but to share a feeling. Because I’ve seen such positive experiences in the peer support groups, I want to help others have the same feelings I've had.

My own circles

My own experience is that being part of a circle for 12 weeks gives me the encouragement, support, structure, and shared accountability to help me actually do things I know are good for me.

What I didn’t expect is that I would make friends. I barely knew the people in my circle. Some I had never met. Yet as we shared our goals and fears, our successes and our weaknesses, we naturally grew closer. We became increasingly invested in each other’s success and each other’s happiness.

The circle helped me feel positive, connected, and empowered.

What other people say

At work, I often join circles in their 4th week to talk with them about what’s working and not working, and to help them with goals and contributions or questions they may have. Sometimes, the good feelings come right away. As Dawn wrote,

"After just one WOL Circle meeting, I was already feeling more connected with my colleagues and more encouraged about my career."

One group of 5 young women invited me to meet with them after their 12 weeks. They were going to dinner together that night (a “graduation” dinner like my own circle had). Some of the women will be going off to graduate school, and they talked about how they had become friends and will stay in touch. They also mentioned that they'll form circles again with other people and other goals.

Each of them had developed a network toward an individual goal while also developing new skills and new friendships.

What a tough critic says

My toughest critic is my wife, as evidenced by her candor when she first read a final draft of the book late last year.  That led to a major rewrite and a much better book 6 months later.

So I was pleasantly surprised when, at a lunch with one of my daughter’s teachers, my wife started telling her about working out loud and about circles. The woman is a wonderful person and extremely talented, and my wife wanted to help her discover more opportunities. A similar thing happened with another friend.

We gave our daughter's teacher a book the next day. Our friend will be part of my next circle.

Although I intended the book to help people, I hadn’t expected the feelings it might engender, or that others would share books and circles as a way to say “I care about you and hope this helps you discover even more possibilities.”

Circles forming like ripples in a pond

Circles forming like ripples in a pond

The Stories I Tell (Part I)

John Stepper_Cover

John Stepper_Cover

One of the most fulfilling things in my life is when I hear from someone who has been working out loud and they’ve discovered a new possibility or found themselves enjoying their every day more. “This wouldn’t have happened otherwise,” they’ll say. Or, like a person who has escaped to a better place, “I could never go back.”

The working out loud stories I tell are about very different people. Different ages and experiences. Different education levels. Introverts and extroverts. What they have in common is an open, generous, connected approach to work and life.

Which of these people is most like you?

Exploring what’s out there

The simplest goal is when you want something more from work or life but you’re not sure what it is exactly. You want to take a few steps and see where they may take you.

Anita didn’t want to be visible but found that thinking about people and networks and just simple possibilities in a different way was making her “more open at and about work.”

David had shelved his dreams of authoring children’s book and wanted to breathe life back into those dreams. After five years, with help from his working out loud circle, he started writing again.

Barbara managed to connect her job with something else she was passionate about and felt “working out loud changed my life.” Later on, her contributions online at work led to a new job in a new city.

Accomplishing something specific

Some people have a clear idea of what they need to do.

Mara wanted to move back home to New Zealand. As she deepened relationships with people there, she increased her odds of finding a job. And by taking control she felt less anxious about the entire process. Today she sends me photos of the pristine beach she runs on in the morning.

Nicola, whose story I’ll write soon, is an entrepreneur looking to expand her business. Exploring ways to frame what she does as a contribution makes her view networking and business development in a much more positive light, as something she can do in an authentic way that’s more comfortable for her.

Finding a new job or career

For many people, the goal is to find a new job or to change careers entirely.

When Joyce, with decades of experience, was looking for a new challenge, she didn’t recede into the background or just rely on friends and family for access to existing jobs. Instead, she channeled her energy into purposeful discovery – learning, experimenting, meeting people, contributing. By making all of that visible using social platforms, she turned those experiences into new and more fulfilling possibilities, including teaching and forming a new company.

My own experience was similar to Joyce’s. When my area was reorganized and I was on the brink of being laid off, I was able to discover my passion and connect it with a new career all while staying in the same firm. In addition to enjoying every day more, I now have more control and more possibilities than ever.

Creating a movement

Someone I often talk about - and who merited an entire chapter in Working Out Loud - is Anne-Marie. At 24 years old, she founded Stemettes, a movement that's "showing the next generation that girls do science too." Her approach to work has made it possible for her to build an extraordinary alliance of partners, raise a significant amount of money, and help a growing number of young women. Anne-Marie isn’t lucky. She makes her own luck.

More stories

I also like to tell the story of Jordi Muñoz because it shows how even someone with seemingly few opportunities can change their odds. When Jordi was 19, he was waiting for his green card, wasn’t in college, and found out he was going to be a father. Five years later he was CEO of 3D Robotics. Working out loud isn’t just for people in big companies. It’s for anyone who thinks there could be more to work and life.

This post includes just a few of the stories I ultimately hope to share. As more people form working out loud circles, I’ll be looking to publish their stories on this blog and in a next edition of the book.

Working out loud - thinking of your goals in terms of people and contributions - is a mindset that can change your life.

What story will you write for yourself?

A dream deferred no longer

What happens to a dream deferred?

What happens to a dream deferred?

Her face lit up when she mentioned it. Her smile widened and her eyes sparkled. Her whole demeanor changed. “If they ever open up an office there,” she said, “sign me up.”

That seemed unlikely to me, and I wondered why she would stake her happiness on such a low-probability event. So I asked her, “Why wait for that?”

She stopped, paralyzed for a moment.

“I don’t know why,” she said.

Why most dreams are deferred

The friend I was talking with is smart, creative, and extremely capable. What’s holding her back? It’s the same set of things that prevent any of us from making a concerted effort towards something we truly want.

The magnitude of the change.

The prospect of potential failure.

Not knowing where to start.

I could see how her beaming expression had turned to one of fear and uncertainty.

“You could take a small step,” I suggested.

3 questions to ask yourself

My friend’s goal is ideally suited for a Working Out Loud circle. It’s what we refer to as “purposeful discovery.” Of course she won’t be sure of what job she wants exactly or how to get it, but she’ll take small steps towards exploring and learning. That discovery starts with 3 questions.

What am I trying to accomplish?

When you work out loud, you don’t need to start with your One Special Purpose. Indeed, as Cal Newport observes, that might be terrible advice. My friend has only the vaguest idea of the possibilities in her dream location. She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. So her goal will simply be “Exploring the possibilities in a new location.”

Who can help me?

She may not know many names, but she’ll know certain kinds of people who might help her. She’ll make a list, including

  • People she knows who live there.
  • People who hold senior positions in companies there.
  • People who have similar jobs to her in similar companies.
  • People she knows who have connections there.
  • People who write about that location.
  • Organizations whose purpose is related to that location, from chambers of commerce to tourism to conference organizers.

What can I contribute to deepen our relationship?

She’ll start with the universal gifts of recognition and appreciation. For each person on her list, she’ll look for their online presence and, when she sees something she likes, she’ll let them know by following or commenting. Gradually, as she learns who and what she finds interesting, she’ll make more significant contributions that will be of more value both to her and the people in her growing network. That will lead to more connections, more learning, and more possibilities.

Touching the treadmill

Dreams can be scary for all of us. Even the simple dream of being in good physical shape eludes many people. The prospect of exercising regularly is too daunting so we do nothing.

Instead, touch the treadmill. Break down your dream into something so small it won’t trigger your defenses - and thus allows you to make progress toward it.

Start with a simple learning goal and with a few people who might be able to help. Practice making small contributions to them and ultimately framing your work as a contribution. Let the power of social networks amplify who you are and what you do. Leverage the tools and existing networks to extend your reach, multiply the kinds of contributions you can make, and allow you to deliver them conveniently.

The start of something big andwonderful requires that you take a first step, no matter how small.

Start. Improve your odds of experiencing a better career and life.

The pharma executive who works out loud

Roche logo

Roche logo

The first thing that caught my eye was the title of the article:

“Working Out Loud: A 21st Century Way of Collaborating”

The next thing was the title of the person who wrote it: Global Head of Strategic Innovation at Roche. Her name is Sheila Babnis.

The benefits she sees

I don’t know Sheila, but her description of why she works out loud was one I wish I had written.

“Working out loud is more than just sharing information. I see it as a key to building and strengthening relationships, helping to identify the right connections and having the right conversations that open the door to co-creation.”

Even better were the benefits she listed:

  • better access to information
  • know more about what is happening inside and outside the organization
  • make better decisions
  • solve problems faster

These aren’t just abstract benefits of sharing and connecting. They’re advantages every executive - every employee - could use at work. And she listed one more:

“My team has cut out meeting time by about 50% as a result.”

How did she do it?

Sheila described herself as “a little more than skeptical at the outset”:

“The idea was initially interesting but also a little uncomfortable. How could I possibly find the time, with everything on my plate, to go to yet another online place and openly share my thoughts and what I am working about?”

Two things seemed to make a difference. One was creating a structure for sharing her work.

“I blocked time on my calendar to share what I was working on with my community and also asked for feedback. I slowly found myself sharing work that was not yet complete. I started getting responses, which allowed me to take more risks. Now, the more I WOL (and engage with what others are doing) the more fluent I am becoming.”

The other thing she did was to get help, and she identified the person who helped her in the comments.

“Ayelet Baron worked with my team (and me) to help us make this amazing transition to new ways of working, expand exponentially what we could do and make even more possible.”

You and your firm

It’s great to see that a more open, connected way of working is spreading - and that there are more resources and experts available to help you and your firm.

If people at your firm don’t work out loud yet, consider sharing Sheila’s post, or one of the stories here on workingoutloud.com, or how WOL circles could transform your organization. If you need help, contact Change Agents Worldwide (of which Ayelet is a member) or send me email.

It’s 2015, and we’re overdue for a 21st-century way of working.