WOL for Teams didn’t work, but this will

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

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

Why WOL for Teams failed

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

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

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

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

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

WOL for Passion

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

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

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

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

An example in Nebraska

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

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

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

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

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

What are you passionate about?

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

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

An example of community-building: Nebraska local foods 

An example of community-building: Nebraska local foods 

 

 

“How do I make more of her?”

I was sitting in the hotel lobby, tired after having given a talk and two workshops, when she walked up to me.

“I’ve been looking for you,” she said. I recognized her from one of the tables at the front. She wanted to tell me about the women in one of her educational programs, and how ideas in my talk might help them.

The story she told me has stayed with me all week. I feel like it’s one of those times when the universe is nudging me to do something.

Helping mothers and their children

She works at a university, and has for a long time. She had been running a program to help mothers learn about nutrition for their children. They would talk about what’s in foods that people commonly feed their kids, and what to watch out for. They would introduce them to foods they might not be used to cooking with, like avocado and quinoa.

While many of the women found it helpful, some were particularly enthusiastic. They truly cared about the topic. So when she got funding for a related program and needed to hire people, one of her team members suggested they consider hiring women they were already helping.

apple-avocado-cranberry-walnut-salad

Working with (and around) the system

This wasn’t the normal recruiting process. But the woman running the program had been doing this kind of thing for decades, and she knew how to work with the system. She hired them.

She started reading some of the texts and emails from one of the women. In the program, they would cook meals so they could all try the food themselves and learn how it was prepared. A mother-turned-nutrition educator had been searching for recipes. She was exploring and creating ("What if we tried cranberries with that instead?") and was excited to share her ideas. I could feel the administrator's sense of wonder and hope as she read the exchanges. I could feel the mother's empowerment as she tapped into new ways she could contribute. 

Then she put down her phone, somewhat downcast, and said, “Normally, the system rejects this kind of thing.” In addition to rules about hiring, there were rules about which recipes they were allowed to use, about which communications channels to use. But she said she had followed the rules for too long, and now she cared more about helping people, whatever it took. I could tell she was gratified to have helped one young woman, and also that she felt compelled to do more. That’s when she asked, “How do I make more of her?”

“What if?"

As I listened to what was being shared by email and text, I thought of Jane Bozarth’s book, “Show Your Work: The Payoffs and How-To’s of Working Out Loud,” in which she offered a wide and wonderful range of examples of everyday people making their work visible. I started to ask some "What if?" questions.

What if all of the recipes and other ideas were more visible? Instead of being hidden in emails and texts, the mothers, teachers, and others who cared about the topic could interact, share, and learn in an online community, or even a simple Facebook group.

What if the program administrator wasn’t the one responsible for “making more of her”? The women in the program could use their visible contributions to make their own connections and find people as passionate about the topic as they were. 

What if you didn’t need to ask permission or make it part of the program at all, but empowered the women to set things up for themselves?

This. This is at the core of what I hope to do, to spread this kind of empowerment, one that enables people to take a bit more control over their lives. To enable people of any background or circumstances to learn, connect, and access opportunities they might never have known existed otherwise.

We shook hands as she said goodbye. “I’ll definitely contact you,” she said. I hope she does.

Where do you put priceless art?

My 11 year old social media adviser was pretty clear about what I needed to do. 

“Dad, you need an Instagram account.”

I was skeptical. I didn’t think of Working Out Loud as particularly visual, but then I remembered the wonderful photos people take of their circles. 

A circle selfie! I included this photo in the TEDx talk.

Displaying their books.

I believe this is Joyce Sullivan's garden. (She's featured in the book.)

The beautiful original artwork. 

This is in the book right after the introduction. It was drawn by Kazumi Koyama during one of my Early talks.

Even my own pictures of people, events, and working around the world.

In the Poets House in NYC, where I often write.

And thus was born the Working Out Loud account on Instagram (or “Insta” as my daughter refers to it). 

If you have an image you’d like to share with the community, send it to me via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or email. I’ll post an image to my Insta each day.

Being part of a community that cares enough to create and share such images is priceless. 

Thank you.

"Before all of this happened, I was about to give up."

I remember when the first part of the story unfolded. There was a Humans of NY (HONY) photo of a young boy, and Brandon Stanton asked who influenced him the most.

“My principal, Ms. Lopez.”

“How has she influenced you?”

“When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”

“That’s nice,” I thought. “I wonder what that woman is like.”

Over the next few weeks, I found out.

The school

Brandon photographed other teachers and administrators at the school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy, “a middle school in the under-served neighborhood of Brownsville, Brooklyn.”

They all seemed like such strong people. People who were committed to their students and their community, to helping them excel, to making a difference. HONY fans got to meet Ms. Lopez.

A couple days back, I posted the portrait of a young man who described an influential principal in his life by the name of Ms. Lopez. Yesterday I was fortunate to meet Ms. Lopez at her school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy.

“This is a neighborhood that doesn’t necessarily expect much from our children, so at Mott Hall Bridges Academy we set our expectations very high. We don’t call the children ‘students,’ we call them ‘scholars.’ Our color is purple. Our scholars wear purple and so do our staff. Because purple is the color of royalty. I want my scholars to know that even if they live in a housing project, they are part of a royal lineage going back to great African kings and queens. They belong to a group of individuals who invented astronomy and math. And they belong to a group of individuals who have endured so much history and still overcome. When you tell people you’re from Brownsville, their face cringes up. But there are children here that need to know that they are expected to succeed.”

The power of community

Humans of NY launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise money for the school. One particular program was to send 6th-graders to visit Harvard, to show them where they could be if they wanted to be. The initial goal was $100,000.

The HONY community responded and contributed. Fans even sent flowers to Ms. Lopez.

The current total is $1.4 million. Ms. Lopez announced it at a school assembly.

"As a result of this fundraiser, the entire school will be going to visit Harvard. We’re all going to Harvard!"

The kids went nuts.

In addition to the Harvard program, all funds over $700,000 are going to a scholarship fund available to graduates of Motts Hall Bridges Academy. The fund is named after Vidal, the young boy whose voice started it all. He’s also going to be the first recipient.

"I have something to admit to all of you."

It’s such a beautiful story. Poor kids. Hardworking, committed teachers. Later on, the story inspired TV appearances and a visit with the President. But there was a poignant moment in Ms. Lopez’ talk at the school assembly.

“I have something to admit to all of you. Before all of this happened, I was about to give up. I was broken. I felt like typing my resignation. I told my mother: ‘Mom, I don’t think I can do it anymore. Because I don’t think my scholars care. And I don’t think they believe in themselves enough to care. I’m afraid they don’t think they’re good enough.’ And she told me to pray on it. But I told her, ‘I might be too angry to pray.’ And I know this is hard to believe, because you guys have never seen me break. But I was broken. It’s just like when you see your mom break down. You only see your mom cry when she’s been fighting so hard for you and she doesn’t think you care. That’s how I felt.

But then a couple nights later I was with my daughter at a Broadway show, and we were waiting for the show to start, and I started to get all these text messages from my teachers and former students. And then I saw Vidal’s face pop up on my screen. And my first thought was that something bad had happened. Because that’s normally the case around here when someone’s photo shows up unexpectedly. And the moment I realized that Vidal had said something nice about me, the usher came over and made me turn off my phone. When intermission came, my daughter said: ‘Mom, we’ve got to find out what’s happening.’ So we went and sat in the car. And I read what Vidal said, and I began to read the comments. And tears started coming down my face. Because even though I always tell you that you matter, up until that moment, I didn’t feel like I mattered.”

Who’s your Ms. Lopez? Your Vidal?

Her speech reminded me how little we know about the people who inspire and influence us. From a distance, they may seem happy and strong. Really, though, we have no idea.

But we all have doubts and fears. I certainly do. And a single voice can make a difference. Just this week, as I was thinking about giving up writing for a while, I got a lovely note from someone I don't know well but who said how much she appreciates this blog each Saturday. I was surprised and gratified, and her note made me think of all the people who influence me, and all the notes I could send to tell them that.

Is someone doing work that has influenced you? Let them know. Your voice can make a difference.