The courage to connect

If only she could see what I see.

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

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

Yet she almost didn’t send that message.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sketch by Janine Kirchhof -  janinekirchhof.com  &  @ THE_HR_GIRL

Sketch by Janine Kirchhof - janinekirchhof.com@THE_HR_GIRL

Alexander's Story: "A complete change of my mindset"

Alexander Weinhard works in a software company in Esslingen, Germany. I didn't know him or his company until I came across a post he wrote. It appeared a few weeks ago on a site that connects "businesses and individuals dedicated in some way to helping people become happier at work.It was his first public blog post

I enjoyed reading about his experience so much that I wanted to share his post here in its entirety. If you're in a Working Out Loud Circle, maybe you can relate to what he wrote. If you haven't joined one yet, maybe this will inspire you to take a step.

***

MY PERSONAL WORKING OUT LOUD CIRCLE STORY

“Working Out Loud starts with making your work visible in such a way that it might help others. When you do that — when you work in a more open, connected way — you can build a purposeful network that makes you more effective and provides access to more opportunities.”
John Stepper: The five elements of Working Out Loud

When I read this statement for the first time, I thought: “Higher efficiency in my work and more opportunities? That is exactly what I need!” I am a software engineer at the more than 18,000-person Festo, and I am used to supporting my colleagues with their IT problems in our collaboration environment. 

I thought, “Support is a form of reactive knowledge sharing, so why not proactively share my knowledge? It totally makes sense!”

I was so naïve…

After publishing some Tales from the SharePoint Forest, a collection of learnings I had made in my job packed into fable-style stories, which were very positively received from the audience in our company internal social media, I quickly discovered that sharing knowledge alone is not enough. I needed to learn more about how I could make connections with people, how to address people better and how to be more systematic in my sharing.

When I heard that our knowledge management department was planning to organize a Working Out Loud Circle and was searching for volunteers to participate, I was immediately hooked.

WHAT IS A WORKING OUT LOUD CIRCLE?


Working Out Loud Circles are in essence peer support groups which meet regularly to learn more about Working Out Loud. The participants try to answer the following three questions:

  • What am I trying to do?
  • Who is related to my goal?
  • How can I contribute to them to deepen our relationships?

The original approach plans a 12-week cycle with weekly one-hour meetings. At Festo we have reduced it to a ten-week cycle but stick to the weekly one-hour online meetings. Each weekly Circle meeting has a different subject with one or two corresponding exercises illustrated below.

Our Working Out Loud team consists of five of us, from different departments, functions and locations. The host and two of the participants are from our knowledge management HR team based in Germany. One participant is a local IT guy from one of our branch offices in the UK and I introduced myself already. We do all the meetings online.

The goal of the UK colleague is about his personal Balanced Scorecard. The host’s goal is about how to organize a Working Out Loud Circle. One HR colleague’s goal is to learn more about knowledge management because he is new to the subject, and the other HR colleague’s goal is to improve her trainer skills.

That’s the cool thing about a Working Out Loud Circle — all participants can have their own goals. The Circle is more about general methodology, not about a specific subject. Still, we can each help the others, if goals are not too specific.

I have had knowledge management as a main course during my master studies, so I can provide material for the colleague who wants to learn more about knowledge management. I have implemented our IT’s Balanced Scorecard, hence I can connect the UK colleague with the responsible persons for an exchange. We each bring our varied experiences to the table to help each other out.

HOW DID THE WORKING OUT LOUD CIRCLE MAKE A CHANGE FOR ME?

At the moment I am writing this blog post, the Working Out Loud Circle is still going on. So far, we have held seven out of the ten Circle meetings. But nevertheless I already experience a big change:

The goal I set for myself was to learn more about management. Before the Circle started, I was a nerd technical specialist who thought that management in general was something evil. Now I am a nerd technical specialist that thinks that I can change his whole work environment through the practices I’ve learned so far, potentially making a real difference for my colleagues (and myself). Ultimately, I am rethinking my personal goals and don’t think I’d fundamentally turn down the idea of going into management anymore. Our Circle has really kicked off a complete change of my mindset and I am just getting started!

Probably I was a bit lucky too, because at the same time I started to participate in the Working Out Loud Circle, I started reading #Workout by Jurgen Appelo (now published under the title Managing for Happiness.). Through the Working Out Loud Circle exercise in Week Three, I started using Twitter and followed Jurgen. That’s how I learned about the Happy Melly network and immediately joined it. I have published my experiences from the Working Out Loud Circle as experiments I’m running, got a lot of great feedback from the Happy Melly members and finally one thing lead to another… Now I am sitting in front of my computer, writing a blog post for Happy Melly, sharing my experience from the Working Out Loud Circle to an audience I could not have imagined a few weeks ago!

WHAT EXPERIENCES HAVE I MADE PARTICIPATING IN THE WORKING OUT LOUD CIRCLE?

For me, the Working Out Loud Circle at Festo is an institution I wouldn’t want to miss any minute of. I even turned down an appointment with my CEO to be able to join the kick-off!

In my first report on Happy Melly about my experiences in the Working Out Loud Circle, I wrote:

“Finally I have found a channel where I can let my thoughts run wild, where I can exchange with like-minded people. It feels like an escape from the everyday routine.” And guess what? Nothing has changed since then.

Many of the exercises we put into practice during the Circle meetings already found their way into my daily habits, e.g. into the way I write emails or post on our company internal social media. And the feedback which I receive from recipients or readers is exceptionally positive.

In addition, the number of public posts I write in our company social media has increased tremendously because, due to the Circle I found the confidence to be more public. Before the Circle started, I most often just answered questions, provided support and assistance. Now I post about my ideas, experiments, outcomes, achievements. I post kudos and recognition and sometimes also just post my thoughts and opinions. I hope my colleagues will not consider me a spammer in the near future…

To get a more detailed insight in the experiences I have made while participating in the Working Out Loud Circle, you can check my Happy Melly profile, where you find reports about all the experiments I execute at work.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

I already incorporated with a couple of colleagues from different countries and different business departments to launch a new community with the target to overcome the organizational barriers between software development and affiliated departments in our company. I will share my development knowledge as well as my management learnings there too, thus bringing my Working Out Loud contributions to a whole new level, and, who knows, maybe we might also form some new Working Out Loud Circles inside this community.

I am already looking forward to the next Working Out Loud Circle meetings and want to gain more insight into the subject. I will definitely go on sharing my experiences from the Circle at Happy Melly to spread word to a wider audience. I am also highly motivated to go on using the practices I have learned from the Circle in my next projects, with my remote developer team and with the new community. And when our knowledge management department starts more Working Out Loud Circles, guess who will try to join…

“Are you in or are you out?”

She could tell I was uncomfortable. I was sitting across from Kelly Kimball, the respected acting coach and director I've written about before. I had just told her about a video project I wanted to film, unlike anything I created before. She quickly laid out all that might be involved, the preparation I could do, some adjustments I would need to make. It was masterful. 

I must have visibly sunk into my chair. This will be worse than 10 TED talks, I thought. It was too much, and I would never be good enough.

Kelly noticed my apprehension, looked me in the eye, and said, “You’ll be great.” She talked about the work she had seen me do and why she knew I could pull this off. Then she paused. “Just ask yourself, before you start, ‘Am I in or am I out?’” It’s a question she has her acting students ask themselves before they do a scene.

If you’re out, you’re thinking about all that might go wrong. You’re focusing on why it needs to work - for the money or status or both. You’re questioning your ability and your choices. 

If you’re in, you’re thinking about why you wanted to do this kind of work in the first place. You’re focused on who it’s for, and how it can help them. You’re thinking about the contribution you’ll make and the learning you’ll take away no matter what.

I sat up, smiled, and thought, I’m in. I told her that was a question I could ask myself before every talk or workshop, whenever I write, and any time I was about to do something I cared about.

This year, as you take a step, as you attempt something new - to learn, explore, or do anything that stretches you in some way - what mindset will you bring to your work, to your aspirations?

Are you in or are you out?

Photograph by Steve McCurry

Note: For years, I've written every Wednesday and Saturday but on two different sites. Today, I've changed that, and merged everything here, including mailing lists because over time my work and life have blended. I'll continue to publish twice a week, and almost everything will relate to improving how people relate to themselves, to each other, and to the work they do.

Wherever you wish to go next with your career & life, I hope my work can help you in some way.

Two years after “A year without meat”

When I wrote “A year without meat,” I was unsure what would happen afterwards.

Was it just another one of my experiments, and I would revert to normal behavior? Or was it something more than that?

Two years later, I know something fundamental changed, and it wasn’t just my diet. 

Meat

The dietary differences

The first thing that happened was that six months after the post, I stopped eating fish, too. The pattern was similar. I saw a documentary and became more aware of the extraordinary overfishing and waste as well as health issues related to eating certain fish.

I wondered, “Do I really need to be part of this?” and I decided to become a vegetarian.

Instead of my diet becoming boring and limited, just the opposite happened. I replaced the usual chicken sandwich and burger with a much wider range of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains. I gradually learned the joys of fresh, whole foods artfully combined. Avocado with a drizzle of olive oil, cracked pepper, and walnuts. Spinach salad with strawberries, asparagus, almonds, and a bit of västerbotten cheese. Watermelon with feta and arugula. Food so beautiful you want to take photos of it.

Watermelon feta salad

When people ask, “Do you ever crave meat?” the answer is “Yes, sometimes.” But it’s usually a smell or other cue that sparks a desire, and after thinking about it for a few seconds, that desire passes. My family still eats meat, but much less of it than we all used to.

The changes I didn’t expect

I haven’t seen any dramatic changes in my health. My cholesterol is still too high, for example. (I have high HDL (good) and high LDL (bad) which may just be hereditary.) But rather than go back to medication, I’ll first try exercising more and modifying my diet in other ways.

Those are changes I now know I can make, because even after the first year of not eating meat, I felt that things I once considered impossible were within reach.

“When I stopped eating meat I did more than just change my diet, I gained confidence that I could change anything I wanted.”

This confidence helped me write and self-publish a book, and it made me open to creating all sorts of other possibilities.

My wife noticed the difference. When I was talking with her about a new habit I was thinking of developing, she said “You became a vegetarian, darling. If you can do that, this will be easy.”

The next big thing

It has all been a bit unsettling. I’m so used to ticking certain boxes that define me that even ordering the vegetarian meals when buying a plane ticket feels like I’m changing my identity.

When someone asks if I have food restrictions and I say “vegetarian,” it feels like I’m wearing new clothes that I’m not quite used to. I like it, but I just never thought I would be wearing that label.

So now I wonder what other labels I might change - where I live, the work I do, the adventures I go on. What other limits might I examine and redefine?

I’m not sure what the next big thing will be or if there even needs to be one. But whatever it is, I feel ready for it.