“Like a pebble in a pond”

“Each contribution you make,” I’ll often tell an audience, “is like a pebble in a pond, rippling out and bringing you into contact with more people and possibilities.”

It sounds a bit lofty, doesn’t it? Like an exaggeration? Here’s an example of what I mean.

A simple contribution

After reading Working Out Loud, Andrea could have quietly put the book on the shelf, but instead she offered public appreciation on LinkedIn and asked a simple question

“Is there anyone in the Munich area who is interested in forming a local #wol circle?”

Though I didn’t know Andrea, I was notified of her post because she mentioned me in it. So I offered some ways she could find potential Circle members and added that, by coincidence, I would be in her city in a few weeks.

“Fabelhaft! :-) One way to find Circle members is to ask in the WOL groups on Facebook or LinkedIn. There are many WOL practitioners in Munich. I'll be there myself in 2 weeks!”

One step unlocks another

Andrea’s short post didn’t exactly go viral, but it did draw a reaction from people in a few dozen companies and at least half a dozen countries. One of the comments, from someone who neither Andrea nor I knew,  said he would also be in Munich and perhaps we could meet. That led to a group message with a growing number of people. Soon, we had a date, time, and place to meet for dinner

There were 12 of us, and we had fun discovering connections between each of us. What motivated each person to attend? Did they know anyone else there? How did they even hear about WOL?

If that was all that happened, it would be enough, and Andrea summed it up nicely in a post.

“12 people from different companies with various backgrounds- and one common denominator: an interest in working out loud...It was a pleasure to see you all today! I feel enriched by your stories and I hope to meet you again in a circle, or otherwise :-)”

More people and possibilities

But the ripples kept spreading (and keep spreading). For example, six of the people there were from Airbus. Several of them brought a book, inscribed by their manager who, unbeknownst to me, was giving it to her team members. As we talked, we discovered other connections with Airbus in France, and the team resolved to start their own WOL Circles inside the company.

Stranger still, the woman I sat next, Gleyce, was already part of a group led by someone in Brazil working to translate the Circle Guides into Portuguese. The web of connections and coincidences seemed to grow, and we all remarked on how it all began with a simple post.

"Airbus starting to Working Out Loud - Elina Golke, Clotilde Martin, John Stepper, Gleyce Kastl Lima, Philipp Rathjen, Bernd Schmid" 

"Airbus starting to Working Out Loud - Elina Golke, Clotilde Martin, John Stepper, Gleyce Kastl Lima, Philipp Rathjen, Bernd Schmid" 

Pebbles and butterflies

In Week 10 of the Circle Guides, there’s a contribution checklist to help people become more systematic about what they have to offer. Your gift can be as simple as attention or appreciation, or it can be making your work visible: sharing what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, resources and people that have helped you, things you’ve learned, questions you have, and more.

When I write posts like the one you’re reading now, most of the readers are people I don’t know, and aren't even connected to me, and the ripples take me and my work to some surprising places. Just this week I got a note from the principal of a school in Austria who wants to use WOL to help teachers with their professional development. It's a topic my wife and I are both interested in, and that I wrote about almost four years ago, and the Austrian principal and I agreed on an experiment we'll do together in a few weeks.

How do such things happen? And how can you make them happen more often?

In chaos theory, as a way to demonstrate that small changes can have dramatic and unpredictable consequences, it's said that a butterfly flapping its wings in China can affect the weather in New York City.

What if, like Andrea, you unleashed your own butterflies each day, offering contributions without expectations? What kind of changes could you make possible, for yourself and for others?

How you can create a useful network in a few weeks

Since you’re reading this, chances are you’re interested in working out loud for yourself or for your organization. So here’s something specifically for you. It’s a set of simple steps you can take to build a global network in a few weeks - one that will increase your learning and your access to opportunities, and will make your every day more enjoyable.

Having such a network is like having a superpower. And it’s so easy that some of you may wonder why you haven’t done it already.

Edna Mode - Luck favors the prepared

Edna Mode - Luck favors the prepared

Applying the contribution checklist

The key is applying the contribution checklist from last week, starting with the simplest contributions that advance the relationship slightly to contributions that take more time to create but can be much more valuable and meaningful.

Here’s a short version of that checklist again:

  1. Connect.
  2. Show appreciation.
  3. Share learning
  4. Connect the dots
  5. Ask a question
  6. Answer a question
  7. Offer feedback
  8. Share your experience
  9. Offer original ideas
  10. Connect a purposeful group

The people in your network

The people on your relationship list will be those practicing working out loud and writing about it. You can find them by playing Internet detective and searching online, including looking in places where such people might congregate. For example:

Scan the results, looking at an individual’s profile and posts, and identify people who seem interesting to you. Then add them to your relationship list.

In a few minutes, you’ll readily find people who've written books and blogs, who are linchpins in their organizations, and who have practiced working out loud for their own benefit. Here’s a tiny sample, spanning 8 countries, that you can use to get started:

The contributions you can make

Once you have a list of names, you can use the checklist to help you make contributions. You’ll start by offering the universal gifts of recognition and contribution. Read what people on your list are saying, and follow them if you like. If you appreciate something in particular, offer thanks (or a Like, Favorite, or comment).

Since you’re already reading about working out loud, share the material you’ve found to be most useful (like this or this or this). Then explicitly bring it to the attention other people who might find it helpful using email or @-mentions.

If you’ve been working out loud yourself, make that experience visible in a way that might help others. Ask a question or answer one yourself. Share something you’ve learned from the process. What has worked and what hasn’t worked?

For those of you in working out loud circles, you have even more specific experiences you can share. There are now peer support groups in 5 countries with more forming every week. If you’ve taken part in a circle, your learning is interesting and useful to existing circle members as well as to those considering forming a circle.

Finally, a few of you are trying to spread working out loud in your organization. For example, a team recently held a working out loud event at their firm and 90 people formed 18 circles. The learning involved in creating that event, forming circles, and watching them experience benefits inside their firm, could all be useful to many other companies. For example, it’s particularly useful to people at other firms that use enterprise social networks like Jive, Yammer, and IBM Connections. When you contribute to the online communities of those software vendors, your network will grow even faster.

Take a step

There are so many smart, capable, people who are working out loud. You can make a connection by making a contribution. And you can regularly make useful, valuable contributions by making it a habit.

Whether or not you offer all of the contributions on the checklist, each step you take is a step toward deepening relationships and making your own luck.