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 -  &  @ THE_HR_GIRL

Sketch by Janine Kirchhof -

“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?

Poetry Out Loud

When I first saw the phrase “Poetry Out Loud,” I didn’t pay much attention. After all, you can live, love, write, dance, exercise, and even work out loud

But one day I was working in the fabulous Poets House (“a national poetry library and literary center”), and I noticed some poems on display. They were by children, and the first one I read was by Allan, a fourth-order at PS1. 

If I leave New York, 
I’ll bring Lady Liberty
Cameras clicking,
Children yelling
I’ll bring it in my suitcase, remembrance.

I enjoyed it, so I read another one by Janice, comparing NYC to a grizzly bear, and one by Leah who wrote about immigrants and called her poem “Welcome New Americans! (“Welcome Immigrants! You are imported good!”)

I took photos and shared Allan’s poem on Instagram with a comment:

“Ever notice how most children proudly make their work visible and most adults don’t?"

A friend responded:

“Because they don’t have the fear of rejection yet.”

“She’s right,” I thought, and yet… “Out Loud” doesn’t have to be about acceptance and rejection, or about megaphones and self-promotion. It can be about the pure offering of a gift, one without the expectation of applause.

I tried this.

I made this.

I learned this. 

I enjoyed this.

I hope you like it or find it useful.

When I use the phrase “working out loud,” I think of the times I listened to someone read a short story, or when I read a book to my young son. “Out Loud” can be the basis for a connection, something that brings people closer, something that makes the work come alive.

Photo credit: Wild Edge Poetry Reading in San Francisco

Photo credit: Wild Edge Poetry Reading in San Francisco

The Generosity Test

Here’s a simple exercise you can do to see if you give things freely or if you give them to get something in return. You might be disturbed by the results.

As you do it, pay close attention to each step in the exercise: the moment you decide to do it, the way you do it, and how you feel after you’ve done it.

Try this today: Hold the door open for someone you don’t know.

After you!

After you!

“After you!”

When I do this exercise, here’s what happens.

  1. I get a good feeling when I decide to open the door. I’m about to do something nice.
  2. I make eye contact with the other person or say something to make sure they see me opening the door for them. After you!
  3. When they thank me, I get another surge of good feeling. If they don’t, however, I get irritated, even angry. How rude!

It took me a while before I recognized that I wasn’t really opening the door for the other person. I was opening it for myself and for those positive emotions I would experience. The person didn’t consent to participate in my little feel-good exercise. For all I know, they could be deep in thought or otherwise not in a frame of mind to appreciate or even notice my gesture.  


In Robert Cialdini’s oft-cited book, Influence, he writes about how people are wired to reciprocate and how you can use that to influence people to do things. Charities, for example, often include a small token like address labels in their mailed requests for a donation. That triggers a sense of obligation and makes it more likely you'll do something in return.

It works. When offer your own gift, even social media-savvy people like Guy Kawasaki reference Cialdini's work and advise you to "invoke reciprocity":

“When you help someone with something, and they say thank you, say “I know you would do the same for me.” Most people would then be obligated to return the favor at this point.”

But how does that feel? And does it produce sustainable results or does it only work once? After your first batch of free address labels or an overt mention of returning the favor, you get the idea that you’re being manipulated, or that the other person is keeping score.

A better approach to giving

Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, offers different advice. In his book, The Start-Up of You, he had “a theory of small gifts” and the role they play in building relationships.

“It seems counterintuitive, but the more altruistic your attitude, the more benefits you will gain from the relationship. If you insist on a quid pro quo every time you help others, you will have a much narrower network and a more limited set of opportunities. Conversely, if you set out to help others…simply because you think it’s the right thing to do, you will rapidly reinforce your own reputation and expand your universe of possibilities.”

Small gifts, freely given, are like magic for both parties. For the giver, the contributions feel authentic and genuine because there are no strings attached. It's easier to give because you're not manipulating or promoting, you're being helpful. The receiver, sensing this, isn’t burdened by the weight of an obligation, and the gift no longer feels like an unwanted transaction.

Importantly, when you offer things freely, there is still a benefit. But it isn't on an individual basis - "I did this for you and you'll pay me back." It's over the course of your network. Across the set of relationships in your network, the tendency to reciprocate will yield an aggregate benefit for the person who gives and eliminates the need to keep score.

The Zen of Holding The Door Open

So how would you do on the Generosity Test? What are your true motives in holding the door, and would you be annoyed if you didn't get the response you expected?

If your answers aren't as noble as you'd have liked, that's okay. Offering small gifts freely takes practice. That’s why there are so many contribution exercises in Working Out Loud circles. The repeated practice helps you develop new habits and a new mindset regarding how you make contributions.

The key to real generosity is to be detached from the outcomes. Go ahead and hold the door open without any expectation of a thank you. Make a helpful introduction. Offer some assistance without any mental strings attached.

Your small gifts, freely given over the course of your network, will deepen relationships and unlock access to possibilities.

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.

The contribution checklist

In looking for ways to make working out loud even simpler and more convenient inside organizations, we’re going to try an experiment: The Contribution Checklist. We’re going to create as many variations of this checklist as we can, and we’re going to hand it out to everyone who’ll take one.

I think this could be huge, and here’s why.



The core idea

At the heart of working out loud is building relationships based on contributions. Remember the three questions you ask in a Working Out Loud circle:

What am I trying to accomplish?

Who can help me?

How can I contribute to them to deepen the relationship?

For that third question, something to keep in mind is that your contributions vary in terms of the effort to create them, the value to the recipient, and the depth of the relationship.

For example, say you introduce a friend to someone who can help them with a specific problem. That doesn’t take much effort, has a lot of value to the recipient, and feels appropriate given the intimacy level of your relationship.

Now say you wash your CEO’s car. That takes a lot of effort, isn’t worth much to your CEO, and might seem odd if they’ve never even heard your name before.

Relationship Depth and Contributions

Relationship Depth and Contributions

The general guide

To help people inside the workplace, a checklist (which is based off of contributions in When you want to get promoted) will serve as a handy guide.

Currently we have 10 types of contributions, 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.

1. Connect: establish a connection with a person online, typically by following them on a social platform or subscribing to their updates.

2. Show appreciation: Recognition and appreciation are “universal gifts” that Dale Carnegie wrote about in How to Win Friends and Influence People. It could be a Like button or a public “thank you” or giving someone credit for their good work.

3. Share learning: Sharing interesting content and the work of others you admire are low-risk, low-cost contributions that can help others. Feedback on your contributions can further your own learning.

4. Connect the dots: Take something you found valuable and help spread it to other individuals or groups that might find it useful by @-mentioning it or sending it to them directly.

5. Ask a question: When done well, this takes more time. While vulnerability can be a gift, you want to frame your question as a contribution instead of a burden. That might include showing how you tried to get the answer before asking, offering recognition and appreciation for help, and ensuring the answer is available in such a way that it can help others.

6. Answer a question: This helps the person asking and anyone else who benefits from your answer in the future. When you answer questions in an informal, humble way, it also burnishes your reputation as someone who is knowledgable and helpful.

7. Offer feedback: Here you’re trying to build on the work someone else has done in a way that credits the person’s original work while also helping others. The gift is constructive feedback that advances the work, and your feedback may also include appreciation or a question.

8. Share your experience: Reflect on your work. What have you learned - from both failures and successes - that might help others? For example, this could be resources you find useful or techniques you’ve found effective. Frame it in a way it feels less like “Look at me!” and more like “I thought you might be interested in this.”

9. Offer original ideas: Beyond reflecting on what has been done, you can imagine what might be done in the future and frame that as a contribution. What opportunities do you see for improvement of some kind and what are your constructive ideas? Credit other people and build on their work wherever possible.

10. Connect a purposeful group: One of the most powerful contributions is connecting people who care about a particular topic and enabling them to work together on some positive change. It could be a working group that’s focused on a particular problem or a community of practice where members are interested in getting better individually and advancing the practice overall. You don’t manage the group but rather lead based on your contributions and your ability to encourage and empower others to contribute too.

The checklist & putting the idea into practice

The list above is still just a general guide. To create the checklists, we’re working with experts in different areas and using real examples. Over time, we may have one checklist per division, per subdivision, or even per group, making the contributions ever more specific. By referencing familiar people and projects, we’ll  make it easier for a given group to practice making contributions immediately.

As we create these checklists, we’ll distribute them at every career development event we host, starting with the next one in mid-June. We’ll hand them to people in the Working Out Loud circles that are spreading. We’ll post them online so that anyone can reference them and improve on them. We’ll give them to new employees so they can start building a purposeful network - and be more productive - on their very first day.

In The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande provided compelling examples of how something as simple as a checklist improved healthcare, air travel, construction, and a wide range of businesses. Now we’ll apply it to working out loud - something that’s better for the individual and better for the firm.

The Faces Project

Faces at work

Faces at work

Two years ago, I wrote about some ideas for creating a more humane workplace. Last month, I met a group of amateur photographers who are doing something about it at our firm. Their story illustrates the variety of ways in which people can make a contribution, expand their network of relationships, and realize a wide range of beneifts.

A more humane workplace

In my original post, I cited an artist, iO Tillett Wright, who was using photography to change how people view members of the LGBT community. In her selfevidentproject, she decided “to photograph anyone who is not 100% straight” and created 1000s of simple, beautiful portraits that defy labels.

“My goal is to show the humanity that exists in every one of us through the simplicity of a face….I challenge you to look into the faces of these people and tell them they deserve less than any other human being.”

I wondered, Could we do something like this for everyone at our firm?

Some steps, some failures

My goal was simple. There are still too many blank faces in our systems and too many labels in our conversations. Instead of “those people in IT!” or “those people in India!”  could we make their names and faces more readily visible and take a step toward improving how people treat each other?

I knew we already had the people who could pull it off. There's an online community of photographers at work and every month I see people from around the world contributing stunning shots as part of a photo challenge. So I wrote a post called “The Faces Project” soliciting photographers in different cities to organize local meet ups and take head shots people would be happy to upload.

It seemed like a good idea. But the logistics were more complicated than I anticipated. Then, when someone organized a session in Germany a few months later, they ran into technical issues. The woman who organized the session wrote up the lessons learned, but the project stalled.

Gifts and the rewards

Late last year, though, a group of photographers in London decided to try again. They found the lessons learned from the previous attempt and organized new sessions online.

So far, they’ve photographed more than 60 people across six different divisions. As I kept seeing people sign up online, my enthusiasm grew again. So when I was in London, I signed up too. It was fun and supplied me with a new photo that I use today. It was also a lot of work for the photographers who, after hours, lugged their equipment to another building just for me.

They made other contributions too, like setting up a JustGiving page people could donate to a good cause if they liked their photo. And they keep updating the lessons learned so other photographers can build on what they’re doing.

Why would they do all this?

It turns out they get a range of benefits that are consistent with working out loud.

  • They meet people from across the firm while growing their online networks.
  • They get better at something they love doing. “We have definitely learned more in the past two months than we would have learned if we took private tuition photography courses.” (Some updated their online presence. You can see more of their photos online presence on Flickr here, here, and here.)
  • They learn how to organize, connect, and engage online - skills good for them and for the firm.

Where will this lead? The most important benefit is that they’ve found a way to enjoy their current job more while building a network that gives them access to more possibilities. While I was there, for example, I learned that a business division asked them to organize a photo shoot just for them.

Making your own luck while improving your every day is the essence of working out loud.

How to create a path to more possibilities

One of the reasons you work out loud is to increase your chances of achieving some goal you care about. The mindset and habits help you learn while also giving you access to more opportunities. Simon Terry in Melbourne, who’s in a working out loud circle and was a main promoter of working out loud week, described it this way:

“They say luck is when opportunity meets readiness. The value of working out loud is it fosters both requirements for luck.

Work out loud. It improves your luck.”

I’m still surprised by how true this is and how rich the possibilities can be. Here’s an example that happened to me last week.

How I came to care about the National Health Service

The story started in July. I noticed that someone named Jackie Lynton tweeted about "The 5 elements of working out loud", a post I had written six months earlier.

Jackie Lynton tweet

Jackie Lynton tweet

I looked at her Twitter profile and that of the other person she mentioned, Helen Bevan. They were heading up a Transformation Office in the NHS, the national health service in the UK. That was interesting. So I followed them, read some of their interactions on Twitter, and offered to help them. That led to a phone call.

Deepening relationships 

What happened next reminded me of a post I wrote called “Deepening relationships through contributions.” It was about how contributions over time can lead to more meaningful interactions and opportunities.

In early August, I had a call with Jackie and a few people on her team. That led to me sending them a draft of the book, and to Jackie talking about working out loud circles to other people.

Then in September, I saw this from someone in Jackie’s network:

Helen Sanderson tweet

Helen Sanderson tweet

That led to a connection with Helen, who has her own firm, and others related to the NHS. I sent Helen a draft of the book too and she formed her own working out loud circle. She was so helpful and generous that when we finally spoke on the phone it was like talking to a good (and extremely smart) friend.

Just last week

Then, last week, a series of things happened in quick succession:

  • I met Jackie and Helen in person in New York City and after getting to know each other better, we decided to collaborate on a half-day workshop.
  • Carol, who found me via others at the NHS, mentioned my work in their new online hub called The Edge.
  • Carol generously offered to review the book and promote it as part of their book club.
  • Helen wrote this excellent post on working out loud and "rethinking networking."
  • Jon, a member of Helen’s working out loud circle, created this wonderful work of art.
WOL Art - 5 Elements

WOL Art - 5 Elements

A path to more possibilities

Maybe all that happened is that I met some smart, interesting people. Or maybe those budding relationships will help me learn how my work might help others in a different industry and a different country. Or maybe I’ll go on to work with one of the most important healthcare institutions in the world.

The point is that my set of maybes got a lot bigger.

Simon Terry captured this experience as he analyzed how people are working out loud and the benefits they're getting:

“The same themes keep coming to the fore: just start; be purposeful; enable people to give to others & build networks…

Success is not about being good or making the right choices. Success is about experimenting to learn faster and learn more. When you see success in that light you see the value of making a contribution in networks. Deep relationships in networks create options. Options have value.”

The path to more possibilities is paved with contributions and connections.