“Learning is my shield against irrelevance”

“No one is immune,” he said. “I fear growing rigid in my thoughts and outdated in my ideas.” I was sitting in a packed stadium, listening to the dean of Northeastern University speak at my eldest daughter’s graduation. I started taking notes.

He talked about several students’ projects and start-ups, applying what they learned to address challenges like diabetes in Honduras and supporting small farms in Kenya. “Learning is a lifelong journey,” he reminded the graduates. 

I might have dismissed the speech as just encouraging words for young people, except that I had read very similar words a few months earlier, written by the CEO of a 400,000-person company.

Learning at Work

For most of my career, I invested much more into making my boss happy than into developing my skills. Though I worked in a highly technical field, almost no one around me read books or did research about what we did. We were too busy. Learning was something you did on your own time, something wholly apart from work. The unspoken assumption was that you were supposed to already know what you needed to know.

The words of Bosch’s CEO, Volkmar Denner, were a radical departure from what I was used to hearing. First, he offered some sobering statistics.

“Lifelong learning is essential… But the truth is that people aged 30 to 44 spend just nine minutes a day on average on improving their qualifications. And for people aged 45 to 64, the figure is even lower — only four minutes.”

The dean had said, “The world doesn’t stop changing, and we must continue to discover and learn,” and the Bosch CEO embraced the need for people at all levels of the company (including himself) to continue exploring and learning as an integral part of the work we do.

“It’s more than just a challenge our children have to face…In the digital world, people who have achieved success in their careers cannot afford to rest on their laurels and refuse to learn anything new. The more successful the company, the more alert its executives have to be to change, and the more they have to preserve their curiosity.

[It is] important to see working and learning as a whole, and to combine the two. This can only work if further training is no longer seen as something that is merely “nice to have” — a seminar every so often, then back to routine. We want further training to be an integral part of company strategy. It is this that is giving rise to new forms for self-organized learning [such as] “Working Out Loud.”

What’s it for?

The Bosch CEO saw learning as good for the individual (“a way of advancing our personal careers”) as well as for the company. The dean saw it as imperative for the planet.

“Inequality, injustice, and intolerance cast long shadows….Use your gifts to eliminate the dark. You are torch bearers in an age that longs for light.”

What about you? Whether you need your own “shield against irrelevance,” are looking for ways to advance your career, or want to contribute to a better world, standing still is not an option. 

What are you learning? Why?

Photo by Ruby Wallau for Northeastern University


A responsibility corporations never imagined they would have

When I saw a video of Simon Sinek keep appearing in my Facebook feed, I refused to click on it. One headline, “This is EXACTLY what’s wrong with this generation!” was enough to put me off.

When my wife recommended it, I watched it.

It’s a fifteen-minute excerpt from a longer interview, and the focus is on millenials (people born after 1984 or so) in the workplace. He describes, for example, how technology and impatience are shaping this generation, making them less happy and less effective at work. 

“Everything you want - instant gratification! 
EXCEPT job satisfaction & strength of relationships - there ain’t no app for that. They are slow, meandering, uncomfortable, messy processes.”

Then, at 10:23, he said something that surprised me: it’s a company’s responsibility to help people develop those relationships, to give them the skills to do so.

“We are putting them in corporate environments that aren’t helping them build their confidence, that aren’t helping them learn the skills of cooperation, that aren’t helping them overcome the challenges of a digital world…”
I hate to say it…It’s the company’s responsibility…we have to work extra hard to find ways to teach them the social skills they’re missing out on.
Trust doesn’t form in a day…It’s the slow steady consistency…We have to create mechanisms where we allow those…interactions to happen.”

You might think teaching “people skills” is the responsibility of parents or schools, or that individuals should just develop them on their own. But if, for whatever reasons, new joiners don’t have these skills - how to build trust and rapport, how to cooperate and collaborate - would’t it benefit the company to help employees develop them?

What do you think? Should organizations be teaching people how to relate to each other?

Update - Feb 1, 2017: Shortly after I posted this, several people pointed out that Simon Sinek recorded a follow-up video (in his kitchen, no less) to respond to some of the strong reactions, both positive and negative, to the things he said in the interview. It's excellent, and clarifies several key points, including the one about corporate responsibility for improving how employees relate to each other.

New WOL courses starting October, 2016

If your organization wants to help people improve their way of working, or wants a more open, collaborative culture, then the new Working Out Loud course is for you. It's designed to help you experience a change in your own habits and mindset, while you learn how to scale those changes across an organization.

In six 90-minute sessions, you’ll go through your own accelerated version of a Working Out Loud circle, and get live coaching from me throughout the process. You’ll see how applying the five elements of Working Out Loud, in small steps with the help of a peer support group, can lead to meaningful personal change and progress towards a goal you care about. You’ll also have two additional sessions to explore the practice further for you and your organization.

I’ll run the course at two different times, one for the US/UK/Europe timezones and one for Asia Pacific. The details are below.

If you’re interested, send email to john.stepper@workingoutloud.com for enrollment. Online registration will be available shortly. 

Who’s it for?

The new course is ideally suited for people interested in applying Working Out Loud inside their organizations, and who want to experience circles for themselves first. Many participants may come from one of the following areas:

  • Human Resources (e.g., Learning & Development, Talent Development, or Diversity)
  • Digital Transformation
  • Culture Change
  • Innovation

Some participants may ultimately opt for customized materials & training via the Accelerated Development Program. The course allows you to sample how this low-cost, scalable program can help your organization.

What’s included? How much does it cost?

I’ll be working with you directly throughout the course, joined by Moyra Mackie for the sessions in the US/UK/Europe timezones, and by Mara Tolja for the course in Asia Pacific. 

The sessions are all run via Zoom, a fantastic videoconferencing platform, so you can join from anywhere. All other interactions are via Slack, a messaging app that makes it easy for circle members to interact with each other as well as with me, Moyra, and Mara.

To begin, you’ll join a WOL circle with 4 other people, based on your profile. Here’s a complete list of what's included.

  • Six 90-minute sessions (30 minutes of live coaching from me + 60 minutes for your circle meeting)
  • Support for identifying your goal in Week 1
  • 60 minutes additional help after Week 3 
  • 60 minutes “What’s next?” session after the course completes
  • Optional one-on-one consultation for adapting the practice for your organization
  • Online support throughout the six weeks plus one week before and after
  • New 100-page Circle Coach’s Guide (available to course participants only)
  • Working Out Loud: For a Better Career & Life shipped to you
  • Certificate of completion

The cost is $995. (That’s about 895 euros, 745 pounds, or 1300 Australian Dollars.) For those who go on to procure the Accelerated Development Program, the course fees are applied as a credit.

When is it?

The sessions are on six consecutive Wednesdays, beginning on October 5th. The sessions are 90 minutes each. Weeks 3 & 6 have an extra optional hour for getting help and exploring possibilities after the course.

Dates: October 5, 12, 19, 26 & November 2, 9

The US/UK/Europe sessions are scheduled for 10am in NY, which is 3pm in the UK and 4pm in Europe.

The Asia Pacific sessions take place at noon in Sydney. That’s 9am in Singapore & Hong Kong, 10am in Japan, 2pm in New Zealand.

This is the third version of this course

In January, there were five sessions in one week meant for people already familiar with Working Out Loud. In June, I partnered with Helen Sanderson Associates and offered a different format, allowing people to experience a circle for themselves for the first time, and offering coaching on how to make them more effective. Helen and her team, led by Nicola Waterworth and Eve Holt, did a wonderful job. When participants were asked for one word to describe how they were feeling, they responded with this:

challenged; supported; connected; positive; uncomfortable; inspired; connected; encouraged; supported; learning; enthusiastic; helpful; excited; nourished; motivated; emotional; personally interesting; curious; inspired; brave.

This will be the third version of course, and I will be focused even more on live coaching and providing more material on how to adapt and spread the practice in organizations.

To sign up, just send me email at john.stepper@workingoutloud.com and I'll follow up with you directly. 

I am thrilled to be offering this course. I hope you, and ultimately your organizations, will find it useful.