WOL Circle Guides now in Mandarin

I’m writing this overlooking Changfeng Park in Shanghai, and it all seems like a bit of a miracle to me. 

I first wrote about Working Out Loud in China in September of last year, after Connie Wu had me join her WOL Circle via WeChat. Little did I know that I would travel to Beijing and Shanghai, work with companies and a business school there, and see the Circle Guides in Mandarin

Now you know why I’ve begun calling her “The unstoppable Connie Wu.”

After her experience in a Circle, Connie wanted to help others have that same experience, that same feeling of confidence and connection. So she organized a team of 20 volunteers to translate the guides, and now they’re ready

Every one of these people has a busy work or school schedule (or both), and yet, motivated simply by the desire to help others, they generously worked to make the material accessible to more people in China.

I met Connie in person for the first time this week, and met her daughter and other members of the translation team. They’re smart, kind, determined people. I can imagine many more miracles in the future.

Chen Chanyu (Aimee)

Chen Jing (Lynn)

Chen Qin

Chen Yanyan (Dora)

Fan Yingying 

Fu Haoxuan

Liu Yi

Meng Na (Mona)

Pan Jiaqi (Olivia)

Shen Jie (Jane)

Shi Jing (Ivy) 

Wang Hui (Emma)

Wu Chuanjuan (Connie)

Xia Yunxin

Yang Mengyun (Daisy) 

Zhang Lingli (Angela)

Zhou Diya (Delia)

Zhou Jing

Thank you in Mandarin - Xie Xie.png

The skill that every startup needs (but most don’t have)

Even if you don’t think of yourself as an entrepreneur, you may well be a startup or work with others who qualify for the label. By “startup,” I mean any individual or group that wants to turn an idea into something more than that.

Maybe you work in a big company and want to contribute or develop in some new way. Maybe you’re participating in an innovation program of some kind. Or maybe you're looking to do something on your own.

A skill you’ll need is the ability to build a purposeful network. Here are two reasons why that skill's important, and one way you can get better at it.

Bringing an idea to life

It’s clear that most innovations aren’t the result of lone inventors in garages. They’re the result of connections - between people and ideas - that result in new combinations. Steven Johnson captured this in Where Good Ideas Come From, which surveyed innovations over hundreds of years:

“If you look at history, innovation comes from creating environments where ideas can connect. Innovative environments… expose a wide and diverse sample of spare parts and encourage a novel way of recombining those parts.”

For those of you working in large companies, please note that he didn’t write “Innovation comes from the best Powerpoint slides pitched to judges in the innovation program.” You don’t hide your idea until the day of some competition. Instead, as Eric Ries described so well in Lean Startup, you share your ideas and related work early on; you actively solicit feedback that helps you refine and improve upon it; and then you iterate. Along the way, you build relationships with people that can help you in some way, whether it’s with technology, financing, usability, or anything else you might need.

That’s how you bring your idea to life. It’s only after you have a viable prototype that you may want to approach people for funding, permission, or other resources - if you need it.

The HP Garage, also known as "The Birthplace of Silicon Valley," spawned a myth about innovation that's no longer relevant (if it ever was).

The HP Garage, also known as "The Birthplace of Silicon Valley," spawned a myth about innovation that's no longer relevant (if it ever was).

Building a tribe around an idea

Now imagine your idea has been selected or you’ve somehow brought it to the successful prototype stage. At this point you have a different challenge: getting attention. After all, if not enough people know or care about your work, you won’t be able to reach the audience you want to reach, or make the difference you want to make. 

Today, most successful startups don’t rely on traditional marketing to get attention because it’s too expensive and inefficient. Instead, they try to build communities around their idea.

Using the metaphor from Derek Sivers’ popular TED talk, “How to build a movement” (a great way to spend 3 minutes), modern startups actively look to find “their second and third dancers” - early adopters who embrace the idea - by making their offering visible and accessible. Then they equip, empower, and connect those who care about their work to spread the word for them, all the while getting access to valuable feedback, knowledge, and new opportunities. 

An impassioned tribe, connected to an idea and to each other, has much more power than any lone inventor. 

How to teach yourself & others

Building a purposeful network isn’t just an extra task or a nice thing to have. It’s fundamental to the innovation process. And, importantly, it's a skill anyone can develop.

One way to do it, to learn by actually building relationships that matter, is through a Working Out Loud Circle. If your company is trying to increase innovation, you can integrate WOL Circles into your formal programs or corporate learning academy. If you’re on your own, you can form a Circle yourself to deepen relationships with people related to your idea. (You can find Circle members in the WOL groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.) 

Anyone can have an idea. It takes a network to bring your idea to life, and bring it to the world.

Highlights (and lowlights) from 2017

I’ll head home tomorrow from Germany. This was my 8th trip. (Or was it my 9th?) It’s a good time to reflect on what has gone well this year, and what I can learn from the setbacks.

The best moments

The most remarkable moments are when I hear other people talk about Working Out Loud. Sometimes they’re telling an audience about the benefits they’ve seen for themselves and colleagues. Sometimes they’re sharing a personal story with me, of how a simple practice seemed to unlock something inside them.

There were more of these moments as the year went by. Just last week there was the first public WOL conference, organized by eight companies in Germany, were 100+ people from 48 companies convened to spread the practice. At a dinner the night before, the energy was so positive that people described it as “a reunion” and “like coming home.” 

Two days earlier there was a WOLCON at Bosch, where individuals from all levels - including the board - came together to experience and spread WOL. People described their personal stories in a way that was emotional and touching. Seeing executive enthusiasm for what started as a grassroots movement made me even more confident that we can reach many more people.

One highlight I watched unfold remotely via social media. It was when eight companies - the WOL Community of Practice - attended an HR Excellence awards ceremony in Berlin. They had applied as a group. There were screams and hugs when they won. It was the first time such an award was given to a group like this.

These are just the recent highlights. The WOL movement is growing, with more people starting grassroots movements in their companies, and more of those companies embracing those movements and helping them grow faster.

The failures

My wife has been telling me, “You should share your challenges more,” and she’s right (as usual). Here’s an incomplete list:

  • Some talks don’t lead to much change at all
  • My first attempts at a video series were (paraphrasing a friend) “awful.” 
  • My second and third attempts were only marginally better.
  • I’m more than a year late on writing the 2nd edition. 
  • I don’t ask for help when I should.
  • When I did ask for help it sometimes went horribly wrong.
  • I’m constantly aware of the gap between what I need to do and what I’m comfortable doing.
  • The gap seems to be growing. 

I expect this list will grow considerably next year. I’m still learning how to scale the WOL movement while making a sustainable living. I’m still learning how to surf the uncertainty and enjoy it rather than merely holding on in tight-jawed determination. 

Looking ahead

Last week, I posted from the WOL conference about the people there making a difference, and someone asked via Twitter, “What difference?” While I was pondering my reply, a woman responded: 

“That day made a huge difference for me, because I’ve deepened relationships, built new ones, took away inspiration…a lot of helpful tips I can integrate into my daily work. Second I strongly believe this can make a difference for my environment, people around me, because I’ll share all of this if people/environment are interested. And if just one person will benefit from it.... it’s worth it.”

I'm mindful that, while there are some encouraging results & stories, it's really early. We have a lot of work to do and a long way to go if we want to "make the difference" we would all love to make. The woman on Twitter remarked:

“This is already happening ... as you know. We’ve just got to keep going.”

It was a good year, and a good start. Together, we keep going.

A different kind of moonshot

I happened to listen to these two TED talks one after the other. Maybe that’s why it struck me that we need a different approach. Or at least a different emphasis. 

A certain kind of vision

The first talk was from the head of Google X, whose mission is to identify huge problems in the world, propose radical solutions, and attempt to build technology for those solutions. They refer to where they work as a “moonshot factory.”

“We use the word "moonshots" to remind us to keep our visions big -- to keep dreaming. And we use the word "factory" to remind ourselves that we want to have concrete visions -- concrete plans to make them real.”

The sheer range of ideas was mind-blowing, from autonomous vehicles to balloons providing Internet access to remote regions to a “lighter-than-air, variable-buoyancy cargo ship.” They could make the planet safer, more connected, and more efficient. 

The second talk was from the author of How We’ll Live on Mars. He talked about a wide array of technologies to provide food and breathable air. Towards the end, he went much further

“So that leads to the next big -- really big step -- in living the good life on Mars. And that's terraforming the planet: making it more like Earth, reengineering an entire planet.”

Heating up the polar ice caps, he said, could create “a runaway greenhouse effect,” increasing the overall temperature and making Mars more readily livable for humans. “Then we get some real magic.”

Both of the talks were remarkable for their sheer ambition, their visions for how technology could transform our experience and our future.

And yet…

As impressive as the engineering was, though, I couldn’t help but think: what about the people

Our extraordinary technical advances are in stark contrast with the lack of progress in relating to each other. Think of your daily interactions with others in your office, in your community, or even in your social media feed. We can live on Mars, but it’s hard to hold a civil conversation, or to have empathy for those not like us.

I’m not suggesting we have to choose between technical and social issues. I’m saying the latter set of problems are grossly underserved. 

A different kind of moonshot

So I would like to go in a different direction. The moonshot I want to work on is about a workplace - and a world - that’s more human and empathetic, more open and generous. I want to do more than just hope that it comes about, but to have concrete plans and actions to bring it about.

Recently, a friend sent me an email after watching a presidential town hall featuring the topic of race and policing.

“There is a lot of discussion around improved communication between groups that have different opinions and don't usually speak well with each other.
How could your ‘working out loud’ play its part in fostering this conversation?  If it could, it would make a serious difference.”

He made me think. How indeed? Right now, we’re applying the five elements of Working Out Loud inside businesses to improve collaboration, to make work more effective and fulfilling. Such organizations provide us with the chance to see what works and doesn’t work, to keep experimenting and adapting. My intention is to use what we collectively learn to help other organizations too: non-profits, communities, and social movements.

When it comes to relating to each other, there are huge problems in the world. Now more than ever, we need to make a serious difference.

Working Out Loud at Westpac Group

Westpac Group is a financial services company based in Australia whose 30,000 employees serve over 13 million customers. Yesterday, I came across a video they made about Working Out Loud. 

It's excellent, and it amazes me that a company I’ve never worked with has embraced the practice in this way. In just over three minutes, they clearly explain what Working Out Loud is and why they do it.

“True teamwork and collaboration is about building relationships, so that you’re able to reach out to the right people at the right time in order to connect, share, and solve…
Adopting the Working Out Loud principles will help you get things done and make your work better.”

If you’re trying to explain Working Out Loud to people at your company, this would be a great video to share. 

Update: The astute reader will notice the video has been removed from YouTube.

I got a gracious note from Vanessa Hudson who posted the video originally, graciously thanking me for blogging about it but letting me know it hadn't been intended for public viewing. Perhaps Westpac will put it on their official channel in the future, as I think it shows them to be an open, connected organization. Perhaps also I'll get a chance to speak to Vanessa and others there, to help them form WOL circles and spread the behaviors they talked about so eloquently in the video.

Uploaded by Vanessa Hodson on 2016-08-15.



Working Out Loud: The TEDx Talk

I'm excited about this. The talk will be on April 9th at TEDx in Navesink, NJ, and the title is “Working Out Loud: The making of a movement.” The story I plan to tell won’t be about me or the book or even the practice of working out loud.

The story will be about something much bigger. 



The talk

The theme of the event is “Makers” and the organizers want to “explore the essence of creation.” In the case of working out loud, the thing that caught their attention is how we’re trying to spread a set of positive behaviors and are beginning to help a wide range of people and organizations around the world.

Here’s a description from the TEDxNavesink website:

“Stories of successful movements and movement-builders can be daunting as well as inspiring. The path can look so straight and assured in hindsight. At the early stages, though, the process of building a movement is fraught with uncertainty and a wide range of everyday crises. How do you start? How do you deal with the uncertainty at the early stages?

This is a story of Working Out Loud. Its aim is to help millions of people build better careers and lives, but will it? Examining it closely in its early stages can help other aspiring movement-builders know what to do and what to avoid.”

The movement we’re making

What’s the point of this movement and why would people want to be a part of it? A few months ago I wrote about where Working Out Loud is heading.

“Collectively, we will help millions of people develop the practice of Working Out Loud.

We’ll do it to help individuals access a better career and life,

to help the work of organizations be more effective and fulfilling,

and to make the planet feel like a more connected, humane place.” 

The key words in that statement are “we” and “collectively.” In my talk, I want to celebrate the people who are taking a step for themselves and those helping to spread the practice. I want to inspire others to take a step too, not to follow me but to lead in their own way.

As the event organizers asserted: “We’re all makers, and sometimes we choose to make a difference.” I want to help more people make that choice - in their own lives and in the lives of others.

The First Course & Certification Program For Working Out Loud

Update: Registration for the free pilot program will be open till the end of November so more people have a chance to comment. At that time, we'll fill the few spots we have open and I'll notify everyone. Thank you for your interest! If we want to help millions of people work out loud - individuals, companies, and organizations that make the planet better - we’re going to need more people who can spread the practice.

Here’s something that will help.

Helping people help themselves

It’s important to me that anyone can readily develop the practice themselves. That’s why the circle guides and online community are free and the book is inexpensive.

But what if you want more help than that? Perhaps you’re an independent consultant trying to help your clients work out loud. Or you’re inside an organization and trying to spread the practice there. What if you want to customize everything for your specific organization’s tools, culture, and kind of work?

I’ve helped some companies directly and will continue to do more of that. With some training and support, though, more people could take what’s available, build on it, and spread working out loud as a practice.

The program

The program I plan on offering includes three elements: training, certification, and support.

The training will be delivered online over the course of a week, with live instruction from me for two hours each day. There will be new material and exercises prepared specifically for the course.

The certification requires that, beyond completing the training, you’ve participated in a circle and have already made an effort to spread the practice (e.g., by delivering this presentation) People who are certified will be listed on workingoutloud.com.

There will also be 6 months of support after the training. This will include, at a minimum, monthly live calls and email support. It’s important that practitioners (and their organizations) know they can get ongoing help as they are implementing their own Working Out Loud programs.

WOL Training and Certification

WOL Training and Certification

Testing the idea

I intend to test this idea by offering the course and certification program for free in January. If it works, we’ll offer it again later in the year, perhaps May and October, for a fee. The tentative date is the week of January 25th, and the times 10a - noon NY time so it overlaps with Europe in the late afternoon. If there’s enough interest, I’ll add a session for APAC timezones later in the year.

Based on this pilot, we may add additional elements like in-person meet-ups, a private community (where people can be more open about work in their organizations), and ways practitioners can contribute by sharing their work and evolving the practice. We may well learn we need to adjust the format significantly.

If you’re interested in joining and shaping this program, please leave a comment below. Given it’s an initial offering, there may only be ten or so openings, and I apologize if we can’t include everyone who wants to participate.

Thank you in advance for your interest and any suggestions you'd like to offer.

Why Are So Many German Companies Interested In Working Out Loud?

It doesn’t fit the stereotype, does it? When I speak to German audiences, they’ll tell me that Germans are different. They aren’t into self-promotion, for example, and they tend to be more mindful of the corporate hierarchy. They'll say they're not comfortable asking questions or showing work in progress lest it make them seem less competent. So why would they want to spread the practice of Working Out Loud?

WOL in Germany

WOL in Germany

What the Germans want

What German companies want, it turns out, is what every company wants. They want to be more agile, to learn from mistakes and leverage successes, to spread good ideas and practices more quickly. They feel that having employees who work out loud can help them achieve these things.

What German people want is, despite the cultural differences, similar to what human beings around the world want. They share the universal intrinsic motivators of autonomy, mastery, and purpose, and they feel working out loud can give them more control over their work and life while increasing their access to learning and their sense of connectedness.

So far, German companies in banking, manufacturing, and telecommunications have started spreading Working Out Loud circles, including interest from HR and Communications departments as well as individuals.

But why is Germany ahead of some other countries?

The way it started 

The explanation has little to do with national proclivities and more to do with a few inspired, committed people. A few individuals had read about working out loud and wanted to learn more. A dozen or so of them from a diverse set of companies decided to meet, and they invited me to join via video.

That meeting was like a pebble in a pond, spreading ripples across companies that brought us all into contact with more possibilities.

First, people at the meeting formed circles among themselves. (My friend Barbara, who’s featured in Working Out Loud, was one of those people and recently wrote about the experience in both German and English.) The circles spanned companies, and some individuals then decided to spread circles at their firm.

One of the companies was Bosch, a firm that's among the most-respected global manufacturers and, with 300,000 people, the world’s largest private firm. Katharina Pershke, Cornelia Heinke, and the Bosch team adapted all the Working Out Loud materials for use on their intranet and started spreading circles. Kathrin Schmidt heroically translated all the guides into German.

A few months later, I was heading to Stuttgart for a conference, and the team invited me to speak at their firm. We held events for hundreds of people, even broadcasting an event to other countries, and that led to more circles and more ideas.

An exciting and inspiring #wol day comes to an end. Thanks to everybody #wolbosch@johnstepper@HeinkeCorneliapic.twitter.com/JwZ35rskJ5

— Katharina Perschke (@Katha_Pe) November 4, 2015

What’s next?

The ripples kept on spreading. The Bosch team talked with people at other companies in Germany, sharing the materials and their learning. That led to more connections and more opportunities to collaborate on spreading working out loud. It also led to ideas for different ways to apply Working Out Loud and ways to measure benefits for both the individual and the firm.

It’s still early, of course, but the German companies interested in spreading Working Out Loud collectively employ over a million people.

It shows how a few committed, passionate people inside companies can start a movement - and can make a difference far beyond what most of us might dare to imagine.

The first 1,000 Working Out Loud circles

This could be big. Nine months ago, I wrote about the beginning of the Working Out Loud movement. A month after that I wrote about how we could collectively accelerate things. Back then, though, you could count the number of Working Out Loud circles (the peer support groups) on two hands.

Since then, the peer support groups have been spreading, and the book will be available on Amazon in a few days. Circles are now in multiple firms and in 7 countries: US, UK, Australia, India, Spain, Netherlands, and Germany. By the end of the summer, there will be over 100 Working Out Loud circles at my firm alone.

Now is when things get interesting.

1000 circles

1000 circles

1,000 circles 

It was Simon Terry’s idea to aim for 1,000 circles this year. Simon is one of the founders of WOLweek, which happens twice a year. This year it will be held June 15-21 and again in November. He’s also heading Change Agents Worldwide, a terrific network that includes expert consultants and corporate practitioners, many of whom embrace working out loud as part of their practice.

Here’s a quote from Simon’s post:

"It is time to dream big. We want to create a 1000 circles so that over 5000 people can fulfill some important personal goal with the support of a circle of peers. The circle process is free and publicly available. These circles share the practices of working out loud in a purposeful way. They also give people an opportunity to reflect on what matters to them, what relationships they need to foster and how to give generously to others.

So our plan is to create 1000 working out loud circles between the International Working Out Loud Week next week from 15-21 June to one we will hold in November this year."

The circles give people support, structure, and shared accountability that make it much easier for them to practice working out loud and make it a habit.

How you can make a difference

We’re spreading circles because it helps people feel better about their every day while giving them access to more possibilities. If you want to help do that, there are a number of ways you can contribute.

If you work in an organization, you can host a career talk or networking clinic as a way to help your colleagues form circles. I’ll speak at 10 firms for free. If you like, I’ll speak at your firm and will help you make your event a success.

If you’re a consultant, you can offer to help you client with a career event as a way to improve engagement and upgrade digital skills, and this could be a simple first step toward more significant work.

If you work with an ESN (enterprise social network) vendor, you can deliver this talk for a customer and show them how using your product can be good for both the individual and the firm.

If you just want to do something on your own, form a circle with a few friends or host a book club meeting.

Take one simple step

You can take a simple step today: sign up.

There’s a Google spreadsheet where you can include your name and pledge the number of circles you can form. Mara Tolja in New Zealand signed up to form 50 circles. When you register your name and pledge, you’ll be part of an instant global network of people trying to make work better. We’ll help you with the rest.

One circle at a time, we’ll help people feel better about work while giving them access to more opportunities.

“How would you accelerate what you’re doing?”

My orange backpackI knew we would get along well when we both had the same bright orange backpack from IKEA. We met in a cafe near Wall Street on Monday and we were talking about Working Out Loud. After I described the main ideas and the circles that are starting to form around the world, he asked me: “How would you accelerate what you’re doing?”

I paused and offered an uninspiring “I’m not sure.” So I’ve been thinking about it since then and wanted to share what I’ve come up. My hope is that some of you find these ideas useful and some of you can help make them better.

Step 1. Remove friction

workingoutloud.com is coming soonMake it easy for people to get started. A small part of that is writing a book people will want to read and share with their friends and colleagues. Then there needs to be a website with other resources, stories, and ways for people to ask questions and interact.

I also wanted to remove any mental friction. To me, that meant donating all the book royalties, making the other resources freely available, and creating a new workingoutloud.com website rather than using johnstepper.com. Removing money and ego from a movement makes it easier to join.

Step 2. Build momentum

Posted today by a #wolcircle in the UK.

There are already a few hundred people who have reviewed the book or are forming circles based on draft materials. To build momentum, I need to equip them to spread the word if they want to.

That includes simple text they can use to describe working out loud and a short video they can link to. Other ideas include ways for circle members to know about each other, ask questions, and share information. Just today, for example, we introduced the hashtag #wolcircle on Twitter.

I also need to keep publicizing it through speaking and writing about the benefits to individuals and organizations. This one article from The Economist is good, but it’s just a start.

Step 3. Seed & Amplify

Image copyright Denise Ippolito Photography

So far, these are basic things that underpin any movement. They’re necessary but not sufficient. To accelerate things, my strategy (though that seems too lofty a word) is to leverage existing networks and equip them to help their members.

Here are 5 real examples. The more I can add to this list and contribute to additional networks, the faster the working out loud movement will spread.

  1. HR associations like CIPD and Society for Human Resource Management
  2. Outplacement and job search firms like The Ayers Group and CareerShift
  3. Social networking vendors like Jive, Yammer, LinkedIn and their customer success networks
  4. Coaching associations like the International Coach Federation and the International Association of Coaching
  5. Training providers like Dale Carnegie Training

There might be different contributions for each of these networks. I might do a free webinar for their members, write content for their magazines, or collaborate with them on customized training materials.

One group alone has 135,000 members. Combined, these networks touch millions of people.

What would you do?

To accelerate the movement, I’m going through the same questions people ask in the first week of a working out loud circle:

What’s my purpose?

Who can help me?

How can I contribute to those people?

What else would you do to remove friction, build momentum, or seed and amplify this movement? Which organizations might benefit from working out loud and how could I help them?

I'm sure I'm missing things, and I appreciate any and all suggestions you might have.