WOL for Teams didn’t work, but this will

You might call it “WOL for Shared Purpose” or “WOL for Communities.” I like “WOL for Passion.” There’s no need for special materials or training. You can use the free WOL Circle Guides and start now. 

The idea is a result of a failed experiment with WOL for Teams. By applying what we learned, and making some small adjustments to Circles, I think we can help a wide range of communities and causes.

Why WOL for Teams failed

WOL for Teams, as you may have guessed from the name, is a WOL Circle in which the goal and relationship list are shared by everyone in the group, and so the method emphasizes the group over the individual. A modified set of Circle Guides includes other adaptations that flow from that. For example, the goals we suggested in Week 1 are different.

  • Raise awareness about what we do
  • Get feedback from stakeholders
  • Find and learn from others who do related work

Some of the exercises were different too. You would work on the team’s online presence instead of your own. The “Letter from Your Future Self” exercise became “The President’s Award” where you speak about how your team accomplished its goal. And so on.

In the pilot, two kinds of challenges led to us deeming it a failure. The first was procedural. Having a single relationship list in the group made it unclear who was supposed to do what with each person on the list. Would the whole team suddenly offer attention and appreciation to someone? That seemed odd. (The word “stalking” was used.) Also, some teams were larger, making the meetings hard to manage.

More insidious was that we explicitly undermined one of the most important elements of WOL: intrinsic motivation. While some people in the pilot may have truly cared about their team’s goal, it wasn’t enough for most people to spark their motivation to do things differently. The Circle meeting began to feel like yet another team meeting and, as a result, most pilot members stopped showing up.

WOL for Passion

WOL for Passion is subtly different. As in WOL Circles, you're still in a group of 4 - 5 people, and each individual still chooses an individual goal they care about. However, Circles are formed based on goals that are related. By grouping people based on the goal they choose, we preserve each member’s intrinsic motivation while creating possibilities for more interaction within the Circle.

The thematic goals can be anything one truly cares about. Maybe you're passionate about a work topic like autonomous vehicles or cryptocurrencies or the Internet of Things. Or maybe you care deeply about more general topics like innovation or diversity, or education or the environment. Whatever it is, you're likely to find people who share your interests in related online communities inside and outside your company. WOL for Passion would give you all a simple and structured way to contribute and connect.

Because your goals are related, you'll be able to share more resources within your Circle. And as more Circles form related to a given theme, resources could be curated within communities of practice. “Here’s a list of people related to the topic and useful resources. Here’s a sample Contribution Checklist.” All of that would enable WOL for Passion members to make progress more quickly.

In short, WOL for Passion accelerates connecting people and knowledge around a topic, tapping into each individual's intrinsic motivation to do so.

An example in Nebraska

I've been thinking about this idea since I first heard the results of the WOL for Teams pilot over a year ago. Recently, I saw a tweet from John Porter - aka the Urban Agriculture Guru - that pushed me to do something. John had been in a WOL Circle and found it helpful for developing and growing his business and personal relationships. He also cares deeply about urban agriculture and the many benefits of consuming locally-produced food. So he wanted to see if he could use WOL to connect urban food producers with other parts of the food eco-system.

“Our local food system is in its beginning phases here in Omaha, and I really think I can be a catalyst in helping connect the dots between producers and from producers to consumers, retailers, etc.  I’d love to build an informal network of producers so that I can better support this growth, and I think WOL would be a good tool to do this.”

John said there were already meet-ups, Facebook pages, and other efforts to connect people, but that nothing so far had formed a sense of community. 

“We post announcements - but nobody is contributing. I want to use WOL to build purpose for the community. I want to be able to build collaborations between them.”

So I asked John if he would be willing to do an experiment. He would form a few Circles of people with goals related to his, and I would help him along the way. He agreed.

What are you passionate about?

The exercises in Week 11 of the Circle Guides (“Imagine the possibilities”) are about this kind of community building. “As you aim higher, your purpose is no longer about you and what you alone might accomplish but what your tribe will accomplish together.” WOL for Passion builds on this, helping you find people who care about what you care about, build deep relationships with them, and connect and equip them to make progress towards related goals.

What about you? Is there something you care so much about that you want to create connections and possibilities related to it? Try your own experiment by forming WOL Circles of people with related goals. Experience what kind of a difference that can make. I'll be glad to help you, too.

An example of community-building: Nebraska local foods 

An example of community-building: Nebraska local foods 

 

 

When you’re looking for your purpose, “Build your way forward”

Even if you’re fortunate, it’s a common pattern. You begin with a sense that you’re meant to do something purposeful, that you’re special. With the passing of time and with each job, however, that sense of specialness fades. It’s replaced by a nagging disappointment or, worse, resignation. I guess that’s all there is. 

That certainly was my own experience. When I was young, I had high hopes but I also had no idea of what I wanted to do. So I simply reacted to whatever presented itself. As I got older, I relied on my experience in my first jobs to advance and make more money. Doing anything different seemed increasingly impossible. How could I start over?

Recently though, I’ve observed a different pattern. It’s one that gives me hope, and is something anyone can implement on their own. The pattern has three stages: Interest, Practice, and Purpose.

1. Interest

The best description I’ve found of how to explore your interests is in Designing Your Life, based on a course taught by two professors at Stanford. They refer to it as “wayfinding.”

“Wayfinding is the ancient art of figuring out where you are going when you don’t actually know your destination. For wayfinding, you need a compass and you need a direction. Not a map - a direction… Since there’s no one destination in life, you can’t put your goal into your GPS and get the turn-by-turn directions for how to get there. What you can do is pay attention to the clues in front of you and make your best way forward.”

Maybe you have an inkling of what you’re interested in. Maybe you took a test and it pointed you in a direction. Then what? What would you do next, and how might you explore other interests that might be even better for you?

“Try reframing the challenge as an exploration of possibilities (instead of trying to solve your problem in one miraculous leap)…The way forward is to reduce the risk (and the fear) of failure by designing a series of small prototypes to test the waters….one of the principles of design thinking is that you want to ‘fail fast and fail forward’ into your next step.”

The book is filled with many examples of such prototypes, and the simplest and easiest one is a conversation with someone doing something related to your interest or goal. If you’re interested in real estate, talk to people already working in different real estate businesses. If you have a hobby you love, seek out and connect with people who’ve developed that into something more. 

2. Practice

Now comes the part most people miss: deliberate practice. The goal of prototyping and experimenting isn’t to get to some finish line. It’s to get you to the next experiment, to help you explore possibilities while you learn and develop new skills. It’s the combination of doing, interacting, and getting feedback that enables you to advance in the direction you’re interested in. 

For example, I’ve always had an interest in writing, yet for decades I didn’t do anything about it. I started by simply reading more, which sparked my curiosity. My first experiment was to write a blog post on my company’s intranet. I was in my 40s. Then I talked with a journalist who encouraged me and gave me constructive criticism and advice. In the first year, I only wrote 6 posts. I struggled, got more feedback, and learned. I began writing once a month, and later wrote my first public post. Writing became a habit, leading to hundreds of blog posts and a book. The skills I developed along the way - and the relationships I developed as I did it - enabled me to discover a new career in my 50s.

“Deliberate practice” isn’t just for one particular skill, it’s for life.

3. Purpose

Angela Duckworth describes the three phases - interest, practice, and purpose - in her bestselling book, Grit. Her research brought her into contact with thousands of accomplished people and she found few “naturally talented” people. 

“The more common sequence is to start out with a relatively self-oriented interest, then learn self-disciplined practice, and, finally, integrate that work with an other-centered purpose.”

It’s that third stage that is perhaps most surprising to me, and I’m only now starting to understand it. It feels like an awakening of some sort. A psychologist interviewed for Grit described the third stage as when “the larger purpose and meaning of work finally becomes apparent.”

Your next step

The way to design your life is to “build your way forward," using a series of prototypes and interactions to enable you to make it through the three stages. For me, Working Out Loud is what helped me explore my interests, and my WOL Circles have helped me to keep practicing, to continue experimenting and connecting and learning until a purpose emerges.

If you’ve ever felt there is a gap between what you do and something that would be more meaningful, the way to bridge that gap is not with a daring leap but with hundreds or even thousands of small steps. Purpose isn’t something you discover or are born with as much as something that emerges from your passion and perseverance. 

If you want to discover something wonderful, try this

When people want something more from work or life, I advocate purposeful discovery instead of the more traditional advice like listing your strengths or following your dream. Purposeful discovery is a kind of goal-oriented exploration, and it's one of the 5 elements of working out loud. This week - in Stuttgart, Germany of all places - I found out just where that kind of exploration can lead you.

What is purposeful discovery?

In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport wrote that “‘Follow your passion’ might just be terrible advice.” He’s right, and I used his quote in a chapter of Working Out Loud. Here’s an excerpt from that chapter:

One of the major problems with identifying your true calling is that you’re aware of only a tiny fraction of the possibilities, and picking solely from what you already know is grossly limiting...

Fortunately, I found a much better way to guide your decision making that will lead you to more rewarding possibilities. That better way is purposeful discovery, a form of goal-oriented exploration. You start by choosing a goal you care about and then using the different elements of working out loud to build a network of relationships, get feedback, and learn about ways to improve and about other possibilities. The goal orients your activities, and as you get feedback and learn, you adapt your goal accordingly”

Pebbles in a pond

Each contribution you make to your network is like a pebble in a pond, spreading ripples that put you in contact with people and possibilities you may not have known about before.

This post is my 282nd. (229 at johnstepper.com and 53 at workingoutloud.com) All that writing and thinking every week enabled me to write a book, which might seem like a logical next step. Getting invited to speak about the book at a conference in Stuttgart this week might also seem like a reasonable consequence.

John Stepper - Author

But each post was also a pebble in a pond. More than three years ago, a woman who works at the largest private company in the world read one of my early posts on working out loud. It was interesting enough that, unbeknownst to me, she kept following my work.

Late last year, when I was on a video call with a group of people in Germany who were interested in learn more about Working Out Loud, she was on that call. We started exchanging emails and ideas, and she started spreading WOL circles - small peer support groups in which you build a network toward an individual goal you care about in 12 weeks.

When I mentioned I would be in Stuttgart in early November, she told me she was based there. An interesting coincidence! We planned a visit to her company where I could learn more about their work in the morning, speak to hundreds of people around the world after lunch about Working Out Loud, and talk about leadership with over a hundred managers in the late afternoon. “That woman in Stuttgart” has become a trusted friend and collaborator, and I'm excited about working with her smart, capable, generous colleagues.

Possibilities + wonders

More pebbles and more ripples. Those sessions led to more possibilities the very next day, as my new friend told other companies at the conference about the events and about my work. Companies as different as a manufacturer in Germany, a dairy in Norway, and a satellite company in Luxembourg asked if I could help them.

Sometimes the ripples lead to more connections and more opportunities. Sometimes they lead to beautiful human moments.

For example, at one of the events a woman presented me with custom art they had made based on my work. People in different parts of the world collaborated on it and she framed it for me as a gift. I was speechless.

WOL Art

At a separate event, a person who sat in the front row for two of my talks came up to me afterwards. He had read some of my personal blogs and said, “I know you’re starting to practice meditation and wanted to give you my favorite book on the topic.” He inscribed it “Thank you for coming to my company.”

Even a short bus ride to the conference could be a special moment. During the trip, I happened to sit next to someone from London whose work I’ve long admired. We talked openly about what was working well in our careers and what was missing. Within an hour, we met with my friend from Stuttgart and hatched a plan to work together on something I had long wanted to do but didn’t know how to make progress on.

All from a blog post three years earlier.

When you smile at the universe, the universe smiles back. It doesn't require a grand plan, and it’s more than hoping for serendipity. It’s purposeful discovery. You offer contributions - your work, your attention, your vulnerability - to deepen relationships and they bring you into contact with possibilities, joy, and fulfillment you may never have anticipated or imagined.

Photo credit: Chris Chan/Creative Commons