He felt uneasy about Working Out Loud. After a few weeks in a WOL Circle at work, he felt like he was trying to win people over by doing something for them, and it seemed wrong. So he posted his concern on his company’s intranet, along with a question.
“My understanding of Working Out Loud is that I should contribute and ‘do good’ without the idea of getting things in return….On the other hand, I consciously create a relationship list where I collect the names of certain people who can help me with achieving my personal goal. Then I specifically target them with my ‘contribution’ - attention, support, whatever it may be. Effectively, I am trying to get their support by doing them favors.
What am I missing?”
His colleagues responded with their own opinions and experiences, and the person managing the community shared the discussion with me. Some responded that they don’t expect anything in return from a particular individual, and yet believed that, across their entire network, there would naturally be a benefit to them. Others shared how the listing of names helped them to go far beyond the individuals they already knew in a purposeful way, and gave them access to learning they didn’t have before. One woman said she didn’t see it as currying favor with people but rather “improving the odds” or “creating one’s luck.”
Everyone agreed that intention mattered, that the core principle was to offer things without expectations. I had the chance to send in my own reply.
"If WOL ever feels like you're ‘targeting’ people or trying to manipulate them into reciprocating, you should stop. That's not the intention nor is it a healthy, sustainable practice.
Think of your relationship list not as a set of targets but as people who can help you explore. You're not doing something TO them but rather being OPEN TO them, to their work and ideas and more.
Each person is like a door. The greater the sense of trust and relatedness, the more that door may open, giving both of you greater access to each other's knowledge, resources, and other people. Now, if a particular door never opens, if a person never responds or you never develop any sense of relatedness, that's okay. Your contributions, if offered in a positive, empathetic way without expectations, can still benefit them (in ways you may never know). As you contribute to more people on your list, you simply increase the chances that you'll develop genuine trust & relatedness with some of them.”
And another question…
As the discussion unfolded, the topic shifted to the relationship list. After all, he wondered, if you’re offering things without expectations, why do you need a list? I replied, “If the relationship list makes the practice feel artificial, don’t use it.”
The reason I put the relationship list in Week 1 of a Circle is because it helps you attune your attention, opening you up to people (and thus ideas, resources, and more) related to your goal. Right from the beginning, that simple act can help you see things you may have never noticed before. But if I’ve been working on a goal for a long time, or if I find the list to be a barrier of some kind, I may stop maintaining it.
A practice like any other
Though there is a reason for each of the exercises in a WOL Circle, what’s more important is whether or not you find the exercise to be helpful. I added:
“You can think of your initial relationship list as “scaffolding” that helps you set up your practice. Eventually, you may no longer need it if you feel your practice can stand on its own.”
And that’s true for much of Working Out Loud. Like any practice, there are guides and traditions and even rules, but those are really just meant to help you get started. There is no one right way. Rather, the best practice is the one that’s right for you at a particular time, one you discover and adapt through practice, feedback, and...questions.