When they do things I could not do

I remember how hard it was when I worked in a big company. Trying to get budget or even attention was like running some Dilbert-ian gauntlet. Trying to make an actual difference was harder still, and I often wanted to give up. 

So when I see people working in large corporations doing what I could not do, I look at them with genuine admiration. How did they do it? Why? Today I want to celebrate some of these people. The list below is by no means complete, and that makes it all the more amazing.

Janine Kirchhof works in HR at Daimler. She felt her WOL Circle helped her tap into a sense of purpose, so she proposed combining Circles into Daimler’s on-boarding process. She secured the support she needed and kicked off the first pilot last week. Going forward, each month she'll be helping new joiners become more productive and connected more quickly.

Katharina Krentz is a pioneer in spreading WOL at Bosch, and she’s the only person (besides me) whose full-time job is spreading the practice of Working Out Loud. She formed a co-creation team that built a movement within the company that has already reached over 500 people, organized the first-ever WOL Conference, piloted WOL for Teams and WOL for Leaders, and now partnered with HR to integrate WOL into their on-boarding program. She even worked with Communications to share what Bosch has done in this wonderful 2 1/2-minute video and this incredibly useful post on LinkedIn.

Three people at BMW - Jasper-John Schaefer, Ilona Libal, and Andreas Schorn - started their WOL efforts from different divisions. Things developed slowly at first, but through a combination of creativity and persistence they got the attention of top management of the company. They now have the support to create their own movement there, and the potential to go further and faster than others who started before them.

I’ve written about the Daimler team before, where Lukas Fütterer and Melanie Rassloff astound me with their creativity, generosity, and the sheer range of what they do. They too have formed a fantastic co-creation team that is spreading Circles and leveraging talent throughout the company to institutionalize WOL as a skill everyone should have.

Bernd Zimmerman is at Siemens, where he’s introduced new methods for developing “senior leadership excellence.” He saw how WOL could be adapted and applied to innovation, fostering a sense of experimentation and prototyping in the company, and helping individuals bring their ideas to life. The first pilot he led quickly turned into several more, and he’s only just begun.

Athanasia Price and Emma Boddington-Stubbs work at Rio Tinto in Australia. Athanasia wrote and spoke about how WOL helped her find "clarity on my purpose at work" and decided to try and spread the practice. Though she was seven months pregnant, she collaborated with HR and worked with Emma to create the first-ever pilot of WOL Circles as part of a graduate training program as well as a digital culture program.

These people are all busy, with full lives and demanding full-time jobs. And yet they crafted their roles so they could help more people, so they could make work even more fulfilling. They all lead by example, inspiring other to do more inside their own companies. 

When I worked in a big company, I could not do what they have done. But now I can contribute in other ways, and the persistence of these people and their ability to execute inspires me to do more, to be more.

Julia’s story: “Payback is unpredictable and so is the currency.”

Julia Flug works in a large company, where she cares about her career and getting better at it. She also has talents, interests, and aspirations that go well beyond her job. 

She first came across Working Out Loud because of simple curiosity. It eventually led to translating the Circle Guides into German, a new role on an important project, and a set of skills and habits she’s continuing to practice in her work and life. None of that was planned, but as she writes about her contributions to others: "Payback is unpredictable and so is the currency."

Here, in her own words, is her WOL story.

***

By Julia Flug

I had been away from work for a while and on my first day back I was browsing through our Enterprise Social Network (ESN), curious to see what was new. And there it was: A community called “Working Out Loud.” Even though I only had a vague idea what might be in it, I was struck right away by the name and I took a deep dive into it. There was the book, the guidelines and even a list where to sign up to build a circle, all with the goal to follow you passion, making it visible and getting connected with others around the same field of interest.

That sounded so great and I started reading the book right away. It felt like one big revelation: A method how to connect with others without having to come up with ingenious small talk. To become visible without selling yourself. A method to learn and to be okay with not having to know it all. A powerful tool of how to start a movement. Keep the change small - that was what I needed, where I had failed so often before! And for the huge fan of tools and methods inside of me the systematic approach was the icing on the cake.

My twitter account was orphaned for more than a year when I decided to send my first tweet. Not “knowing” anybody on Twitter, I was very, very happy to have someone who had already promised to tweet back and thus make me feel more comfortable.

This is how I met John, sending some tweets back and forth. I liked his open and funny writing style and felt somehow connected only by reading the book. Vegetarian? Same over here. 10 years of self help books? Wanna have a look at my shelves? Offering to translate the WOL Circle Guides felt so natural.  

Once I had them ready and sent them to John I was scared to become visible. What would happen once they were published - would people criticize my translations? What would they think about me?

The day John announced in a blog post the new translated guides were online made me cringe. Being all of a sudden visible I expected something (negative, of course) to happen.

But it just didn’t. :)

Does that mean the translations are perfect? Probably not. Would they be different if I had to translate them right now? Yes, most probably. Am I still scared of becoming (more) visible? Yes, but the next time it will be easier to deal with it.

When I started my circle, I defined two topics I wanted to learning about and connect with people with the same interest. I expected the internet and social media would be better sources - rather than the ESN.

Even though my focus was outside, I applied many of the things learned in the exercises at work as well without following a defined goal. Results still came. “Hello, the website says you’re responsible for topic x. Is that true?” That’s what an email in my inbox said. It made me feel disrespected, angry and lucky as it helped me to practice empathy. I sent back a nice email. When she answered, her email style hadn’t changed much. I decided to call her. She was distant and I did my best to stay firm on my intention to be empathic.

A few weeks later, I sent out another email to a group of people including her. She didn’t answer first, but immediately called me after I sent out a reminder. It felt like talking to a different person. She had a melodic, cordial voice. Telling me not only about the personal reason why she wouldn’t be able to join an event but also asking about me for how long I had been with the company, at my current job, if I enjoyed the city we’re living in. She was still straightforward but I knew she was sincere.

Maybe it was stress that made her sound so harsh. In the past I might have answered in a similar style, making me feel stressed too. Practicing empathy allows me to keep those negative feelings away and I would probably even call right after receiving such an email.

Apart from that, many other small things happened. In a certain way it surprises me as I planned to try WOL outside the company, but as the steps felt so natural and brought back some habits I already practiced in the past, I just applied them. The difference now is that I feel better prepared, more secure in how to do so. I offered to collaborate with people and didn’t think I had to know better than them, and received great inputs. I could feel our relationships deepen immediately. I also met new people and felt an immediate connection - just because we cared for the same topic. 

I like to think we all have an imaginary karma account where you can pay in with good deeds, not only through commenting, collaborating, and connecting but by picking up that glove that has fallen unseen to the floor, offering your seat in the subway. The same way you should sell for free, you should fill your karma account for free. Payback is unpredictable and so is the currency.

Even though I intentionally wanted to explore my goal outside the company, one payback came from inside as an offer for a project lead on an important project. I also established several promising connections, both inside and outside and I am curious to find out what other paybacks I might have if I keep paying in.

Looking back to my past six months with WOL - would I do it again? The answer can only be yes. I am happy to feel so much better prepared to establish connections, to be part of certain communities, and to have learned about my topics in a way I had never expected. Yet I am still far away from mastering the art of WOL. Given that it is so easy (and fun) and brings marvelous results I will keep practicing in another circle in 2017.

The stories all around you

I must have walked by this gated section of the park over a thousand times. It’s at the bottom of Manhattan, right near Castle Clinton. You can see the World Trade Center from there, and the Hudson River. You’ll pass tourists lining up to catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, and street vendors and performance artists vying for their attention.

The entrance to the park is marked only by an open gate and a worn path. This time, I walked inside.

battery-urban-farm

Once you cross the threshold, it immediately feels different. Quieter, if that’s even possible. Cloistered might be a better word.

I was alone. The first thing I noticed was a small vegetable garden, with eggplants and peppers and basil all lined up in neat rows. I later learned it's for school children to learn about food and farming.

A few more steps brought me into a sparse, open space. Amid craggy trees, there was what seemed to be a maze outlined by stones in the ground, filled with clover in between. There were a few empty wooden benches. Near one of them was a marker, badly weathered and barely legible, commemorating a gift from the Mayor of Jerusalem to the Mayor of New York City in the 1970s.

I walked around the edge of the maze, and something on the ground caught my eye. A small engraved stone. It looked as if it had just been placed there, at the base of a small tree that also looked freshly planted.

My heart sank as I read what was there. A story told in five words, a birthdate, and two tiny footprints. “139 magical days we shared.” I felt a sense of the parents’ love, joy, and anguish. The weight of their loss, and of a lifetime of remembering.

139-magical-days-we-shared

I wanted to know more. Why was it here? Who were these people? What happened to the child? I felt like I was intruding on someone else’s very personal tragedy, but I took a photograph anyway. I wanted to remember.

I walked slowly past the small farm and out of the park. Back among the tourists and the hum of the city, I wondered how many other stories I had passed by that day, waiting for the moment when I would be open to seeing them.

The man singing falsetto in the ladies’ room

Most of what you see and think is a lie. I started thinking about this when a friend told me, in no uncertain terms, that someone I regarded highly was “a real jerk.”

“How do you know?” I asked. She explained that she was at an event and overheard him say something that seemed, well, jerky. There was a pause as I sat there, waiting for more evidence, but that was the only encounter she ever had with him. She hurriedly mentioned that a friend of hers’ had also heard he was a jerk. Noticing the incredulous expression on my face, she said:

“Well, I just know.

Connecting the dots

What my friend was doing was connecting the dots (albeit only two of them in her case). It’s something we all do to make sense of our world. Here are a few famous examples.

Constellations

From the countless dots in the sky, we select a few, connect them, and almost magically flesh out Orion the Hunter or Pegasus the Flying Horse.

"Do we see reality as it is?"

We’re all wired to connect the dots, but sometimes that wiring can lead to mistakes. There are some wonderful TED talks that describe how we perceive things and show how easily we’re fooled.

In a magician’s talk, he noted how “we are always solving. We are always trying to decode our world.” And he used that impulse to trick his audiences.

In a talk on optical illusions, the founder of an art and science lab showed how we could think of the same information very differently under different conditions.

“The light that falls onto your eye, sensory information, is meaningless, because it could mean literally anything. And what's true for sensory information is true for information generally. There's no inherent meaning in information. It's what we do with that information that matters.

So, how do we see? Well, we see by learning to see. The brain evolved the mechanisms for finding patterns, finding relationships in information, and associating those relationships with a behavioral meaning, a significance, by interacting with the world.”

A cognitive scientist explained our (mis)perceptions in slightly more technical terms in his talk "Do we see reality as it is?"

“When you simply open your eyes and look about this room, billions of neurons and trillions of synapses are engaged. Now, this is a bit surprising, because…the eye has a lens that focuses an image on the back of the eye where there are 130 million photoreceptors, so the eye is like a 130-megapixel camera. But that doesn't explain the billions of neurons and trillions of synapses that are engaged in vision. What are these neurons up to?

Well, neuroscientists tell us that they are creating, in real time, all the shapes, objects, colors, and motions that we see. It feels like we're just taking a snapshot of this room the way it is, but in fact, we're constructing everything that we see. We don't construct the whole world at once. We construct what we need in the moment.”

The man singing falsetto in the ladies room

In short, we take in some bits of information and make up the rest, filling in all the missing pieces.

A story from Loving What Is made me laugh, as it highlighted how ridiculous and misleading our stories can be. It made me think of all the tragicomedies we each write every day, and how our need to make sense of the world can lead us wildly astray.

It also made me think of how simply being mindful of the stories we make up and asking ourselves Is that really true? can help us be happier and more open.

“Once, as I walked into the ladies’ room at a restaurant near my home, a woman came out of the single stall. We smiled at each other, and, as I closed the door, she began to sing and wash her hands. “What a lovely voice!” I thought. Then, as I heard her leave, I noticed that the toilet seat was dripping wet. “How could anyone be so rude?” I thought. “And how did she manage to pee all over the seat? Was she standing on it?”

Then it came to me that she was a man - a transvestite, singing falsetto in the women’s restroom. It crossed my mind to go after her (him) and let him know what a mess he’d made. As I cleaned the toilet seat, I thought about everything I’d say to him. Then I flushed the toilet. The water shot up out of the bowl and flooded the seat. And I just stood there laughing.”

The Ladies' Room

 

Note: This post was originally titled "The transvestite in the ladies' room." Shortly after I posted it, though, my son texted me asking if I knew that "transvestite" was an offensive term. Really? I thought, I've never heard that.

I admit my first reaction was to dismiss it, thinking that he was just being funny or provocative. Later, though, we talked about and he sent me a link to a discussion on Quora: Is the term "transvestite" offensive? After reading that, I changed the title - not to be politically correct, but to be respectful. I kept the word in the quoted story because it's taken directly from another source and was also written several years ago.

HT to my son for looking out for me - and for educating me.