Anyone who knows me well knows I am a big fan of planning. If I allowed myself to, I would spend my life planning out how to execute the 100 ideas I have every week. And so, none of those ideas would ever see the light of day! To get your ideas off the ground – whether they are sustainable enterprises, purpose-led projects, fund-raising, world-changing initiatives, you need to be able to make things happen. To make things happen you need other people.
One of the most important skills for anyone involved in change, is the ability to connect with others who can help you and your project or mission gain traction and take off. I think of it as a bit like a cooking recipe; you need all the right ingredients to make a Masterchef meal! And you need all the right connections and supporters, plus visibility for your change-making initiative or project to succeed!
If the idea of self-promotion and networking fills you with dread and horror, thinking about it with a different mindset might help you. One way to do that is Working Out Loud – a system that might transform your possibility of success in getting your project off the ground. It’s also a great way to start to encourage colleagues to move to a more collaborative approach, and feels much more congruent with emergent business models and ideas. Less of the ‘here’s my business card, what can you do for me’ and more ‘ how can I be of value to you so that we build together’. So what is it?
Working Out Loud is a practice that combines conventional wisdom about relationships with modern ways to reach and engage people. It’s a very different approach to networking, and it starts with three questions:
- What am I trying to accomplish?
- Who can help me?
- How can I contribute to them to deepen our relationship?
Instead of networking to get something, you lead with generosity, investing in relationships that give you access to other people, knowledge, and possibilities. Part of the process is learning ways to make your work visible and frame it as a contribution. Working Out Loud circles help you build your own network toward a goal you care about in 12 weeks. Circles help you develop a mindset and habit you can apply to any goal.
How does it work?
It’s about constantly sharing what you’re working on in an authentic and transparent way, sharing books or blogposts or really useful information you’ve discovered, and connecting people together to help you achieve your goals and strengthen relationships. Creating a community and community events for people within your industry which brings like-minded people together is a great way of Working Out Loud.
My Facebook group The Changemakers Collective brings people together who are interested in purpose-led business to discuss ideas and issues around organisational change for example. The Purposeful Enterprise Summit added to that group of people while provided valuable free information on purpose-led change as a contribution from me. I have a colleague in internal communications, Rachel Miller of All Things IC who created two free unconferences for internal communicators under the banner of The Big Yak – to enable them to meet which also acted as a showcase for her consultancy work and her skills as a connector.
The Power of Peer to Peer Support
Or you can simply form a Working Out Loud circle. A Working Out Loud circle is a peer support group of 4-5 people in which you ask yourself the three questions I mentioned earlier:
- What am I trying to do?
- Who can help me?
- How can I contribute to them to deepen our relationships?
Your circle meets for an hour a week for 12 weeks, and a simple 2-page guide helps you take small steps each week. By the end, you’ll have developed a larger, more diverse network and a set of habits you can apply toward any goal.
The Working Out Loud Formula
This is how John Stepper, the founder of Working Out Loud describes the formula that makes it work:-
Relationships: Relationships are at the heart of working out loud. The path to opportunities and to knowledge is very often via other people. As you deepen relationships with people in your network, they’re more likely to help you or collaborate in some way, and deepening relationships taps into your intrinsic need for feeling connected to something and someone beside yourself.
Generosity: Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, said, “The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, wrote about the power of “small gifts, freely given.” Your contributions can include things as simple (and powerful) as recognition and appreciation. The reason generosity is a good way to build relationships is because we’re wired for reciprocal altruism. That means that you don’t have to keep score or think of giving to people as a quid pro quo transaction. Rather, you can make contributions in a way that feels good and genuine knowing that, over the entirety of your network, there will naturally be a benefit to you too as others reciprocate.
Visible work: You don’t have to be a social media maven to work out loud. You can do it over coffee and email. Using social platforms, though, has a number of advantages. When you make your work visible and frame it as a contribution, social platforms can amplify who you are and what you do; greatly extend your reach; and expand the set of contributions you can make and how you can offer them. The feedback on your visible work can also make you and your work better, thus tapping into your intrinsic need for learning.
Purposeful discovery: Given the infinite amount of contributing and connecting you can do, you need to make it purposeful in order to be effective. It needn’t be your One Special Purpose but rather something as simple as “I’d like to learn more about <X>” or “I’d like to explore opportunities in another industry or location.” You can still have room for serendipity, but having a goal in mind orients your activities, including the kinds of relationships you’re trying to develop and contributions you should make.
A growth mindset: This last element isn’t about things to do but rather a mindset to have as you do them. Carol Dweck, researcher and author of Growth Mindset, showed how you can develop a more open, curious approach to work and life and be more resilient in the face of setbacks. Adopting such a mindset means you’re more likely to try new things and to persist even when someone, for example, doesn’t respond to your contributions as you had hoped.
Here’s some more useful advice:
Working Out Loud in Teams – Enterprise Strategies
Working Out Loud on Amazon
I hope you find this idea helpful and I would love to hear if you have ever used it, or how you get on if you try!