From 25-29th January I joined John Stepper and 23 others for his First Course and Certification Program on Working Out Loud #wolpilot.
The course was very different from most courses I’ve experienced before in a number of respects.
Firstly, it all took place online. 24 of us met on Zoom for two hours a day, over the course of the week. Most of us had never met before and knew nothing about each other except for the single paragraph introductions we’d all provided. Secondly, because of its international perspective: the group were spread over 6 countries and 3 continents. And thirdly, because of the format and style in which it was led.
John has written the book ‘Working Out Loud’ and thanks to him working out loud circles are now sprouting around the world. He has started a WOL movement and as of 9 April he has done a TEDX talk on the subject. I’m yet to see him in a WOL t-shirt (and still waiting for mine to arrive!) but if anyone should have one, he should. Many would say he was the expert in the room yet, in true WOL spirit, this is not how the course was led or framed. Instead we were all equal collaborators, working out loud together, as fellow travellers, sharing experiences and ideas for tweaking and spreading WOL. Whilst John had mapped out an agenda for the course, it developed with us, at our pace and discretion. It was the apparent ease with which John Stepper worked out loud as he went that truly differentiated the course.
So how did it work?
Each session took place on Zoom and there was a mix of John talking and others in the group sharing their experiences and questions. There was also a stream of conversation via Zoom chat. The sessions were all recorded and shared via Google Drive, along with any materials and we all stayed connected through Google Plus.
People are normally very precious about the things they have built or given birth to. John has put years of thinking and work into WOL and the materials that support WOL circles. What was refreshing was his willingness to hold it all up to scrutiny and his readiness to hand over to others for free for them to use and adapt as they see fit, to suit their own contexts and needs. He practices what he preaches: leading with generosity.
So how did it feel?
Well I initially felt like a fraud. I was only part way through my first WOL circle at the time, and was yet to help spread circles. There were other people on the course who were already growing circles within their organisation, like Katharine Krentz and Catherine Shinners who have been spreading circles at Bosch and Cisco respectively, and are looking to now scale up. I was surrounded by innovators, influencers, catalysts, leaders, changemakers, linchpins.
John reminds his audience throughout ‘Working Out Loud’ that we all have something to contribute, so with his words in my head I parked my own insecurities and leaned in with curiosity. The course had opened a door to a group of people otherwise unknown and unconnected to me. I wanted to seize that opportunity to learn and connect.
Through the sharing of stories and general chat, it quickly became clear that we had all walked a different route to arrive at WOL – there was a rich and diverse range of experiences and perspectives in the group. We came from a broad range of contexts including large, multinational corporates, small/ medium sized social enterprises, independent consultancies, public service providers, voluntary and community organisations. There was a wonderful wealth of knowledge in the group across digital innovation, knowledge sharing, change management and transformation, community organising and activism, workforce engagement and development, leadership, health and wellbeing, and other sectors.
Despite all our differences we all shared a common experience and a common purpose – we’d all been working out loud (in some capacity or other) and were all keen to master our own practice and to support others to do the same. We all saw WOL and WOL circles as a powerful tool for meaningful connection, collaboration and change in the workplace and community, and a key piece in the jigsaw for building better lives.
By the end of the week I felt I had some shared ownership and responsibility for spreading WOL. I felt part of something, something exciting, I was now part of a team of inspiring people working together on something that really mattered to us. We each had our own personal goals around our work, our lives, our communities. But we also had a common purpose – a wish to spread WOL and WOL circles to make people’s work and lives better.
We had also identified some ways to help each other achieve our goals. During the course John shared a Reciprocity Ring with us. A simple tool, in the form of a spreadsheet, in which participants name one goal they’d like some help with and people offer up any help they can provide. It was great to watch the columns fill before our eyes. Everything suddenly felt all the more possible.
I left the last session empowered to take John’s tools and to continue to develop them in the knowledge that there were others who would readily input and feedback along the way.
On the last session John us to share our next steps. I’d not given much thought to what next but when asked, I knew what I wanted to do – I wanted to spread WOL far and wide across a number of different contexts. My first step was to have some conversations – I committed to having six conversations across my legal, political, community, social entrepreneurial, cycling and education circles.
Over the last few months I’ve had my six conversations and more. Some flowed more easily than others. My key learning is that people have to arrive at WOL with their own personal goal – a goal that matters to them – and they have to experience a WOL circle for themselves. And so here we are, launching our first WOL circles course with John Stepper and only five weeks away from meeting what I’m sure will be another inspiring group. This course will also be online and is similarly open to anyone from around the world. Most importantly we intend to build the same feelings of intimacy, equality, reciprocity and connectedness so we can all benefit mutually, as fellow travellers.
I’m looking forward to the next stage of the journey!
What makes a great course for you? Let Eve know on Twitter @EveHSAUK.