Working out loud: Getting started

Getting started

Getting started

When it comes to career opportunities, working out loud is the great equalizer. It enables everyone to demonstrate what they can do and opens up access to people and possibilities. It’s not just for senior management or for extroverts. If you work, then working out loud is for you.

But many people still don’t know where to begin. So here’s a set of simple steps I use to help people get started. This simple progression, combined with deliberate practice, can help anyone make their work more effective and more fulfilling.

The basics: reading and writing

While it seems everyone is comfortable using the internet at home, many people, particularly at large firms, simply don’t know how to use the internet for work. At the office, their main tools might be email, meetings, a notebook, and their own computer. And they’re so busy – and so used to how they work – that they simply don’t know what else is available.

So the first thing we show someone is how to find relevant people and content. This is easy if you use a collaboration platform at work like Jive or Sharepoint. But we’ll also help them find useful blogs, LinkedIn groups, and people on Twitter. They’re almost always surprised at the richness of what’s available and how easy it is to find it.

Basic capabilities Finding relevant people & content
Putting your work where others can see it

The other basic capability they’ll need is to find a place to put their work. Many people still store their work in a private space (a notebook, a local drive). We show them how they can put much of that in a place (typically their firm’s collaboration platform) where others can see it, discuss it, share it, and build on it. And we show them examples of how this openness can improve everything from meeting agendas and minutes to presentations and policies.

This won’t change anything yet, but it’s enough to show them that other ways of working are readily available.

Making it easy

If you want to change behavior, you need to make it convenient. Sometimes, the biggest barriers to change can be removed with a few simple adjustments.

Convenience Make it part of your environment
Make it part of your routine

The first adjustments we make are to the person’s work environment. We’ll change their default home page, for example, so their collaboration platform is only one click away. We’ll make sure their mobile device is set up and has the right apps in a convenient spot. We’ll put a physical reminder – “Work out loud!” – on their monitor. These simple nudges make a big difference.

Then we schedule time to work out loud. For executives it might be as little as 15 minutes a week. For others, it might be an hour a day. Once it’s scheduled, they don’t have to think about it. They have an appointment with themselves for building the skills they need to work in a better way.

Making generosity a habit

What exactly do they do with that regularly scheduled time? Most people I speak to are daunted by the idea of a blog or even a status update. (Senior people who manage thousands have told me “You’ll never get me to blog!” or “I don’t know what to say.”) So we take small steps and show them how some simple actions can help them achieve their goals while also making their work more fulfilling.

The first and most important lesson is to help them frame their work as a contribution, as a gift to others. This idea of “leading with generosity” is critically important to working out loud. You shape your reputation through your contributions and the public feedback they attract, not by promoting yourself. And leading with generosity is also the best way to build relationships.

Then we start with a simple one-click gift – Like-ing someone else’s contribution – and we slowly build from there.

Habitual Generosity Giving feedback by Like-ing
Giving feedback by commenting
Sharing content
Connecting people
Creating your own original gifts

We show them how a single click can be a sign of appreciation as well as public  reinforcement of work or behaviors they value. Their first comment might be a public “Thank you” or “Well done”. These simple steps demonstrate that the person is listening and participating, that they’re willing to engage. And this openness, in turn, makes it easier for others to contribute.

Next, we help people narrate what they’re doing: who they’re meeting with, what they’re reading, what they’re working on, what they’re learning. Such contributions, even  if they’re only a sentence or two, inevitably lead to other relevant people and content. In a short time, people learn – by doing – how their own contributions help them discover people and content that’s useful for their work.

We continue up this gradient, gradually helping people make more significant contributions. Putting project materials online. Sharing drafts of works in progress. Articulating their opinions. Sometimes it’s just a gift with no expected return. And sometimes, many times, those gifts attract interest and expertise, making the work better.

Changing behavior

It took me years to learn that verbal persuasion and the one-off tutorial don’t change much.

To change people’s behavior, you need a more comprehensive approach, tapping into all the sources of influence. You need to immerse them in the activity so they can learn by doing. You need to give them small, achievable goals so they become increasingly confident. And you need to provide immediate, relevant feedback so they can get better quickly.

There are more advanced techniques for working out loud, but getting started is the most important step and often the hardest.

Helping people take that step is extremely rewarding. I love seeing the joy people experience when they get public recognition from something they’ve contributed. The glint in their eye when they realize they have a voice and they have control. And the hope they have when they ask me “What’s next?”.

The Influencer checklist

InfluencerImagine it’s 1986 and you’re responsible for eradicating the Guinea worm, a parasite that afflicts 3.5 million people across 20 countries, has been around for over 2000 years, and for which there is no vaccine or medical treatment. The only way to stop the worm is to change a few specific behaviors – for everyone.

What would you do?

If it’s difficult to change one person’s behavior, even your own, then changing millions seems impossible. Yet, in 2009, there were only 3000 cases of Guinea worm infestation – a reduction of 99.9%.

It turns out the approach used to drive that kind of change – to influence behavior at a large scale – has also been used to help 14,000 felons be successfully employed, to reduce AIDS in Thailand, to improve service quality, and even to lose weight.

And now I’m using it to help people make work more effective and more fulfilling.

6 sources of Influence 

6 sources of Influence

6 sources of Influence

The approach comes from “Influencer” by Kerry Patterson, et al. This remarkable book combines the science of changing individual behavior, techniques for making those changes stick, and stories of global change movements involving thousands of individuals. (In doing so, it complements other great books on change like “The Willpower Instinct”, “Switch”, and “The Dragonfly Effect”.)

If you’re like me, your change efforts focus on raising awareness. Maybe on rewards and even penalties. But “Influencer” describes how to tap into 6 very different sources of influence to change specific “vital behaviors”  (also known as “keystone habits”).

“Motivation and ability comprise the first two domains of our model. We further subdivide these two domains into personal, social, and structural sources. These three sources of influence reflect separate and highly developed literatures – psychology, social psychology, and organization theory. By exploring all three, we ensure that we draw our strategies from the known repertoire of influence techniques.”

They’re very clear that “verbal persuasion rarely works” despite being the most common tool we use. Instead, when it comes to altering behavior, you need to help others answer just two questions: “Will it be worth it?” and “Can I do it?” And, in answering them, you need to examine all three levels.

The checklist

At work, we’re using these 6 sources as a checklist. As we try to help thousands of people work out loud (or print less, or use their own mobile phone, or contribute to any of the  collective efficiency programs we have underway), we keep asking ourselves if we’re tapping into all 6 sources of influence.

Personal motivation: If people don’t find the behavior appealing, how can we get them to try it (or at least have them experience the benefits vicariously) and connect it to other things they value? If someone likes doing it, how can we reinforce the behavior by recognizing their accomplishments and encouraging them to do more?

Personal Ability: How can we make it simpler to start? And how can we provide people with opportunities to practice the behavior and attain achievable goals while giving them immediate feedback on ways to get even better?

Social motivation: Who are influential leaders who can model the vital behavior? And can we identify relevant peer groups who are already behaving in the desired way?

Social ability: How can we develop social ties – e.g., buddy systems, peer support groups, advocate programs –  that can help an individual get better at the vital behavior?

Structural motivation: What are extrinsic rewards we can put in place that are immediate, gratifying, and clearly tied to the vital behavior? (Only consider these rewards after intrinsic motivators and social support are in place.)

Structural ability: How can we change the physical environment to make the vital behavior easier or to eliminate the things that pose a risk to that behavior?

The early results

In using the Influencer approach to help tens of thousands of people change how they work, it’s already helped us narrow our focus. Instead of trying to change a wide variety of activities, we’re focusing on working out loud as a specific vital behavior. And by using the Influencer checklist, we’ve uncovered gaps in our approach, expanded our thinking about how to change behavior, and come up with a wider array of more creative methods.

It’s tempting to think we already know what we’re doing. That our judgment is good enough. Or that we can cherry-pick a select few of the possible influence methods available to us. But “Influencer” repeatedly stresses that successful change agents overdetermine their success by using every influence tool available.

As Atul Gawande showed us in “Checklist Manifesto”, professionals as different as surgeons, pilots, and construction workers all benefit from checklists to make sure they take full advantage of methods already known to work.

Now, as aspiring Influencers, we have our own checklist.

The most successful person in Babylon

Babylon mosaicOne of  the biggest barriers to developing yourself and your career – and one of the themes of modern life – is being busy. People simply don’t have the time to do the things they know would be good for them.

Recently, I found the cures for this problem in a surprising place – a 71-page, poorly typeset pamphlet published in 1926 called “The Richest Man in Babylon”.

“7 cures for a lean purse”

When one of the smartest people I know recommended the book, I was expecting rich historical fiction or perhaps some stimulating anthropology. Instead, it was about “thrift and financial success, using parables set in Babylon to make each of [the author’s] points.”

Written by George Clason, owner of a map company in Colorado, the parables were distributed by banks and insurance companies to help teach everyday people how to manage their money.

The book opens with “7 cures for a lean purse.” And I was struck by how each one of the cures is also a valuable lesson for managing our most valuable resource – time.

Start thy purse to fattening

The richest man in Babylon’s first and most important lesson was to set aside 10% of your money before spending anything. “A part of all you earn is yours to keep. It should not be less that a tenth no matter how little you earn…Pay yourself first.”

And so with time. Before you schedule your first meeting or take on another responsibility, put aside 10% of your time for investing in yourself.

Control thy expenditures

“What each of us calls our ‘necessary expenses’ will always grow to equal our incomes unless we protest to the contrary.”

Somehow, we all have different jobs and different schedules, and yet no one has time. Every time you say yes to a meeting or a task, you’re saying no to something else that could be much more valuable. Don’t be a profligate spender of time.

Make thy gold multiply & Guard thy treasures from loss

If you’ve saved money, you want to make it work for you so the value compounds. And you want to be careful not to lose it on wasteful ventures.

When it comes to the time you’re investing in yourself, compounding value comes from gradually developing skills. It’s not just another hour writing or presenting or developing a purposeful network, it’s another hour towards greater personal mastery.

Each one of those hours is precious. Don’t fritter them away. The average American spends more than 140 hours a month watching TV on top of 12 hours a month playing video games and 8 hours a month on Facebook. Are these good investments?

Make of thy dwelling a profitable investment

This lesson was about investing in the place where you live, spending your precious money on something important that you need and use every day.

The analog to that is investing in your health. One of the best ways to use the time you’ve saved is to exercise. It makes you feel better every day while reducing time you might lose to being sick. Importantly, regular exercise is a keystone habit, meaning that it produces other, seemingly unrelated, benefits such as better eating, greater productivity, more patience, and even less financial debt.

Insure a future income & Increase thy ability to earn

The final two lessons are about planning for the future, ensuring you’ll be able to earn more over time and you’ll be prepared for when you’re older. “As a man perfecteth himself in his calling so doth his ability to earn increase.”

You can buy career insurance, too, by investing your time in developing skills and a network that create more possibilities, that improve the odds:

Career insurance is simply taking control over your visibility – and your access to opportunities – by using social platforms to purposefully shape your online reputation.”

The richest man in Babylon wasn’t the smartest or best-educated man or even the hardest-working. He was the son of a humble merchant. But he applied some simple guidelines in a disciplined way to manage his most precious resource. And that opened up possibilities the other Babylonians dreamed about.

Every one of us has the chance to be the most successful person in Babylon. But to do so, you must “cure your lean purse” and get out of the busy trap. Only then will you have the time to invest in yourself and create the life you want.

The story of Jordi Muñoz, CEO

Jordi Muñoz

Jordi Muñoz

Jordi Muñoz was born in Ensenada, Mexico, didn’t speak English well, didn’t go to college and, at 19 years old, was newly married with a baby on the way.

5 years later, he became the the CEO of a multi-million dollar robotics company founded by Chris Anderson, best-selling author, speaker, and former editor of Wired Magazine.

How did the editor of Wired ever find a 19 year-old robotics engineer from a high school in Tijuana? How did he know he would be the right person for the job?

Answers to those questions may mean a lot for how your firm finds talent – and how you find your next opportunity.

How does your firm find talented people?

For a long time, the most common way to find talented people was to go to prestigious places, typically famous universities or companies. Everyone knew that, so there was a “War for Talent” at such places. Investment banking analysts used to refer to MBA recruiting events as “shrimp wars” as firms tried to outdo each other with bigger buffets just to attract attention.

There may be fewer shrimp now, but firms are still relying on schools, brokers, and executive search firms to filter candidates. When firms use LinkedIn or, it’s still typically HR that’s doing the searching and acting as an intermediary. And if managers hire directly, they rely heavily on their personal networks, which are incredibly small compared to the pool of qualified candidates.

So you either have the wrong people looking or you’re looking in the wrong places.

A different way

Jordi, Linden Blue (co-owner of General Atomics), and Chris

Jordi, Linden Blue (co-owner of General Atomics), and Chris

Jordi and Chris didn’t use a broker or LinkedIn. Their was no one who connected them. Instead, they were connected by their interest in robotics, more specifically in drones.

Chris had become interested in drones (auto-piloted aircraft) as a hobby and started an online community called, a place where other hobbyists could share information and learn from each other. In “Makers”, he describes how he first noticed Jordi in that community based on the designs he was contributing. (“I made an autopilot for my RC [remote-controlled] helicopter with accelerometers extracted from the NunChuck of Nintendo Wii”.) Jordi would apologize for his poor English but other hobbyists cared more about his designs which they said were “excellent” and “cool”.

Chris was impressed with his contributions, corresponded with him, and then collaborated with him on some projects. When Chris later decided to start a company, he decided to ask Jordi to co-found it. And it was only then that he learned about his background.

“Why wouldn’t you start a company with people with whom you were already working well, who had already proven their mettle? It seems so much riskier to take a flier on someone you don’t know, just because that person has a degree from a good school.

This is the Long Tail of talent. The web allows people to to show what they can do, regardless of their education and credentials. It allows groups to form and work together easily…”

The story of Jordi Munoz is an excellent example of someone working out loud and shaping their reputation (or, in this case, creating one) via their contribution; of someone  leveraging an existing community to create new possibilities.

Go where they are. See what they do.

Where are you looking for talented people?

Where are you looking for talented people?

In large companies, there’s a lot of talk about the need to attract and retain the best and the brightest. But, for the most part, the “Talent War” is a lot of sound and fury that doesn’t add up to much. The system is optimized for filling slots, not for quality of the match between the person and the job. (For many positions, excellent people are already employees of the firm but the system for filling jobs has no good way to find them.) The use of brokers combined with an outmoded, woefully simplistic interview process leads to mediocrity.

If you’re a firm, you need to go to where there are people already doing the kinds of work you’re looking for. Internally, that means role-based communities of practice. Externally, it means groups like DIYdrones or professional on-line communities. If those environments don’t exist, then you need to create them.

If you’re an individual, you need to find communities you care about and contribute. For whatever role you have at your company (or want to have), there are internal or external communities where you can contribute, shape your reputation, and build a purposeful network. Just like Jordi did.