I am part of a Working Out Loud Circle hosted by Simon Fogg (@srjf) and we are currently in week 9.
A Working Out Loud circle is a 12-week program and developed by John Stepper (@johnstepper). Participants meet online every week and go through a set of different activities and tasks to help them achieve their personal and professional development goals.
These circles are in effect, to use the Learning and Development vernacular, a “blended personal learning program” with a difference – it uses the connectivist approach – where the circle members learn from each other and with each other. They provide support and encouragement for the circle members to achieve their goals.
It is both personal and social learning supported by technology which is really what connectivism is about.
Working out loud is a recent phenomenon in the business or corporate world (although not a new concept in the creative fields nor education) however, it’s attraction is that it is a great way to have people connect to people and to make their work visible and to use technologies to support it. In my opinion, it is one of the most critical skills any worker would need for their career and indeed, any student to learn so that they could build their identity online.
In a world, where we are finding an increasing amount of automation, misinformation, the creation of content by bots and machines, this skill is one way to bring back the humanity to our work and life.
A New Frontier
I have been working out loud for years since I started blogging back in 2003 and even before that, I was doing sharing my work and learning within online forums. Remember IRC? Yeah, I did that too.
Once social media came out, I was one of the first to get MySpace, LinkedIn, Facebook profiles. To me, I saw these platforms as gateways to interesting people.
I didn’t see them as an inconvenience nor a threat. In fact, they were simply channels – much like a telephone or email was – but with the added benefit that I didn’t have to have actually connected with anyone in order to get their phone number or email address. To me, chatting with “strangers” was exciting because, on the whole, these “strangers” were like me “explorers”.
These explorers came from all walks of life, lived in different countries, spoke different languages, in different cultures and had different experiences but we were all tied by the one thing…the opportunity to connect, engage and learn from each other.
Technology never caused any fear for me. In fact, I welcomed it because I saw that it was disrupting everything I knew about everything and it was slowly making me revert to seeing things like a child would. With curiosity, wonder, awe. Suddenly not knowing all the answers was liberating because it meant an upcoming connection with someone who may have the answer.
As someone who has always been intrigued by the human story behind those who break the mold of society expectations, who do and see things differently to others, who don’t follow crowds, trends but who march on the beat of their own trumpet, technology to me was akin to the oceans or the air of past pioneers who discovered new lands and people.
In my head, technology allowed me the opportunity to be my own pioneer and explore the frontier of my own thinking, upbringing, values, expectations, culture – everything.
Working Out Loud Circles
So as someone who has been working out loud on public social networks without fear (and yes, many times making a fool of myself), I decided to participate in a WOL Circle to better understand the program.
I wanted to also learn how to use Workplace (Facebook’s Enterprise Platform) which is what we are using to communicate with each other as well as meet a new group of people whom I’ve not connected with before.
I’m not going to lie, I’ve missed a couple of sessions because I had other commitments and also, this year, I deliberately decided NOT to have any personal goals (they stressed me out frankly) and instead create some habits. I had to create some goals for this group and created four goals which were by the end of the program, I would have:
- Lose 5 kilos and commenced a healthy eating plan
- Take time off social media every week
- Publish my Snapchat Book
- Learn about Blockchain and Bitcoin (with particular application to my own work as an independent consultant – not how it impacts Learning and Development)
- Self-promote and market my products and services across my networks and social media more (to overcome my fear of being seen as “too pushy”)
All up, my goals are tracking well (especially my first one where I now have started the 5:2 lifestyle diet). I’ve also started posting more about my products and services to build more leads and referrals.
Similarly, my own personal learning around blockchain and bitcoin has been intriguing somewhat left field and recently I have created my own profile on Dock.io to start out as well as reading about smart contracts for people who offer professional services. (It’s early days especially as corporates purchasing systems still detriment any independent consultants so I take that on point).
However, it’s also made me realise what goals aren’t that important to me too such as publishing the Snapchat book.
Part of me groans at having to create a physical product on a technology that is changing all the time. It’s quite ludicrous for anyone to write a book on any tech product or app nowadays. The moment you write it, it’s out of date. However, what I have been doing is creating infographics instead which are a lot easier to create. Part of me now is thinking to cannibalise my Snapchat book (it’s 95% completed – just needs to be edited) and instead create it as a series of downloadable resources instead?
Comfort and Discomfort – A Fine Line
Participating in the Working Out Loud Circle has been educational, to say the least.
Despite the initial awkwardness of getting to know everyone in your circle, I found myself asking if I could trust these people simply because I had not known who they were given that I had not seen their work, connected with them online previously, or had social media accounts. This made me realise something about myself that rightly, or wrongly, if I hadn’t seen your work and writing online or who you were connected or networked to, or if you did not have an online presence, I was likely to have my guards up.
Of course, this behaviour has been from years of being online. Others would not have this behaviour – and indeed, would be the total opposite.
It didn’t take long to build that trust within the circle and my fellow members were lovely. Open, supportive and encouraging. However, I did feel that the circle was too closed for me.
I wanted our recordings and our chats to be open to the other circles because I wanted more ideas, diverse opinions, interactions and new insights.
Although I understood why the circles had to be private, confidential and closed (so that people are comfortable to express themselves without fear, consequence or retribution especially if you’re within an organisation), opening up the circles to wider networks had to have the approval of other circle members.
There are pros and cons for opening and closing up circles and you have to take into account the comfort level of this openness of everyone.
There’s also a part of me that thinks that if you’re closing off circles within your enterprise because of fear of retribution of what you’re going to say, then there’s something wrong with your organisational culture. However, this is entirely my own opinion and even now, as I write this, I’m thinking that there is no right or wrong way – merely an openness to express your thoughts to your circle members and like adults, decide what’s best for the group and the individuals can make their own choices.
A Working Out Loud circle is a great way to encourage people to slowly build comfort to show and share their work openly but is it for everyone?
Possibly not, however, I’m someone who espouses and role models “don’t knock it until you try it”.
For someone who is already working, learning and sharing openly on public social networks, a self-directed learner who is intrinsically motivated and not fearful of sharing their goals and progress to public, then they may not find DIRECT value in participating in working out loud circles, however, if they do, they get a wonderful opportunity to engage with people on a much deeper level, see their progress over 12 weeks and be part of an inspiring journey with others.
If you haven’t tried working out loud circles, give it a go and let me know what you think.
This blog post by Helen Blunden was written in Melbourne, Australia and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.