Working out loud and rethinking our networking

25 February 2015 | By Helen Sanderson

My reading of the excellent book, Working Out Loud, by John Stepper is that Working Out L means thinking differently about how we connect with each other and move beyond 'networking' to creating authentic reciprocal relationships.

John’s definition of Working Out Loud is “working in an open, generous, connected way so you can build a purposeful network, become more effective, and access more opportunities”.

I share Srikumar Rao’s view of traditional networking:

‘I have always had a problem with the notion that you should cultivate a person based on his – or her – position and the help that you might potentially receive sometime in the future.”

It just does not feel right to do this – ethically, honestly, and as Rao points out, the enormous amount of time it takes to attend functions and events with the sole intent to meet the ‘right people’.

John Stepper presents an alternative. Rather than simply making your work visible, he suggests four other key elements to Working Out Loud.

One is Making it all purposeful. This means starting with a clear goal, and using this to focus who you want to connect with. This creates a focus to who, what and how you make your work visible.

I am facilitating two Working Out Loud circles, one for a charity calledCommunity Circles, and one for my own team. We are using a simple template to record our goal and then think about the people and organisations who connected to this. Heather is part of one of my Working Out Loud circles, and she is an intern from CharityWorks. Her role is communications and marketing and Working Out Loud is changing how she approaches her work. Her goal in the circle is “to help more people be aware of and use the website developed by cancer survivors and people with long-term conditions,” The website shares practical person-centred tools and stories of how people use them, to reflect and think about what matters to them and to develop resilience. Heather’s goal is to share the website so that more people can benefit from using person-centred practices.


Another key element is Building a social network. Identifying a network, a range of people and organisations that connect to your goal will make it more likely that you can generate opportunities to collaborate and contribute. In our Working out Loud circles after deciding on a goal, we then look at ten people or organisations who we would like to be connected to, and explore topportunities to contribute and collaborate.

John offers a way to reflect on where your relationship with the person or organisation is now, so that you can focus on taking it to the next level and see your progress. Here is the list we are using:

0 –  they don’t know you exist

1 – you are connected in a way, eg twitter but no exchange of any kind

2 – they know you exist, and you have had at least one interaction

3 – You’ve had multiple interactions and they remember your name

4 – You regularly call on each other for advice or help

5 – You are seen as a trusted advisor

Heather’s list includes major cancer charities, and people with experience of cancer. To move from 0 to 1 Heather has connected with the people and oranisations through twitter and Linked In, and where people blog, she follows the blog too.  Not only do we find out where people share and communicate, we try to find out where they are ‘most present’, for example, are they more likely to use Linked in, or mainly twitter?

cath and heather_525x394

John suggests a third element, Leading with generosity. In our Working out Loud circles we ask how we can appreciate and connect or even contribute to each person or organsation. We built on John’s suggestions and developed this list:

1. Read what someone has written (eg blog) and make a comment
2. Congratulate on a new job or milestone (eg on Linked In)
3. Appreciate someone with a public thank you
4. Offer your encouragement
5. Offer your support
6. Ask questions that helps others to share their expertise (eg participate in twitchats)
7. Share resources that you have found useful with them (eg I saw this and thought of you)
8. Share the persons resources with our own contacts (eg recommend a book they have written with others)
9. Endorsement (eg Linked in, Facebook rating)
10. Share one of our resources and ask for feedback (eg one of our books)


This is about generously appreciating and contributing. It is about engaging in conversations and contributing to others work, and simply seeing what emerges. Heather is now commenting on blogs and sharing them with others, engaging in twitter conversations and sharing what she is learning about person-centred practices where this is relevant to the conversation. She is working out loud to become a contributing member of the community of people who have a mutual concern, for and with people living with cancer.

A fourth key element is Making your work visible. In our Working Out Loud circles we intentionally think about and plan how to try to connect and contribute, how to share what we are trying and learning to make our work more visible.

Finally, this is about Making work better, John’s last key element. It is early days for us in our Working Out Loud circles. We have to keep coming back to purpose and contribution, and how to carve out 15 – 20 minutes a day, working towards John’s suggested 45 minutes. We are trying to make it a habit – to connect, share and contribute every day. But fundamentally, it feels better. It feels authentic. It chimes with our values in a way traditional networking never did.

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