Working Out Loud: Relationships and Legacy

Last week was celebrated as International Working Out Loud Week.

For those of you who are new to this, Working Out Loud is a practice of sharing your work/work in progress with a relevant community to enable learning and collaboration.

It is about being vulnerable and putting yourself, your lessons out there in communities for others to contribute and consume. It is a great way to leverage wisdom of community to improve your own work, contribute to a community that shares your purpose and build relationships based on ideas.

I started this blog in April 2006 to simply document my lessons in leading people, projects and improvement initiatives. Along the journey, I learned that if I want people to read and share their comments, I will have to do the same. And that’s how this cycle of creation, curation and contribution started. My practice of sharing what I learn along the way for last 11 years has served me (and hopefully others) well.

This journey has allowed me to live some of the five elements of working out loud: being visible, connected, generous, curious and purposeful. And all the amazing folks I interact with, communities that feed my thinking and opportunities that come my way are only happy by-products of this journey.

When introducing November 2017 #WOLWeek, Simon Terry wrote a post about how working out loud is a way to deepen relationships and create a legacy. Here is a quick sketch note version with key ideas from his post.

I encourage you to visit wolweek.com for amazing insights and resources to inspire you to work out loud.

BONUS:

Here’s a sketchnote on five elements of working out loud with insights by John Stepper:

Make More Art

Make more art.

Art that is not only confined to traditional understanding, but doing things in a way that changes others and ecosystem for better. In that sense, each one of us has a possibility to be an artist.

A project delivered successfully that enables a customer in a big way, a conversation that moves a needle for someone, generously sharing to build a community, a quick post that inspires someone, an improved process that eases life of your colleague, a talk that provokes thinking, a nudge for someone to raise the bar, a small handwritten note of gratitude to someone, thinking differently to challenge the status quo, learning something all the time, creating a piece of work that moves the conversation forward, initiating and delivering – it is all art if it makes world a better place. In fact, that’s also what real leadership looks like.

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” ― Edgar Degas

It is as much about small things as it is about big things. Being an artist is about raising the bar. Just when the world settles into a definition for an artist, the artist raises the bar, delivers a surprising outcome or an expected outcome in a surprising way.

To be an artist at work means pursuing craftsman spirit.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” ― Martha Graham

In this context, I loved a quote from Robert Twigger’s book “Micromastery” by Andy Warhol. I included that quote in my visual book review of Micromastery, but the quote is so inspiring that it deserved a separate visual.

Related Reading at QAspire

Disconnect to Connect

For our creativity to thrive and learning to happen, we need unburdened spaces in our life – physical spaces too, but most importantly, mental spaces.

In a world of never-ending streams of updates, pictures and sound bites that constantly crave for our attention, we need an intentional effort to disconnect.

We need to reclaim the disconnected and real space where we can make sense of it all, spend time reading a good book without getting anxious about sharing what we are reading, explore places and ideas with sense of wonder, have real conversations with people, reflect on our experiences, create and discover our true selves.

I believe that minimalism and act of subtraction is at the very heart of discovering ourselves because to understand who we really are, we need to prune everything that we are not. We need to be comfortable with ‘missing out’ on things that everyone else does or consumes or shares, so that we can think, reflect, create and just be. Letting it go is as much about our thoughts and beliefs as it is about the objects of our desire.

Here’s a quick visual nudge to disconnect once in a while, step away from the cacophony that surrounds us and do it intentionally. Who knows, it may enrich us in a way no technology ever can!

Also Read at QAspire.com:

Micromastery: A Hidden Path to Learning and Happiness

Learning anything new is not a daunting challenge, but a journey where each step counts. Fundamentally, we learn so that we can be happy and joyful. Micromastery is a great way to eliminate anxiety in learning.

Two years back, I was fascinated by people creating sketchnotes and I wanted to learn how to create them. I was unaware of what goes into creating a great sketchnote but I decided to give it a try anyway. I remember taking up a quote and creating some rudimentary visual which I then shared on Twitter as a showoffable outcome. A couple of generous folks appreciated and that feedback fueled further exploration. I then explored more to learn about structure. My second sketchnote was incrementally better than the first one. It had a structure, some use of typography and separation of key ideas. I pushed it a bit further, one step at a time, by exploring visual metaphors, learning from the community, getting better at image quality and editing/coloring them using digital tools. And then, they started getting noticed. Each step fueled the other resulting in a body of work that I am incredibly proud of.

I never felt overwhelmed along this journey because I was doing it for the joy of doing it. I wanted to get better and at the end of every iteration, I wanted myself and the world to see an improved outcome. I was pursuing what Robert Twigger calls “Micromastery”.

This approach has served me well while learning how to write, speak in public, play a few songs on harmonica (mouth organ), sing solo and play a guitar.

Truth is, that is how we learn as kids. I can see my 5 years old son dabbling into so many things, learning in small increments and then improving upon it. He doesn’t want to be a specialist. He just wants to explore whatever interests him. His latest fascination is drawing the Amazon logo and he is getting better at it. His eyes shine when he succeeds at creating stick figures.

I read this book “Micromastery” by Robert Twigger with great interest. He defines micromastery as:

“A micromastery is a self-contained unit of doing, complete in itself but connected to a greater field.”

The book nicely explores different facets connecting micromastery to dynamic learning, getting into flow, polymathism (Neogeneralism, multipotentialite) and happiness. In many ways, reading this book was liberating because it tells us that we neither need permission to learn anything nor an overwhelming plan. We just need to find what we love doing, however insignificant, and start pursuing it.

If you are a keen learner who is interested in learning wide array of things instead of going just deep, this book is for you.

Here is a sketchnote covering some ideas from the book:

Path is Made by Walking

A prescribed path seldom takes you to an uncharted territory.

Walking down a beaten road provides some security and certainty and that is important to an extent. We all live in a competitive world.  The problem starts when we get used to only treading along the beaten path. Because wherever it leads you to would be a crowded place.

We need the spirit of exploration as much as we need certainty. We need an open heart willing to surrender to the joy of finding the unknown. We need feet flexible enough to follow the direction of our heart. We need to pursue the joy and find joy in the pursuit. We need to experiment, look for intersections, dig them deeper, with others and share. And then we find the interesting. Then we truly learn.

And it is only when we learn with this sense of exploration that we can create our unique path that others may choose to walk upon, eventually to find their own paths.

The way to remain open to possibilities is to think that there is no path. That the steps you take and celebrating each step along creates a path that is uniquely yours.


Also Read at QAspire:

In 100 Words: Immersion and Doing Work that Matters

We cannot be anxious about something “out there” – a goal, a target, an external reward, a validation from others and generally things that feed our ego – and be immersed in what we do at the same time.

To be able to do great work/art that changes others for better, we need to let “joy” rule us instead of “ego”. Then there is no self in the game: self is just a conducive medium for the inspiration to show up in form of work.

If/when this happens, rewards and recognition will be by-products of the pursuit, not the pursuit itself.  


Also Read at QAspire:

Move And The Way Appears

I am a big fan of taking small, daily steps in the direction where your energy takes you. I started this blog 11 years back with very insignificant posts that no one read. My first sketch note a couple of years back was far from being good. My first steps towards a health and wellness were slow and tentative. But how does that matter?

Because, those first few insignificant posts did not deter me from moving forward. I wrote, and wrote more. And as I did that, I learned how it works. I did more of what worked and here we are – a blog with tens of thousands of readers each month, sharing their encouragement to me via comments, likes and shares on several social channels. This blog has a life of its own.

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things bought together.” – Vincent Van Gogh

I remember I was hesitant in sharing my first sketch note. But less than 2 years after I shared the first one, the sketch notes have gone viral – from social media to global conferences to office walls to being included in books. When I started, did I have a purpose to make them viral? I just knew that I enjoyed making them, learning along the way and improving all the time. I was pursuing joy and suddenly, the way started appearing. 

“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid of only standing still.” – Chinese Proverb

I lost significant weight (nearly 12% of my total body weight) in past 4 months.  My big plan was to move one small step at a time – read a bit about what it takes, take small steps towards cleaner eating, do small changes in lifestyle, get more active and suddenly, it all started revealing. Lessons came to the fore as a result of moving forward slowly, daily and steadily.

My biggest lesson in learning is:

It doesn’t matter what you wish to do. It never happens in one big bang. Instead, it happens in a series of small steps taken with an open mind, learning along each step and putting that learning back into the next step. And then it grows, purpose reveals and you are on a journey before you realize. Forward motion, however small, feeds our esteem and inspires us.

Purpose may not always be the starting point of your journey. Sometimes, you start the journey and the purpose reveals itself.

And who knows, small steps you take in the direction of your heart may open up new paths for you and inspire others? Small is never insignificant, but a powerful step towards a higher purpose.

Move, and the way appears! 


A Round-up of Related Posts at QAspire to add to the conversation:

In 100 Words: Boundary

We get too bogged down by our self-imposed boundaries.

Boss won’t allow.

That is not our process.

I’ve never been told!

Not my job.

They need to do it!

And it goes on. But what if we cross that boundary and get into the realm of:

What can I do?

Who can I influence?

How can we make it better?

How can I elicit their commitment for this?

It’s a different conversation that requires great deal of emotional labor. As Seth Godin says in Poke the Box, boundaries are in our heads, not anywhere else.


Related Posts at QAspire.com

Future of Work: Four Shifts Leaders Must Focus on

Talking about the impending shifts like automation, robotics, disruptions and uncertainties in our world of work is almost clichéd.

What seems like a problem is also an opportunity to do the thing that makes us human – to change our attitudes and fixed beliefs about how we have traditionally experienced work. It is this shift in how we see the world around us that truly enables us to deal with it constructively.

In this context, I read an excellent post by Kenneth Mikkelsen titled “Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes” at Drucker Forum blog. Here is a snippet from the post:

Leaders, like anyone else, are habitual beings that protect their worldview and the meaning they derive from it. Peter Drucker understood that better than most people. In Innovation and Entrepreneurship he dedicated a chapter to incongruities, the mental gaps between perception and reality. Drucker saw these gaps as an invitation to innovate. At its core, entrepreneurship is at about exploring such opportunity spaces to create something new, something different.

The post further outlines four shifts leaders must focus on to deal with slides and shifts around us. Here is a sketch note version of ideas presented in the post.

Related Posts at QAspire:

How to Accelerate Team Learning

A team’s ability to learn quickly is at the heart of adapting to constant changes. In fact, it seems that constant learning is the only key to agility as a team and organization.

Jack Welch famously said,

“An organizations ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the greatest competitive advantage.”

On this blog, we have visually explored various facets of creating a learning organization. It all starts from understanding why organizations don’t learn. Peter Senge’s seminal work on creating a learning organizations outlines learning disabilities that plague organizations. To overcome these disabilities, we explored disciplines of a learning organization and the role of reflection in how we learn.

Along the same lines, I read Elizabeth Doty’s post titled “How to Accelerate Learning on Your Team” at Strategy+Business blog with great interest. It adds on to the ideas we have explored further and provides fresh perspective on how to catalyze learning within teams.

I encourage you to read the full post and here are my visual notes from the same article.

P.S: I wrote a post in 2011 that outlined 10 actions for leaders to create learning organizations and further outlined Three Rituals For Constant Alignment And Learning that just aligns with some of the ideas suggested in this post. Do check them out.

Peter Senge: How to Overcome Learning Disabilities in Organizations

As an organization grows, managing the flow demands work items to move from one team/department to another. In quest to make these teams accountable, very specific KPI’s are established and that breeds non-systemic thinking. People look at meeting their own numbers and push the work to next stage and often, what happens is that while people win (in short term), the system fails. Every team meets the KPI numbers and yet, customers remain disgruntled.

Peter Senge, in his book “The Fifth Discipline – The Art and Practice of Learning Organization” outlines 7 organizational learning disabilities. He says,

“It is no accident that most organizations learn poorly. The way they are designed and managed, the way people’s jobs are defined, and, most importantly, the way we have all been taught to think and interact (not only in organizations but more broadly) create fundamental learning disabilities. These disabilities operate despite the best effort of bright, committed people. Often the harder they try to solve problems, the worse the results. What learning does occur takes place despite these learning disabilities – for they pervade all organizations to some degree.”

It then becomes very crucial that we identify clearly these learning disabilities. Here is a sketch note summary of these 7 learning disabilities.

Critical question then is: How to we overcome these learning disabilities and truly create an organization that learns better? Peter Senge answers that question through his 5 disciplines of learning organizations that I have written about in the past. Here is a sketchnote summary of five disciplines:

More on Creating Learning Organization at QAspire:

Don’t Complain, Create.

At the heart of living a creative life is ability to do something about things you don’t like. What we do instead is keep complaining.

We all have our own circle of influence – things we can change ourselves or exert our influence to create change. Everything else outside this circle are circumstances (or circle of concern). We need to simply accept them and move on. I my post “Circle of Influence”, I wrote –

Acknowledging these concerns is important but constantly spending our scarce energy only on these concerns is futile. When faced with situations, challenges and concerns, it may be useful to ask the following questions:

  • Can I do something about it myself? Is it under my direct control? Is the onus of resolution or change on me? (Direct control)

  • If not, can I influence someone who can address/solve/change this? (Influence)

In this context, I encourage you to spend 20 minutes watching Tina Roth Eisenberg’s super inspiring talk at 99u Conference where she describes her journey of building creative businesses that stemmed from her frustrations. In the talk, she outlines 5 powerful rules of life and one of them is “Don’t Complain, make things better.”

In this thought-provoking talk with many takeaways, she says,

“I have a rule: If I keep complaining about something, I either do something about it or let it go. – Tina Roth Eisenberg

That truly resonated with me and I created a quick Doodle Card that I hope to print and put it on my soft board as a reminder every time I find myself stuck in the whirlwind of complaining.

Also Read at QAspire:

5 Elements of Working Out Loud by @JohnStepper

When I started this blog in 2006, I only thought of it as a repository of my own lessons as a new manager. Little did I know that this space will become one of the most important learning and sharing tools for me over years.

The benefits of putting myself out there in a way that it helps others has been immense both intrinsically and extrinsically. I have evolved as a professional and human being writing this blog, sharing my work and getting plenty of constructive feedback and validation in return.

Along the way, the topics I covered on this blog also became starting point of many enriching conversations offline and enabled deep relationships with others based on ideas.

John Stepper defines this as working out loud:

Working out loud is an approach to building relationships that can help you in some way. It’s a practice that combines conventional wisdom about relationships with modern ways to reach and engage people. When you work out loud, you feel good and empowered at the same time.

Learning is a social act and sharing our work, building relationships and feeding our communities are at the heart of how we should learn. Technology and social media only accelerates the process of sharing beyond boundaries and amplifies our reach.

John Stepper outlines five elements of working out loud that addresses the “why” of working out loud and here is a quick sketch note outlining these five elements. Please read the original post for more elaboration from John Stepper.

 

To add to this conversation, here is a sketch note on “How to Work out Loud” with insights from John Stepper. I am so grateful to John for having included this sketch in his recent TEDx Navesink talk.

 

Related Reading at QAspire:

In 100 Words: Face The Light

 

In moments of uncertainty, inspiration came to me in form of a tweet with a visual that read,

“If you see shadows, it is because there is light.”

I instinctively told myself,

“If you face the light, shadows fall behind.”

The mindset of abundance asks, “What’s possible?” instead of “What could go wrong?” and focuses on those possibilities because constraints are almost a given in work and life.

Only then, we can start focusing on possibilities, thinking beyond the boundaries, raising the bar, stepping into the unknown and doing what truly matters.

We try. We err. And then, we learn!


Also Read at QAspire:

In 100 Words: An Open Mind for Lifelong Learning

When our mind is like a mountain, it is nothing but a heap of fixed beliefs and knowledge that does not evolve.

To have a mind like a valley, we need to pursue things with a sense of wonder, knowing that we don’t know and having a receptive frame of mind ready to absorb. An open mind enables critical thinking, diverse experiences, experimentation and iterative learning by connecting the dots.

Isaac Asimov echoed the same sentiment. He said,

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”


Also Read at QAspire

The Neo-Generalist

The books I love the most are not the ones that offer off-the-shelf “solutions” but ones that start a conversation, catalyze thinking, elevate understanding and help in thinking about a topic in novel ways.

And that’s why I loved reading “The Neo-Generalist” by Kenneth Mikkelsen and Richard Martin.  It is a book that bridges the gap between two extremes of specialism and generalism and introduces a neo-generalist as:

“The neo-generalist is both specialist and generalist, often able to master multiple disciplines. We all carry within us the potential to specialise and generalise. Many of us are unwittingly eclectic, innately curious. There is a continuum between the extremes of specialism and generalism, a spectrum of possibilities. Where we stand on that continuum at a given point in time is governed by context.”

The book introduces the concept and then takes it forward with the help of stories from many people who were interviewed as a part of the research for this book. Reading diverse journeys of so many multi-disciplinarians was insightful and only added new dimensions to the topic.

Somewhere in these narratives and stories, I could sense a deep connection with my own inclination towards neo-generalism right from my choices in school to how I have evolved as a professional. From that perspective, reading this book was very rewarding because it helped me map my own journey to the specialist-generalist continuum that this book talks about. Gaining new perspectives and expanding my own understanding of how we learn, choose and do things was a huge bonus.

I also loved the organization of book where quotes so eloquently encompass and extend the essence of the ideas. The bibliography section of book recommends other rich resources for extending the conversation.

Here is a sketch note summary of key points from the book that may offer a small preview of some key insights from this treasure.

More on The Neo-Generalist
Related Topics at QAspire

Leading and Learning: How to Feed a Community

When I started this blog in April 2006, little did I understand about how a community works. I would write posts each week only to be read by my immediate colleagues and friends. Till a point when I learned that,

“conversation and sharing is the currency of a social community”

I started following many other blogs, take the conversation forward through comments and share along good stuff. I learned the art of building a community through excellent blogs of Michael Wade, Rajesh Setty and Lisa Haneberg. Their work fueled my own journey of understanding how a social community works.

Getting into Twitter in 2009 opened up new avenues to contribute and accelerate my ability to connect with multiple like minded people through sharing and conversation. Today, I am very happy to have a personal learning network – a group of fellow learners and explorers who share as they learn and work out loud.

Lisa Haneberg, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote about how to feed a community where she said,

if we want to belong to a vibrant community we have to feed it.

And then, we belong to offline communities at work and outside of work. There again, conversation, generous sharing and helping others make meaningful progress is at the heart of building a community. I learned a great deal of this by going through my mentor Rajesh Setty’s program “The Right Hustle” which he defines as:

To hustle right is to choreograph the actions of those that matter to create meaningful accomplishments in an arrangement where everybody involved finds a win.

It became quite clear to me that

learning is a social act and we learn the most when we learn together.

In the communities that we choose to belong to (online and offline), we have to do our part in feeding it. It is only when we are generous about sharing our gifts that we build credibility to receive anything meaningful in return, build influence, thought leadership and learn.

Harold Jarche’s Personal Knowledge Mastery and the mindset of working out loud evangelized by John Stepper are great ways to feed your community and learn.

I wrote a post earlier titled “3 C’s for Leading and Learning on Social Media” which may offer helpful ideas to feed your community. Here is a quick sketchnote of Lisa Haneberg’s ideas on how to feed a community.

Bonus

As an extension to the ideas above, here is a sketch note version of “How to Work Out Loud” which John Stepper included in his recent TEDx Navesink talk.


My Community

People who read this blog, follow me on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere is my community and I am very grateful about it. I am intentional about feeding this community by sharing my lessons, summarizing insights visually, helping others move the needle and share resources that help.

Critical Questions

What about you? What learning communities do you belong to – online and offline? How do you feed your community? Critical questions as we start a new week. Do share your insights in the comments!

Learning: Experience Plus Reflection

“A good starting point for embedding reflection into daily workflow is to approach the practice at two levels; individual reflection, and then reflection with colleagues and team members. Reflective practice itself doesn’t ‘just happen’. It is a learned process. It requires some degree of self-awareness and the ability to critically evaluate experiences, actions and results.”

The Power of Reflection in an Ever-Changing World, Charles Jennings

I once worked in a team that followed a well established process of doing structured retrospectives after every major product release. This worked well and as a result these reflective exercises, team performance and quality of work improved. Then, speed took its toll. In pursuit of doing more frequent releases, teams stopped doing retrospectives. In the rush to deliver more faster, there was simply no time to reflect and share.

One of the most important ways to build a learning organization is to have rituals that facilitate reflection, sharing and learning individually as well as collectively. In this 2011 post, I recommended three rituals for constant alignment and learning – kickoffs, reviews and retrospectives. Apart from these, daily stand up meetings, team huddles and informal peer to peer communication play a vital role in how a team learns – and more importantly, puts their learning in practice. Done correctly, these rituals can have a powerful impact on team building, quality of work and learning.

In his post, Charles Jennings also outlines four ways we learn (read here). Here is a quick sketch note summary of the learning process.

Related Posts at QAspire

How Our Brain Learns

As someone who is committed to lifelong learning, I am very curious about how we learn (sketchnote here). We learn the most during our early years and observing/helping my own kids learn and explore new things is such a wonderful learning experience as well. I learn a great deal about learning when I see my 4 years old son trying to explore language in new ways and my 9 years old daughter learning how to swim.

This observations enable me to appreciate different learning styles, pace and challenges. It tells me that learning is not easy, especially when we grow up. Learning anything new makes us uncomfortable in the beginning and a lot depends on how we embrace the discomfort of learning. That we need to build our capacity to map learning across the contexts and make connections. That is how we become effective lifelong learners.

I recently came across an interesting article on Crew Blog by Belle Beth Cooper titled “6 important things you should know about how your brain learns”. The article underlines the importance of visual learning, role of sleep and sleep deprivation in consolidating our learning and interleaving new information for better learning.

I recommend you to read the full article and here is a sketchnote summary of key points I gathered from the article.

Journey That Inspires Others

My journey in life and career is largely inspired by what other generous folks have shared – both online and offline.

A boss who believed in me when I didn’t, a book that altered my perspective for better, a few blogs that clarified my thinking one post at a time, an inspiring video that uplifted me, a podcast that I often revisit, a virtual friend who opens a door of possibilities, a family member who guided my perspective about life and the list goes on. When I think of everything that I have received for free, I am only filled with gratitude.

We are all surrounded by generous folks who freely share their lessons, ideas, resources and insights which inspires our own journey, directly or indirectly. 

The critical question then is: If your own journey is inspired by what others shared so generously, how are you making sure that your journey serves as an inspiration for others?

– – – – –

In the photo: Train and tracks fading away on a foggy winter morning!