70:20:10 Forum chats with 'Working Out Loud' advocate and author, John Stepper

We caught up with John Stepper to find out more about why so many people are benefiting from making their work visible. His book 'Working Out Loud - for a better career and life' will release in February 2015.

70:20:10 Forum -  How do you best explain 'Working Out Loud' to the uninitiated?

John - I used to give people a long definition, but now I frame it in 3 questions.

“When you work out loud, you ask yourself:

  • What am I trying to accomplish?
  • Who can help me?
  • How can I contribute to those people and deepen our relationship?”

70:20:10 Forum - You talk about the 5 elements of 'Working Out Loud'. What are these?

John -

1.            Being purposeful.
2.            Building a social network
3.            Leading with generosity.
4.            Making you and your work visible
5.            Improving yourself and others

Someone in a working out loud circle in the UK created this wonderful image this week.

70:20:10 Forum -  You had a realisation that people needed more help than just presentations and blog posts to create change. How did you determine what that help would be?

John - By trying many different things and not making much progress. I gave presentations, taught a course, wrote about it every week. It was only when I started coaching people over time that I could see them gradually develop the skills and habits they needed.

70:20:10 Forum -  When you started coaching people within your team, with the aim to assist them to make positive changes within their work, how did you select those people? What did you see in them that showed you they would benefit from some extra help?

John - The first person I coached was someone I never met except online. He demonstrated a generous, positive attitude and was open to trying something new and untested. The next person was the same. Based on the first handful of people, I was able to outline a process that anyone could follow.

70:20:10 Forum -  Deeper relationships  and improved connectedness are two things you identify that can unlock potential and opportunities for people. Why is this?

John - We’ve know for a long time that relationships are what give you access to opportunities. “It’s who you know.” Then Mark Granovetter wrote about weak ties in 1973 and it became the most cited paper in the social sciences. Now, social platforms make it easier to reach people and form a bond. It has the power to amplify your contributions and greatly increase the set of possibilities available to you.

70:20:10 Forum -  You've said that employees who work in a more open and connected way, by working out loud, 'have more control over their career and their life. Why do you think that is and how have you seen this happen in real-life?

John - The key is the network of meaningful relationships you build. Having an open, generous, connected approach to work and life helps you build and deepen those relationships. The richer your network, the richer your set of possibilities. That’s what I mean by “control.” Instead of relying on a boss or a recruiter to grant you access, you can create access yourself.

I’ve experienced that first-hand and I see it in the working out loud circles that have formed so far. Besides the people I work with directly, there are countless stories of people who worked out loud (even if they never called it that) and improved their chances for meaning and fulfilment.

 70:20:10 Forum -  'Working Out Loud' seems like such an obvious concept. What factors within work culture have hindered this opportunity previously?

John - Diet and exercise are also obvious but many people struggle with them! Why? A lot of it comes down to habits and culture. Our personal habits shape us and we were never taught how to live and work in an open, generous, connected way - what to do and how to do it. We’re also shaped by the environment we’re in. At work, the environment tends to be hierarchical and competitive where employees are controlled by managers, HR processes, and more. Working out loud, because it empowers the individual and gives them more control over their learning, network, and access, runs counter to that environment. It also has the power to change it.

70:20:10 Forum -  Often people are afraid to show what they don't know. How can 'Working Out Loud' assist in moving people past this?

John - It’s why one of the elements is “Improving yourself and others.” The focus is not on being good but on getting better, on framing what you’re doing in terms of learning. When you do that, sharing mistakes and asking questions is encouraged and rewarded with positive feedback.

70:20:10 Forum -  'Working Out Loud' circles are growing in popularity. It seems they have a two fold purpose - helping people connect within their working groups but also helping them see their value and further their career. How does this manifest?

John - Like other peer support groups, the circles create a sense of shared accountability while giving each member access to suggestions and encouragement that can help them. The circles also follow a specific program of guided mastery, though, where you gradually make more meaningful contributions and build relationships towards a specific goal. So within the circle, each person is working towards something they intrinsically care about.

70:20:10 Forum - What is the first step in setting up a 'Working Out Loud' circle?

John - In February (when the book releases), you would read the book, download the circle guides at workingoutloud.com, and pick a few people to invite to your first meeting.

The circles that have formed so far - and we have them in 5 countries - are all using drafts of the materials. They’re ahead of me!

70:20:10 Forum -  You talk a lot about work culture and dehumanising corporations. How do you see work place culture changing and what would be the biggest drivers for this?

John - The more people who work out loud inside a firm, the more humane it becomes. You see people contributing, connecting, and collaborating more than ever. Why? Because they want to. The process of working out loud taps into their intrinsic motivators - learning, connecting with others, having a sense of purpose and a sense of control.

70:20:10 Forum -  How does 'Working Out Loud' help to break down the silos of communication usually found in large corporations?

John - This is where the social platforms have made things fundamentally easier. You can’t send email to people you don’t know in other divisions. But enterprise social networks make it easier for relevant content to spread to the right people. As people make their work visible, those connections between people happen easily and quickly.

70:20:10 Forum -  Do you think 'Working Out Loud' circles bring about internal culture changes without the need for some formalised strategic shift to create change?

John - Yes. Having said that, encouragement from management to form circles would help. For example, I give talks at career and networking events at work and people are then encouraged to form circles. The key though is that the circles remain confidential. Without trust inside the circle, they won’t change much.

70:20:10 Forum -  How do you see the role of Learning and Development changing now and into the future?

John - Instead of creating courses, they’ll be creating environments and facilitating learning within those environments. Communities of practice are the best example of the kind of environment I mean.

70:20:10 Forum -  How do you think the impact of the Millennial generation's values will effect workplace culture?

John - While they may be more open to a different way of working, including comfort with certain kinds of tools, they don’t have any innate advantage in terms of developing relationships, knowing what contributions to make and how to make them. They’ll need help like the rest of us in developing new skills and habits. 


Even in his first job after college, he knew that work could be better.

John Stepper was fresh out of Columbia University and was working at Bell Labs, trying to improve how AT&T’s communications centers could be more efficient. There, in addition to making processes better, he saw they needed to make people feel better too: how they related to their work, their colleagues, and their company. That early project led to a book that John co-authored called Successful Reengineering.

Now, twenty years later, John knows there’s even more of an imperative to help people find meaning and fulfilment at work and in their lives. He has found that the best way to do that is working out loud. John has seen – first for himself, then for friends and colleagues he coached, and now in peer support groups around the world – how working out loud helps people become more effective, more connected, and happier.

John's motivation is to help millions of people have that experience. The book, the 'Working Out Loud' website, and the working out loud circles are all part of that aspiration. With a little help developing a few skills and habits, John believes that everyone can have a better career and life.

His book, 'Working Out Loud - for a better career and life' will release in February 2015 and is will be available via Amazon. He is based in New York, USA.