Working Out Loud in practice: a conversation with John Stepper about the beginnings, successes and challenges of his method (part II)
The book, a TED conference talk and a blog on the methods of Working Out Loud by John Stepper have been available for three years. In more and more companies and institutions, groups are working with his Circle Guides, worksheets for 12 weeks, to achieve their goals. A major WOL conference is taking place in Shanghai at the end of June to spread the concept in China, too. We asked John Stepper how WOL is used by small and medium-sized enterprises, where WOL Circles go wrong and how best to get started.
● New Yorker: lives and works in the city of his birth
● Family man: father of five children
● Computer scientist: degree at Columbia University
● Freelancer: after 30 years in employment, he was let go and became self-employed
What made you develop the Working Out Loud approach and for whom did you want it to be useful?
John Stepper: I felt the lack of control and fulfilment at work had made me unhappy, and resulted in the personal dissatisfaction for many other people at work, too. So I looked for a way that anyone could improve how they relate to themselves, to others, and to the work they do.
It seems to me it is not all new or rocket science, but rather a kind of reassertion of common values. How do you explain the growing success and movement of WOL?
John Stepper: The elements of WOL are founded largely on ancient wisdom. The ‘new’ thing is that these elements are packaged in such a way that it’s easy for almost anyone to practise, especially at work. Circles are ‘work-friendly’ and fit neatly into existing corporate programmes. That allows WOL to reach many people it would never reach otherwise. A Circle is also a safe, confidential space, and that allows people to experiment and be vulnerable – to be themselves – in a way most have never experienced at work. The result is that many people feel different after their Circle. And it’s that feeling that makes them want to tell others about it and to spread it.
Reading about WOL, I got the impression that it is mainly big companies that are using WOL to change their culture of learning within the company (IBM, Bosch, Coca-Cola, Siemens). Why is that?
John Stepper: There are several reasons for this:
► Big companies recognise the collaboration and innovation challenges they face, and are looking for something to help address those challenges.
► Big companies have scale. So even if 1% of Bosch (for example) is in a WOL Circle, that would be 4,000 people.
► Big companies have more events and visible external communications, so you’re more likely to hear about their WOL experience.
Having said that, WOL has spread to schools, hospitals and small consulting companies, and is used by many entrepreneurs and start-ups.