John Stepper

A career talk that everyone should hear (and that anyone could deliver)

WOL Careers - Slide 1People at all stages of their careers have been asking the same basic questions for decades:

“How do I get promoted?”

“How do I find jobs that are available?

“How do I manage my career?”

To help answer those questions, there are plenty of career development talks at work, networking events, and HR courses which give people advice and examples. These can be helpful and sometimes inspiring. They just don’t equip people to make any meaningful change in how they manage their careers.

Now, we have something better.

A different kind of career event

Last month, I was asked to give a talk on personal branding so I could answer some of those career questions for a particular organization. Instead, I offered to talk about working out loud and help people form working out loud circles. We put together a 60-minute, interactive session for over 80 people which ended with Q&A and a call for volunteers to join circles.

25% of the audience volunteered.

The reason so many people joined wasn’t because of me or my slides, it was because they were hungry for something they could do to invest in themselves. Although most had never heard of working out loud, the ideas seemed like common sense and the circles gave them a way to apply that common sense towards a personal goal they cared about. A few weeks later, five circles formed and started meeting.

Results you can replicate

Speaking at this event gave me an idea. I had seen how, even if you want to work out loud, convincing friends who’ve never heard of it to form a circle could be hard. So a career event is a natural trigger to taking some positive action. With dozens of people all attending at the same time, hearing the same information, and with a convenient sign-up sheet at the end, it was simple.

So what if we made it easy for anyone to have such an event?

Towards that end, here are a set of slides and commentary you can make your own. The next time you hear about a career or networking event at your firm, maybe you can offer to give this talk instead. Maybe your organization can go beyond offering advice and examples to  truly empowering people, helping them to take control of their careers and their lives.

Slides and commentary you can make your own

My own style for slides is to use large photos and minimal text wherever I can. It means the slides are readable in almost any environment but it also means they don’t stand on their own. So I’ve included images here along with the main points I make. I’ve also included the actual slides as .key and .ppt files and as a PDF.

Feel free to use them in any way you like to help people form working out loud circles. This is just one way to accelerate a positive movement. I welcome and appreciate all questions, suggestions for improvements, and comments about what worked and didn’t work.

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Career planning has changed

  • Career planning has changed from just 5 years ago.
  • For decades, it was a lottery. Who recruited on your campus? Which company picked you? Who was your boss?
  • Now, you have more control than ever.

Three stories

  • Three quick stories of how people find work that’s meaningful & fulfilling.
  • I’ve written about Jordi Munoz and Joyce Sullivan before. The third is Anne-Marie Imafidon who is a friend, colleague,  founder of the Stemettes, and who merits her own chapter in Working Out Loud. Yes, that’s her with the Queen. You might substitute someone in your own organization as an example.
  • The thing they have in common is they all work out loud.

Working Out Loud – 5 elements

You can do better than a lottery

  • A lot rides on which company you join, which part you fall into, and which boss you get assigned.
  • You can increase the odds of landing in a good spot.
  • A bigger, diverse network with deeper relationship provides you access to a wider range of possibilities.

A short exercise

  • Ask people to take out their smartphones and Google themselves.
  • Who are they? Do they have to rely on a broker to help them describe themselves? Or a 2-page resume? From the animated conversations, people found this both funny and embarrassing.

We all need help

  • Many of us don’t even do the simple things we all know we should do, like photos on a profile.
  • It’s not that we’re bad at it, we ‘re just not good at it yet. We need help.

Making change easier

  • Research on changing habits shows how we can make change easier and sustainable.
  • It includes chunking the change into small, fear-free steps and getting feedback along the way. (Albert Bandura called it guided mastery and cured snakes phobias in an hour this way.)
  • It also includes getting help from friends while practicing, practicing, practicing.

WOL Circles

  • Explain how circles work generally and ground rules for inside the firm, especially how they are confidential, with no need to have a certain rating or corporate title.
  • Available resources include the book, circle guides, and a range of material coming to workingoutloud.com. I provide drafts of the material to all circle members.

Call to action

  • Point them to the sign-up sheet or whiteboard and open for Q&A.

I used Apple’s Keynote to create the slides and also exported them here as a PDF and a Powerpoint file.

Working Out Loud – Career Planning Presentation.key

Working Out Loud – Career Planning Presentation (PDF)

Working Out Loud – Career Planning Presentation.ppt

If life came with an owner’s manual, this would be it

Are You Ready to Succeed?After I finished reading this book for the second time, I knew I would be reading it again and again throughout my life.

That wasn’t my reaction when I first got it in the summer of 2013. I didn’t like the title and I didn’t like the cover. Then I started reading it and stopped. But my friend who recommended the book is smart and accomplished, so a few months later I picked it up again. The more I read, the more I knew it was a special book.

The book is Are Your Ready to Succeed? by Srikumar Rao. Practicing the ideas in the book is one of the best investments you can make.

Simple switches in the way we approach life

In the introduction, the author describes how his early career and life was unfulfilling: “The notion that one could find deep meaning and sustenance from life and from what one did for a living was an alien one.” He switched to teaching and began searching through a wide range of texts and traditions, looking for a better way.

He packaged what he learned into a course that he ultimately taught at Columbia Business School. The ideas in the course are about an approach to life and the way we view it, but he felt those ideas would shape his students’ careers as well.

“I knew I could help them achieve even better results with far less anguish by teaching them a series of simples switches in the way they approached life, such as by focusing on what they could contribute rather than what they could get.”

One of the many things I love about the book is the selection of charming parables sprinkled throughout. Here’s a Sufi story as introduced by the author.

Good Thing, Bad Thing, Who Knows?

The first thing when you face an outcome different from what you expected is to judge it. You label it “good” or “bad,” but generally “bad.” The greater the deviation from what you wanted, the worse you think it is.

The following Sufi tale is instructive.

An old man lived in a verdant valley with his son, a handsome and dutiful youth. They lived an idyllic life despite a lack of material possessions and were very happy. So much so that feelings of envy arose in their neighbors.

The old man used practically all his savings to buy a young wild stallion. It was a beautiful creature and he planned to use it for breeding. The same night he bought it, it jumped over the paddock and disappeared into the wild. The neighbors came over and commiserated, “How terrible,” they said.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

Ten days later, the stallion was back. It came with a herd of about a dozen wild horses, and the old man was able to lure all of them into his paddock, which he had fixed so escape was no longer possible. “What good fortune!” said the neighbors as they clustered around.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

His son started to train the horses. One of them knocked him down and stomped on his leg. It healed crookedly and left him with a permanent limp. “Such misfortune,” said the neighbors.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

The next summer, the King declared war. Press gangs came to the village and rounded up all the young men The old man’s son was spared because of his game leg. “Truly you are lucky,” exclaimed his neighbors as they bemoaned their own losses.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

That very winter…

Wisdom to practice and live by

The underlying wisdom in this story is about knowing your truth, sticking to the process, and being free of the outcomes. The way Srikumar Rao delivered it made me understand and embrace that wisdom and want to put it into practice.

Most of the truths in Are You Ready to Succeed? are related to being mindful and controlling our attention and have been available to us for thousands of years. Yet it’s only with practice that we can realize the benefits of knowing them.

I look forward to reading the book again and to redoing the exercises in a special journal I’ve dedicated for that purpose. I just bought the book and a journal for my daughter in the hopes that she can start applying its wisdom sooner than I did.

The keys to a happier life are in your head. This book will help you find them.

“How would you accelerate what you’re doing?”

My orange backpackI knew we would get along well when we both had the same bright orange backpack from IKEA. We met in a cafe near Wall Street on Monday and we were talking about Working Out Loud. After I described the main ideas and the circles that are starting to form around the world, he asked me:

“How would you accelerate what you’re doing?”

I paused and offered an uninspiring “I’m not sure.” So I’ve been thinking about it since then and wanted to share what I’ve come up. My hope is that some of you find these ideas useful and some of you can help make them better.

Step 1. Remove friction

workingoutloud.com is coming soonMake it easy for people to get started. A small part of that is writing a book people will want to read and share with their friends and colleagues. Then there needs to be a website with other resources, stories, and ways for people to ask questions and interact.

I also wanted to remove any mental friction. To me, that meant donating all the book royalties, making the other resources freely available, and creating a new workingoutloud.com website rather than using johnstepper.com. Removing money and ego from a movement makes it easier to join.

Step 2. Build momentum

Posted today by a #wolcircle in the UK.

Posted today by a #wolcircle in the UK.

There are already a few hundred people who have reviewed the book or are forming circles based on draft materials. To build momentum, I need to equip them to spread the word if they want to.

That includes simple text they can use to describe working out loud and a short video they can link to. Other ideas include ways for circle members to know about each other, ask questions, and share information. Just today, for example, we introduced the hashtag #wolcircle on Twitter.

I also need to keep publicizing it through speaking and writing about the benefits to individuals and organizations. This one article from The Economist is good, but it’s just a start.

Step 3. Seed & Amplify

Image copyright Denise Ippolito Photography

Image copyright Denise Ippolito Photography

So far, these are basic things that underpin any movement. They’re necessary but not sufficient. To accelerate things, my strategy (though that seems too lofty a word) is to leverage existing networks and equip them to help their members.

Here are 5 real examples. The more I can add to this list and contribute to additional networks, the faster the working out loud movement will spread.

  1. HR associations like CIPD and Society for Human Resource Management
  2. Outplacement and job search firms like The Ayers Group and CareerShift
  3. Social networking vendors like Jive, Yammer, LinkedIn and their customer success networks
  4. Coaching associations like the International Coach Federation and the International Association of Coaching
  5. Training providers like Dale Carnegie Training

There might be different contributions for each of these networks. I might do a free webinar for their members, write content for their magazines, or collaborate with them on customized training materials.

One group alone has 135,000 members. Combined, these networks touch millions of people.

What would you do?

To accelerate the movement, I’m going through the same questions people ask in the first week of a working out loud circle:

What’s my purpose?

Who can help me?

How can I contribute to those people?

What else would you do to remove friction, build momentum, or seed and amplify this movement? Which organizations might benefit from working out loud and how could I help them?

I’m sure I’m missing things, and I appreciate any and all suggestions you might have.

My favorite book launch party lasted three years

Cake by "Baking Outside The Box"

Cake by “Baking Outside The Box”

There’s a familiar pattern to most book launches. The book signings, the radio shows, the racing for people’s attention in the first 30 days after publication, before the world moves on to one of the other 2 million books published every year.

It’s all good. It’s just not me.

So when I read about a different kind of book launch, I thought “Maybe I could do this instead.”

Humble beginnings

In the preface to Eckhart Tolle’s first book, The Power of Now, he tells the story of how it launched. The book was published by Namaste Publishing, a start-up imprint in Vancouver, and they printed 3,000 copies. There was no marketing budget or much attention at all, so Tolle hand-delivered books to local Vancouver bookstores. He said he found this “enormously satisfying, knowing that every book I handed over had the potential of changing someone’s life.”

His other distribution channels included friends placing copies in spiritual bookstores in other cities along the west coast of the US and Canada. Some copies even made it to a shop London. During the first year, “the book found its readers almost exclusively through word of mouth.”

Word spreads

The original blurbs in the front of the book are evidence of these humble beginnings. Instead of celebrities or noted spiritualists, the quotes are from the bookstore managers who first got the book.

The Power of Now was introduced to me by a customer. I read only one page and agreed that it rang true. It is a jewel of clarity and insight. The book has become a word-of-mouth bestseller here at East West.” – Norman Snitkin, comanager, East West Bookshop, Seattle

 

“I have no hesitation in recommending Eckhart Tolle’s wonderful book. Everyone who has picked up a copy has ended up taking it home. The Power of Now sells on its own merit and by word of mouth.” – Stephen Gawtry, Manager, Watkins Books Ltd., London

Over the first two years, the book got favorable reviews in some small magazines and was picked up by a larger publisher. By that time, one reviewer called it “an underground best-seller.”

A year later, actress Meg Ryan mentioned the book to Oprah in an interview. That led to an article in one of the early editions of Oprah magazine, then more mentions and ultimately interviews. After three years, the book was translated in multiple languages and was on its way to becoming a NY Times bestseller. After eight years, Tolle wrote another book and the two books have sold a combined total of over eight million copies in North America alone. A series of webinars with Oprah in 2008 attracted more than 35 million viewers.

My talk with Oprah

While I enjoyed Tolle’s books and the rags-to-riches nature of the story, what I liked most was how he originally published his book to help other people. He had no hope of making much money with it, yet he did it anyway. And word spread.

That’s my approach with Working Out Loud. It’s meant as a gift. If people find it useful, they’ll tell a friend or pick it for their book club. Some will form a working out loud circle and put the ideas into practice. Maybe a few thousand people might buy a copy in the first year. Maybe word will spread. Maybe not.

Once in a while though, I think of what happened to The Power of Now and imagine if something similar happened to Working Out Loud. What if more people find my gift useful? It might take years but what if millions of people wind up building a better career and life? And since the royalties go to education causes around the world, what kinds of positive impact could we make with that money?

My talk with Oprah wouldn’t be about me at all. When I allow myself to daydream about it, I imagine our conversation would be like this interview with Pharrell Williams. In the middle of it, Oprah shows a video of how other people leveraged Pharrell’s work to make themselves and others happier.

As they both cry, she says, “It’s being used for something that’s greater than yourself.”

The beginning of a movement

There’s a video that shows, in 3 minutes, how movements are often built. Maybe you’ve seen it.

The beginning of a movementDuring the Sasquatch Music festival in 2009 festival, people are just laying on blankets, listening to music, until one guy gets up and starts to dance. He’s lanky and not a particularly good dancer. It’s awkward to watch. Then, a second dancer joins him. Then a third.

What happens next is incredible to me even though I’ve watched the video dozens of times.

This week, I felt like that awkward guy who’s been doing a goofy dance for a while. I can almost feel what’s about to happen next.

Different people, different dances

The dance I’m doing is writing a book called Working Out Loud and enabling people to form their own peer support circles. The idea is to help people, through actual practice, learn how to build a network of relationships that can help them with any goal, including discovering more meaning and fulfillment in work and life.

I’ve been doing this dance for about three years. Sometimes, I’m sure it’s been painful to watch. Just this week though, something changed.

Author and bloggerUnbeknownst to me, an organization with 130,000 members made this wonderful video about how they work out loud. They even cited me as “author and blogger,” the first time I was described that way.

Then, the first circle formed that didn’t include me or someone I coached. A woman I didn’t know but had read the blog simply decided she wanted to invest in herself.

A division at work held a career development event where I spoke about how people could take more control of their career and lives. People signed up for five more circles.

NHS Working Out LoudI was notified by some wonderful people in Australia that they’ll be forming circles in Sydney and Melbourne, the first circles comprised solely of people from other firms.

Then, via Twitter, I saw how some smart, creative people at the NHS (National Health Service) in the UK are proposing to form circles there, too.

 

What happens at the end of the video

Watch the video now if you can. See how that second and third dancer made it feel like a group, something others could more readily be a part of. That’s how I felt last week.

After that, more and more people join, each doing their own dance, each attracting yet more people. By the end of the 3-minute video, people are racing from all directions to become part of it. There are hundreds of people, dancing and screaming, and it’s become a movement. You can’t even see the first dancer any more.

That’s exactly the kind of movement I’m hoping for. If I was trying to make money or become famous, then I would spoil it by being selfish or too self-conscious. Instead, I’m just trying to spread an idea that helps people access possibilities for meaning and fulfillment.

Here’s to dancing like nobody’s watching.