What My Toddler Is Teaching Me About Working Out Loud

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I was inspired by this Working Out Loud post by John Stepper. It’s a post asking what you can do to accelerate working out loud (WOL). I’m accepting John’s challenge and I’m going to do “my something” and share with you how my son, a toddler, is inspiring me to think differently about and better understand what it means to work out loud.

What is Working Out Loud?

If you’re new to working out loud, basically, as John states, it’s defined as “…making your work visible in such a way that it might help others. When you do that – when you work in a more open, connected way – you can build a purposeful network that makes you more effective and provides access to more opportunities.”

I’ve continue to be inspired by WOL these last few months and I’ve been embarking on my own journey to better understand how I can work out loud more in my life and career. The concepts and framework of working out loud have inspiring possibilities to impact the workplace and as part of my journey I’m going to be sharing more examples about what I’m learning in my personal life and experiment with working out loud as I lead the development of our collaborative employee communities at Walgreens.

It’s Simple…Just Watch A Toddler Play

Alright, now that you’re up to speed on what WOL is, here’s what my toddler has taught me about working out loud.

I was playing with my two-year-old son and it occurred to me that the way he plays is a living example of working out loud. One of the most important parts of working out loud is the goal to make your work observable and that’s exactly what my son is teaching me. This is why I now have a wooden train track and plastic building block on my desk at work to remind me of this important lesson.

It’s simple. Watch a toddler play and you’ll see many examples of what it means to make your work observable. It’s refreshing to think of working out loud in this context. Toddlers do such a great job of making their work observable as they’re creating it, and they also show you what it means to invite others to participate with them. They almost do it to excess and extreme which can make it frustrating, but there’s even a valuable lesson to learn in that moment of frustration.

Sure, toddlers might not be completely cognitively aware of what they’re doing, but nonetheless, it’s pretty amazing to experience firsthand the super powers toddlers have to demonstrate (and remind) us adults how to work out loud.

My “A-ha” Moment

When did this truth really hit home for me? The moment when my son looked up at me with a piece of train set in his hand and said “Daddy help me,” a light bulb went off in my head. He smiled at me and I back at him. In those moments when we engage each other as we build puzzles, construct train sets and color inside (and outside) lines of his favorite coloring books I get the opportunity to really make working out loud a more personal and emotional experience.

When my son and I are playing together I get the opportunity to not only connect with him but I have the opportunity to think deeper about what it means to collaborate as adults and further the discussion about the skills needed for the present and future of the digital workplace. I get to test and experiment for myself. And because of these moments the concepts of working out loud become more meaningful and applicable in my life, career and work to build employee communities at Walgreens.

Recently my son and I were putting together a Thomas the Train set and everything went into slow motion as I watched the scene unfold. He built his half of the train set while I built mine. He paused to watch me and I then paused to watch him work at connecting the pieces and give the trains a test run on the tracks. Then the moment came when we connected our parts together. Bam! Whalla! A massive smile lit up his face and the “a-ha” lightbulb in my head grew brighter and brighter with thoughts. The bigger picture of what was happening in this single moment became clearer.

He’s learning how to collaborate and he’s helping me to rewire my brain so I can unlearn all the bad stuff that keeps me from working out loud as an adult. He teaches me to keep it simple, to not let my own fears and inhibitions get in the way of sharing what I’m working on with others. He’s teaching me how to ask for help so I can improve my own talents and hopefully make more meaningful contributions to those around me. How cool is that!?

The Truth About WOL Meltdowns

Yes, this is all inspiring stuff. But I have to be honest with you. It’s not always that simple. He (and I ) certainly have our struggles. He has the occasional toddler meltdown and at times he rips pieces out of my hand when I least expect it, which is frustrating and really tests my patience. Yes, there’s another lesson to be learned here. As I’ve come to learn, working out loud can be messy too. Working out loud is not about perfection. It’s about making progress towards a bigger goal over time. What that might look like. And messiness, imperfection, and failures are all part of the journey. If you’re not failing, getting occasionally frustrated or messy when working out loud then you’re probably not working out loud at all.

All this said, as I reflect on what my son is teaching me I’ve been thinking about a few other truths.

How I’m Overcoming The Hard Parts of WOL

First, working out loud is hard to do. It’s not natural for adults. If it were easy I wouldn’t be writing this post. So because of that we need toddlers to re-teach us. Unfortunately, as adults, we’re often taught and rewarded for being competitive, being perfect and working alone until the project is finished. These “work in silence” and “work in secret” behaviors get reinforced in many areas of our lives as we get older so that’s why working out loud is hard to do at first. So what I’ve found is that it’s important to recognize this reality because it helps to set the right expectations so we don’t try to do too much too soon and get discouraged, all of which can stop us before we even can make progress towards lasting change, meaningful transformation and big breakthroughs.

Like running, I’ve realized that once you get going working out loud does get easier and it begins to feel more natural. You begin to become more comfortable. Once momentum builds you begin to build up and strengthen your working out loud muscles. And, like running, you have to put the miles in to get the rewards and benefits. I’ve never had runner’s high as a result of standing still.

You have to struggle and wrestle at first. Heck, just writing this post took several tries before I won the wrestling match and “publish.” Like I’ve done on many blog posts before I fought to keep the momentum going. That’s what matters most. A series of small wins leads to bigger wins. And as I watched my son do his thing building and tearing down his block towers and building them back up again, it all inspired me onward.

While writing this post I took a look back at my own career and I reflected on all the work it took to start Live Fix back in 2005. Didn’t necessariily know what I was doing. I just started and built on each live concert experiment one by one.  So it became clear that I’ve been working out loud all these years by writing about life and the live concert experience and doing podcasts. And doing so has led to several pivotal creative breakthroughs and more career opportunities, which is one of the many benefits of working out loud.

Now at this stage of my career I feel as though I’m leveraging working out loud in a new and exciting way that I haven’t before. I have an idea of what that exactly means but then again I don’t. And I’m totally okay with that because I’m learning as I go just like I did back in 2005. What I do know is that I’m excited about the opportunity to join with others who like me are introducing and championing working out loud within their organizations. It’ll be interesting to see where things are at five or ten years from now.

In writing this post I struggled to put together my initial thoughts and labored through my share or doubt and confusion looking for the right words to express my thoughts and emotions about working out loud in this phase of life. When fear, doubt and procrastination were looming, I utilized one of John’s wise tactics. I leveraged Twitter to help keep me accountable and motivated. I tweeted that I was working on a post in a effort to make my ongoing blog post visible and get initial feedback on the post.

woltwitter

And it worked! One of my twitter followers tweeted back right away that he was interested in this post as I was writing it, which I thought was awesome. So I continued on and moved ahead writing the post even though the lizard part of my brain was thrashing around with fear, doubt and uncertainty. Like I mentioned above, I’ve also been practicing, modeling and experimenting with WOL in our internal employee communities and corporate communications at Walgreens and I’m learning a lot about what works and what doesn’t work when introducing working out loud to a large and complex organization. I’ll share more on future posts about what I’m learning through those experiences too.

Generosity = Motivation

The other part of working out loud that’s helped me work through the negative emotions and mental barriers (and inspired me to hit publish on this post) was the generosity elements associated with WOL. At its core, working out loud encourages us to see and re-frame our work as contributions for the greater good and benefits of those around us. When we openly share our work we’re thinking of others first and not focusing on our own doubts and fears. By sharing what we’re learning we’re being generous because there’s a genuine and authentic knowledge share happening. By working out loud others are benefiting from the things we’ve learned and hopefully what’s shared helps make the lives of others better and more meaningful.

That’s a beautiful and very liberating way to frame things and I can tell you that seeing things from this “be generous” perspective makes the fear of not being perfect or failing really small and almost a non-issue. Seeing things though a generous lens helps me to not be so selfish in my fear and instead focus on helping others around me with what I learned in life. The opportunity to be generous is a great motivator and inspires me for sure.

More WOL questions coming up next

Here’s a few more questions I’m looking forward to exploring on future posts:

  • What is the impact of working out loud in a large organization? What should we be testing and measuring?
  • How and why are the concepts of observable work and working out loud critical to the future of work?
  • Why is it important for companies to learn how to work out loud? And how will working out loud impact a company’s ability to adapt and remain competitive in the marketplace?

Until next time, and to continue John’s original inspiring question, let me know…what are you doing to accelerate working out loud? What has a toddler taught you about working out loud?

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