In school we were taught to shield our work and keep our thinking to ourselves. In the workplace we are encouraged to collaborate and communicate with peers.

This mindset shift has been expanded on by a practice called Working Out Loud.

Yesterday I was a guest speaker at a Masters in Internal Communication course. As part of my talk on knowledge management in the 21st century, I shared thoughts on Working Out Loud and what it means for communicators.

John Stepper The phrase was coined by Bryce Williams of Eli Lilly in 2010. It has since sparked a movement spearheaded and defined by John Stepper @johnstepper (pictured).

The former Deutsche Bank employee has written a book and is about to do a TED talk this weekend about Working Out Loud.

I’m a big fan of his work and the thinking behind it, so am going to share it with you. I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic.

What is it?

Working Out Loud is a practice that combines conventional wisdom about relationships with modern ways to reach and engage people.

It’s a different approach to networking, and starts with three questions:

  1. What am I trying to accomplish?
  2. Who can help me?
  3. How can I contribute to them to deepen our relationship?

Instead of networking to get something, you lead with generosity, investing in relationships that give you access to other people, knowledge, and possibilities.

Part of the process is learning ways to make your work visible and frame it as a contribution.

How does it work?
I’d been practising Working Out Loud before I realised there was a name for it. I constantly share what I’m working on, books I’ve discovered and connect people together to help me achieve my goals and strengthen relationships.

The IC Crowd @TheICcrowd I co-founded with Dana Leeson and Jenni Field in 2012 brings like-minded internal communicators together.

We’ve hosted two free unconferences for communicators – The Big Yak – to enable them to meet. We didn’t knowingly do it with a WOL mindset, but I think that’s what it is.

Further reading: How to communicate your personal brand.

Last year I was featured in an article by David Zude who wanted to know why I “give everything away for free.” The short answer is I don’t.

I save the really good stuff for my clients.

However, I learn best by sharing my thinking and inviting other people to contribute. That’s why I’ve featured 100+ communicators on my blog since 2009.

Further reading: What writing 1000 blog posts has taught me.

Let’s look at the science bit…

Working out loud had a formula:


Since then it has evolved.

John wrote on his blog in 2014 about five elements of working out loud, which he then turned into a book: Working out loud for a better career and life.

The five elements are below:

Five elements of working out loud

These elements sparked thoughts across the globe and led to the Working Out Loud movement. You can see conversations online, particularly via Twitter with hashtag #WOL.

Now there’s a third iteration:

Updated working out loud 2016


The following descriptions are John Stepper’s:

Relationships: Relationships are at the heart of working out loud. The path to opportunities and to knowledge is very often via other people. As you deepen relationships with people in your network, they’re more likely to help you or collaborate in some way, and deepening relationships taps into your intrinsic need for feeling connected to something and someone beside yourself.

Generosity: Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, said, “The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, wrote about the power of “small gifts, freely given.” Your contributions can include things as simple (and powerful) as recognition and appreciation. The reason generosity is a good way to build relationships is because we’re wired for reciprocal altruism. That means that you don’t have to keep score or think of giving to people as a quid pro quo transaction. Rather, you can make contributions in a way that feels good and genuine knowing that, over the entirety of your network, there will naturally be a benefit to you too as others reciprocate.

Visible work: You don’t have to be a social media maven to work out loud. You can do it over coffee and email. Using social platforms, though, has a number of advantages. When you make your work visible and frame it as a contribution, social platforms can amplify who you are and what you do; greatly extend your reach; and expand the set of contributions you can make and how you can offer them. The feedback on your visible work can also make you and your work better, thus tapping into your intrinsic need for learning.

Purposeful discovery: Given the infinite amount of contributing and connecting you can do, you need to make it purposeful in order to be effective. It needn’t be your One Special Purpose but rather something as simple as “I’d like to learn more about <X>” or “I’d like to explore opportunities in another industry or location.” You can still have room for serendipity, but having a goal in mind orients your activities, including the kinds of relationships you’re trying to develop and contributions you should make.

As working out loud becomes a habit, you can apply it towards any goal.

A growth mindset: This last element isn’t about things to do but rather a mindset to have as you do them. Carol Dweck, researcher and author of Growth Mindset, showed how you can develop a more open, curious approach to work and life and be more resilient in the face of setbacks. Adopting such a mindset means you’re more likely to try new things and to persist even when someone, for example, doesn’t respond to your contributions as you had hoped.

What do you think?

I talked to students yesterday about the movement and how WOL circles are cropping up. Like-minded people are coming together around the globe to make their work visible, make it better, lead with generosity, build a social network and are making it purposeful.

Could this work for you? What about your organisation? I’d love to know your thoughts below or you can Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

The power of peer support

Want to know more about working out loud circles? There’s a guide to help you, created by John:

A Working Out Loud circle is a peer support group of 4-5 people in which you ask yourself three questions:

  1. What am I trying to do?
  2. Who can help me?
  3. How can I contribute to them to deepen our relationships?

Your circle meets for an hour a week for 12 weeks, and a simple 2-page guide helps you take small steps each week. By the end, you’ll have developed a larger, more diverse network and a set of habits you can apply toward any goal.

See John’s website for a fuller explanation.

Do look out for John’s TED talk on 9 April. I’ll update this article once it’s happened so you can watch it.

17 May update: As promised, here is John’s TED talk:

10 April update:

Thank you for everyone who has got in touch with additional information and links:








Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 7 April 2016. Updated November 2016 and June 2017.

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