Woking out Loud on ‘Working Out Loud’!

Sunder posted these questions, on Twitter and elicited a barrage of wonderful responses, as only he can. 🙂

The questions he posed were these :

  1. “What does #WorkingOutLoud mean to u in a tweet?”
  2. “How r u building the #WorkingOutLoud culture in ur Org?”

Having dabbled with both the idea and the practice of Working Out Aloud” for a bit and getting mixed results, my thoughts ran beyond containment in a tweet. So here is a blogpost!

(The first time I spoke of “Working Out Loud” and explained the meaning and the benefits of doing so, a very conscientious colleague asked curiously, if it should be rather be “Working out Aloud” and not “Working out loud”! That was the first objection! )

Well, lets get the basics of what it is out of the way, quickly. John Stepper points here  as the origin of the term and I am going with him. He lucidly says, “Working Out Loud = Observable Work + Narrating Your Work”. 

John captures the five elements that make WOL, here.  There are others including Dave Weiner who have written on this, and WOL I have noticed in the last few conferences, getting more than a ‘normal’ share of mention and attention!

At its core, it is documenting your work and sharing it with your network, to make it better, as the network shares its views and ideas on what you shared. This could lead to new insights to you. Or / and to the network! In a sense, your work doesn’t get experienced after you have completed it, but rather, as you work on it. Of course, when the work is completed, it is much better than what it would have been, without the sharing. Digital sharing tools and platforms have made it very easy and accessible to do this on the go!

Thats that.One step at at a time

After working on it for sometime now (present continuous tense), it is only easy to see that  WOL and concepts like WOL are, ‘alien to’ (to put it strongly) and represent a very different rhythm the way organisations are currently structured, performance is monitored and rewards distributed. The biggest hope (and all my successes) have come from the fact that it is people who do the work and people have always been talking about their work! 

Yet, the road to widespread adoption of WOL, in the way its outlined has its challenges in an organisation. It is a function of several things, which I’ll discuss here.  The percolation of ‘social’ in the ‘digital’ way is key. Leaders and leadership teams working on this actively is a big deal.

We need to contend with the fact, that very few organisations and leaders are alive to a reality that they are soon to contend: A very open transparent reality, where the what and the how of leadership is very different from now. Sudhanshu Palsule captures it nicely here .When leadership buy-in and/or walking the talk is absent, very little gets done to scale. 

The Why element :
WOL is not an end. It is a means to something larger. Harold Jarche nails it well (as he usually does) here explaining how WOL could be a good starting point to perhaps creating an organisational transformation. For engineering a change in a ‘way of working’, across a cross section of people and sustaining it requires coordinated effort and a strong ‘why’!

So, going back to Sunder’s question, how does one build a culture of WOL in an organisation? There is no one magic wand answer that applies to all and solves our collective challenges.

Context & Culture : One size fits one. Organisational contexts vary. For example a highly successful organisation’s need to change its established ways of working are abysmally low! If you throw in cultural facets like a highly competitive environment, siloes and an employee demographic that straddles different age peaks, your challenge gets compounded.

Rhythm of work : Within an enterprise, the flow and rhythm of work within it, varies and so does adoption of new ways, over established ways of working. Mandates don’t work and are plain silly in this landscape. Different functions take to it differently. The rhythms of working of say teams in Finance and Marketing are, well, different to put it mildly! Plus different people in these different functions take to it differently. (That is where opportunity lies nestled)

The How: Often times, WOL can get regarded as ‘one more activity’ to be done AFTER work is done and hence, adding to the work that is relentless in its piling up! The moment it is regarded so, the inertia it sets off, is tremendous! To be able to embed WOL onto the job, and help employees to adopt this as a way of working and not an activity to be done after work, is key.

There is a skilling element (however small it may seem), and a space for working on this and a plan to sustain it all.  All of these three ( skills + space + sustenance) are needed in different combinations in different pockets, to create a certain threshold level of adoption to WOL across the spectrum. “WOL” is a change that is being brought to a way of working. Not a one time initiative.

Enterprise wide adoption doesn’t happen by default. Sustained change management work, is required here. This happens by design!

So, its all bad?

Wonder if I have made it sound that its all bad. Sorry if I made it sound so. Having personally experienced the many benefits of WOL, to become a convert happens by default ( after experiencing it) and it is indeed very common to become a cheer leader once you have embraced it!

Having said that, from an enterprise context, It needs to be orchestrated for adoption keeping in mind the current realities of how large enterprises work. Seeding the idea of WOL and nurturing it for widespread adoption is a very different ask. Sunder provides examples of how the L&D team is working on it.

Am going to explore a few ideas and dilemmas in another blogpost and will of course be delighted with your inputs. 🙂



Every passing day produces numerous reams of data, research, insights, conclusions, new processes, benchmarks and such else. Produced with good intent and long hours of tireless work and thought. Usually. (2 million google searches every minute, is indeed something, dont you think ?)

Often times, the arduous effort is clouded as a methodical effort and creative processes underlying learning and discovery stays so much in the background, that its ignored.

It is a no-brainer that development and progress is a creative process that builds on what exists. ‘Connecting the dots’ is perhaps are much used words, but those three words pack in a powerful punch.

The ability to connect seemingly distant ideas and disparate data that are so apart from each other, is a necessary part of any creative process. Products that have caught our fancy, brands that stand out are have threads from very different streams woven into one entity, in a very creative way. It is not uncommon for ad gurus and film makers to go to the market place and sit in a café, watching the world emptily go by and then use some insights to make a film!

The constraints and opportunities that the 21st century presents will need all of our creative weaves and warps to present a rich tapestry of value. A value that will create a sustainable future for our children to inherit.

Speaking of children, creative processes work well in a state of ‘play’. ‘Play’ has extensive reference to ‘children’ and ‘a child like’ state. As adults, we so much strive to ‘not fail’. So much so, that ‘playful at work’ has a thick ring of negativity attached to it. Pregnant with the meaning that you cant be both playful and working at the same time!

In a state of child like play, a sense of exploration and discovery permeates. In an active infant, for instance, reaching a dead end while trying to ‘yank the lid off a bottle’, doesn’t lead to a deadpan face but a renewed energy in trying to do the same thing in some other way!

It is this state of ‘play’ that most of us adults miss out in the quest of getting it ‘right’ / ‘perfect’ / ‘not fail’. In the new year, if there is one thing that I have as a fervent wish for you, me and the world around us, it is this : that we spend more working minutes in a state of ‘play’! A state of play that helps us connect dots and arrive at meaningful solutions to the challenges that face us. And have fun doing so.

Heres to a playful 2013 !

Distance Running and change !

I took to running sometime back. Long distance running. While it has helped keeping the health in check it has had numerous other ‘corollary’ benefits, if you will.

Time to reflect and think would go up ahead in the list for me. Bereft of the mobile phone and any other form of ‘interference’, it offers you time and space to think. To jostle with an idea while the foot pounds the pavement.

While running today, I asked myself if there were any similarities between long distance running and leading change in large organisations. By the time we finished the run, I had enough thoughts that I deemed fit to fit a post !

The Czech runner Emil Zatoptek said it like no one else did, about marathon running.

“We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon”

Marathon running is a different sport altogether. It requires patience, perseverance, persistence, loads of luck. Not to mention pretty hard nosed training and diet !

Well, driving change in organisations is no different. What works for running works for change leaders as well. Here are the top five that I juggled with today as I ran the 26 kilometers!

1. The inherent need for patience

Perhaps a basic ingredient for any long distance course is patience. Long distances don’t get over in a jiffy. It takes a long while. To be able to spot the bends in the road and to see that they are not the ‘end of the road’ makes a huge difference. To stay aligned to the course over long durations of time, despite changes outside requires patience !
No different for change leaders. For change happens, if at all in such small installments that sticking in there for a long period of time is de rigueur.

Long distance running is not about a burst of energy. It is sustained energy. It is three quarters in the mind. The course of the road changes often. The climate changes. And the body reacts to these changes in a positive or negative way.
An established runner quipped on a day when nothing was working out for me for well over half of the race “When everything is going wrong, be patient. When everything is going right, be patient.”

Patience is perhaps the biggest ingredient of change initiatives in organisations. Effective leaders know this and drive change at a pace that will sustain the organisation and yet be patient for changes to take root.

2. Rhythm :

I have seen runners who have the best strides. Some who look majestic. Yet other who run with a purpose. A few who really run at great speed. It has been tempting to align with these people. And think that it would rub off on you. But the real runners who have helped me complete a course are those that share a similar rhythm as mine. Who go ‘toe to toe’, in a way !

Change leaders achieve great results when aligning themselves with the rhythm of the organisation, the requirement and strike a balance.

Change leaders finding the right allies with a rhythm that matches theirs or which is something that they can adapt to, is critical.

3. Different Paces for Different Races

Every race is different. Every course is different. Therefore every race is run differently. The basic preparation may remain the same. The course is Mumbai is quite different from say the course in Amsterdam. One has dry, humid weather and a few inclines with massive crowd support with fantastic . The other has very pleasant weather, flat terrain with little help from people! Pacing, racing and acing these races are as different, as jiggery and energy gel !

Every change initiative is different. Sometimes, even within an organisation, different functions take to leading and understanding change very differently. To be alive to each step makes a huge difference to the running and to driving change. Every race requires a strategy of sorts. So does every change initiative!

4. See as far as your eye can see

The course of a full marathon is 42 kilometers. Or 26 miles. There is no change in that. I once was struggling at the 34th kilometer when a fellow runner, ran past me, asking me not to think of the finish line, but to just think of the distance ‘that the eye can see’. That idea stuck. And worked too.

For once you reach the distance that your saw, the eye is seeing and setting a new target of sorts. While thinking of how it would be to finish the race etc would indeed be good, it sometimes can get daunting.

It cant be very different to a change program for change happens in small installments  To break down large targets into small operational target which keeps getting modified and updated on the go, with the large target in mind is central to a change program.

5. The merit in metrics

Metrics help. It helps to know analyse and change. There are a slew of watches and apps on mobile phones can give you with multi colour graphics the exact spot where you sweated two droplets extra and where your heart beat was one hundredth of half a beat away from your normal beat cycle.

Personally these haven’t held my fancy. There is a merit in the metrics. But the race is to be run and the journey to be enjoyed. You know when you have indeed run a good race is when you run with rhythm, poise and finish strong irrespective of the constraints.

Change metrics in organisations can be fuzzy while being useful. Change metrics are useful. But the metrics are not the target. Real change is!

While having a perspective on the metrics (and reports and all that), good change practitioners know that metrics is just another means to tell them the health of the change process. Not an end in itself.

Change happens. Over time. So does a long run!

Waking up yet again !

This blog & its readers have been pretty close to my heart. High up there, on the ‘important aspects of life’ hierarchy. Like all such aspects that are truly important to life like ‘love’, ‘family time’, ‘personal health’ etc, this blog too has silently suffered the insufficient attention (of even the incoherent writing). But as is with everything else that’s part of this ‘A list’, the situation is alterable!

Change !!

These have been busy times. Seeing some deep discussions, decisions and mind occupying stuff. So much so, that blog posts on ‘Teachers Day’, ‘Anniversary’, ‘modern day Bangalore’ and many such, havent had movement beyond two gloriously vapid paragraphs. Such ferociously loquacious attempts have since been consigned to the safe confines of the trash box with an flourish that begs many an award.

Hmm.. inbetween the last post on the Anna Hazare and this one, a few things have changed. While Anna Hazare himself has broken his fast, friends have moved on from having his picture as their profile picture on facebook. Those are besides the point.

What is well within the point, is the fact that my computer monitor screen has been flickering away to oblivion. Singalling the end of many years of dedicated service as pointless blogposts and passionate indulgences ( in photography, reading etc…what were you thinking ? ) were satiated through the net!

In other news, there was some travel. Noticing the pranky nephew and his brand new pranks were hugely satisfying. There were regular business meetings and other interactions that brought me face to face with interesting sets of people and a diversity of perspectives that can be mildly put as ‘abundant’. Which brought me to marvel at the spectrum of God’s creation all the way through. Oh yes, there is a spectrum out there. Let me stop going any further down this road.

Work has been heady and hectic. Had to state that. Just in case there are folks from work read this page. Really. Its been. Ok ?

So today, when the feet kicked out the slumber and emerged from the sheets, there was a resolve to restart all that ‘truly mattered’. With a promise to myself to drum up an explanatory post. That’s this post people.

Thank you for all your love. And just in case you are asking, ‘so whats new ?’… well, people look at the header and the ‘up in the cloud’ addition.

Change they say, generally begins in the head.

On this blog, its gone as far as the ‘header’ and not beyond ! 🙂

Egg Yoke ! a.k.a Pedal Power – Part -II

Its peak traffic. Buses hoot. And supply some free soot. Cars compete with each other, with a buzz about them, that it seems that they are girding their loins for the Nano. The policeman swears. This time, cursing the sun. The signal stays red. 

From the confines of his car, he sees a tower go by, on a bicycle. 

A tower of eggs ! Balanced neatly by a middle aged man, with rolled up trousers and a run down bicycle. He too awaits the signal to turn green. The signal stays red. The sun beats down. 

From his car, he looks intently at the big tower of eggs on the pillion. Each egg seems well ensconced. Smug. And unaware of whats coming its way. Perhaps the eggs were enjoying the sights. And of course, all sights are different, when there is elevation ! 

“Mass produced eggs”, he says aloud, to himself. The still air in the company devoid car soaks up what he speaks. “Eggs that are shorn of love but rich in protein and cholesterol and such else ! Eggs that are produced for the sole purpose of consumption ! Eggs that would disintegrate into an unrecognisable form upon being dropped or broken open !” 

Today, those fragile eggs seemed to sit pretty in the security of the pillion, the balance and the sun !  The sun continued to beat down. The signal stays red. 

In the blurr of the heat, he continues to stare into the Egg Tower. And suddenly, he sees his apartment complex in that egg tower !  And he smiles. Yes, he says. 

All eggs. All proper eggs ! 

The B-School type, the diamond trader type, the ex-army types, the corporate type. And all their families.  He sighs. He recalls watching children swear at the security gaurd, in front of their parents.  And ofcourse, he turns away, when a corporate type throws garbage in the alleyway. He stood perplexed when he caught his neighbour steeling his morning newspaper. 

Proper eggs.  He thinks.  He rewinds. And replays.  

Mass produced eggs. Eggs that are shorn of love but rich in protein and cholesterol and such else ! Eggs that are produced for the sole purpose of consumption ! Eggs that would disintegrate into an unrecognisable form upon being dropped or broken open ! The sun continues to beat down. 

And then, the signal turns green. That tower of eggs makes progress and moves away. 

‘Proper Eggs’, he says again.  This time, he includes himself.  

He looks in the rear view mirror and purses his lips as his alter ego tells him, that his yoke is his silence. It makes him culpable. He thinks so.   

In some time he hits a clear stretch and accelerates. That egg tower on the pillion is gone. But his yoke tower seems to stay with him. With a felt presence. Clear stretch or otherwise. 

Stomach Vision !

Metaphors occupy my thoughts these days. Its almost becoming an obsession. Looking at any object and thinking up a connection is having a soothing impact. (Well, in the silence of my own self, affording a laugh at best and a smirk at worst ! )

Strange things are happening to the world you see and there are first steps to everything. My approaching delirium included. ( Read more about delirium here. Incase any of you wants to check…No. Not a self check. Of course not..! Someone you know…!)

Anyway, in this current state of mind, I looked at this picture and recall a Bangalore evening. And methinks of sharing my thought & checking out my delirium quotient !!

Just outside the Cosmopolitan Mall in Bangalore, they had this giant ‘puppet’ that walked the entrances when we were there, a couple of years back. I am told that they did this to sustain interest from shoppers and increase foot falls !

Entertaining children and therefore relieving parents! The young impressionable minds saw this ‘larger than life’ colorful & powerful object that moved around and resembled a human form, with, to put it mildly, a certain degree of large awe and some joy.

So, they clapped aloud. Smiled. Laughed aloud. And kept standing wide eyed at the sight of this large wooden lady that went from one end to another.

Some children ventured near ‘her’ and ‘she’ would come close or go farther away, and children obviously would go ga-ga, that this huge figure was after all responding to them and their moves !

It was an interesting exchange of sorts! Between children of all hue and the puppet.

Parents stood by the side. Fully aware that the puppet was moved around by a small man with stilt legs standing inside ! Moved around, powered by the eyes in the tummy

Yes..those peep holes in the tummy of the puppet which were the see-holes through which the small man inside was using to move around with.

Seeing the world & those children. Their laughter and their moves et al. And making his moves, while we stood there and let the children have all the fun !!

So there was a

a. Wooden but very colourful structure
b. Seemed larger than life
c. Was actually a small, ordinary person inside
d. Attracted and plays with / to impressionable minds
e. Had stomach vision..( saw all activities through an eye in the stomach…)

Without a tilt of a head or a shake of a finger i shout : politicians of the world !!

But as i said, i concede, mine is a mind that is beginning to indicate onset of progressive delirium. At least that’s what i make of the look people give me these days. So, do let me know, how close or how far away i am.

From delirium that is !

Yes We Can !

So, a new history is being made out there. And a new history is being created for the world ! I have watched in great awe as the US Presidential election unfolded. And what a magnificient canvas it provided ! This blog has stayed away from politics. Well, atleast, has attempted to. But this post is not about policies or politics. This is about the what resides within us : human beings.

I for one, cant fathom what runs in the veins of an ordinary man, causing him to raise so meteorically. Combating a stiff headwind. One after the other. In the name of race, religion, powerful people et al. And to be a complete rookie, yet ooze confidence that befits a seasoned veteren, and most important : pull it off !! Thats a tall order.

So it is, a tall order. To be 72 years old. And take to the rigours of campaigning. Day in and day out. With a vigour that is eclipsed only by the power of a campaign that can be described as some kind of a mass movement ! A campaign who knew that the cake was baked much before it was ordered and yet kept the battle on, right till the last curve. Thats a tremendously tall order too.

As much as i winced at the acerbity of the contest, today I marvel at the grace of the acceptance of the victory. So too, the elegance of conceding the defeat. As much as i am sure of machinations that would work at a furious pace beneath the surface, what i see, moves me. Beyond a point.

Colour. Caste. Creed. Age. Resources. Education. History. Family background. Etc. Etc. Two men, as different as chalk and cheese on each of the above, just seemed to believe ‘all things were equal’ ! And carried it to the finish line.

Personally, that sets a new contour. A new context. That indeed it is possible to climb mountains. And scale them, even when there is a strong headwind. What perhaps is more important is a steady clinical resolve to keep going !!

Only one made it. But two men showed that it is possible to fight. To disagree. Yet accept, hold hands and move on. There have been very few moments in recent times that stood on the precipice of hope and possibility as this one. And suddenly it does seem we as a race will make it.

The networks dont call before its over. But i am no network. Suddenly, ‘Yes We Can’ seems to take a new meaning.

Ordiarily Extra-Ordinary !

When the yoke of the world seems to weigh on a slouched shoulder, messages come from strange places. Showing how at other times, similar yokes have not only been carried well, but used to break walls that seemed insurmountable just a few moments ago.

Picture from New York Times
News about Rosa Parks’ death took a long meandering road into history. But this was quite profound ! I cant fathom an ordinary lady taking on an establishment and its established set of rules at that time. Read the story here

Nor will i ever be able to understand what it takes to stand as one man, in front of a looming tank. Not one, but a series of them. To take on a notorious regime and its large army, for whom subjugation was as mainstream as growing paddy by the river side. I will never be able to completely understand what went on in the mind of that gent, as stood, eyeball staring into a tank’s barrel !

I would like to imagine that such acts of courage are common place. Although, lost in the melee for survival. Perhaps lost in the whorls of a media and society interested more in the rabid rants of demented minds that go by the common name of ‘politician’.

But it is these nameless faceless people amidst us, who keep the world spinning. Who give us hope. That we will ultimately survive. And keep our heads above water. And perhaps someday, wade out of the swamp we are in.

One ordinary man inspired a divided nation to take on an established empire. One ordinary woman inspired a community to rise up against the injustice meted out to them. One ordinary man brought up children who went on to impact society, despite having humble beginnings as a lowly worker ! One ordinary woman touched lepers when they were regarded as completely untouchable.

And somewhere in that ‘ordinary’ness was an extra-ordinary spirit. A spirit that did not accept status quo for what it was worth. A spirit that just took on. And took off. And a spirit which stayed simple and ordinary.

The next time you see an ordinary man, guiding traffic when the errant traffic cop is invisible, or when a ordinary woman stand up to a lewd gesturing boss or when a conscious citizen takes on a demented divisive politician, look no further. At that moment there is a tale in courage and hope unraveling.

It is these moments and such people, that provide renewal to life and living. A bright torch shines into in a looming blanket of darkness.

A feeling that all is not lost yet pervades. I would like to believe so. After all, we are all ordinary, in our own ways.