Working Out Loud: Week 10, The Instinct of Protection vs. The Virtue of Generosity

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The Working Out Loud (WOL) Circle Guide for Week 10 is titled “Become More Systematic.” As everyone in our group works to make new habits, this week provides a valuable opportunity to run through a check list of things we can be doing to strengthen our relationships and deepen our networks. In other words, we are checking in with our WOL systems.

  1. Connect with someone online.
  2. Show appreciation by clicking a Like button, or sharing a public thank you.
  3. Share something you’ve learned that can help others.
  4. “Connect the dots” by spreading something of value through @mentions or direct shares.
  5. Ask a question.
  6. Answer a question.
  7. Offer feedback.
  8. Reflect on your experiences.
  9. Offer original ideas.
  10. Connect a purposeful group.

We spent time talking about gratitude, and recognized that sharing words of gratitude with anyone is so powerful, yet so many of us are hesitant to say “Thank You” in any kind of public way. Why is that?

Ironically, many people on our staff regularly communicate using Yammer, and when making a post in Yammer, all users have the option to make a post as “Praise” rather than just as a regular update. Those posts automatically send the person being praised an email notification, and we can pick fun, wacky icons to go along with our words of thanks and recognition. Whether we choose a thumbs up, a gold star or a bag of money, there are many ways to praise a colleague in a fun, meaningful way.

Sadly, very few of our colleagues ever use the “Praise” functionality. Sharing a public thank you can be challenging because when we are public with our appreciation, we are concerned that for that moment in time, we are unprotected.

We are unprotected because through our praise, we have shared the fact that we needed help. Or there was something we didn’t know. Or that someone else is better at doing something than we are. Or maybe we think we are the ones who should be getting the praise, not the other person. We are sometimes afraid that something valuable has been lost when we help a colleague to look good through a public “thank you.”

If we don’t praise anyone at all, our armor stays firmly in place. Nobody ever needs to know there is something we didn’t know. No one needs to know that from time to time we need help, and we can always keep to ourselves the fact that there may be someone else who is also good at doing things. If we never share anything, we are sure to always be protected.

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However, the result of our self-protection efforts is that we are living in a thick suit of armor. We can’t see, we can’t breathe, and we can’t move. We definitely can’t grow.

When we show praise…when we are transparent and generous with that which we don’t know, that for which we are thankful, and those for whom we are appreciative, people are given the opportunity to connect with us in valuable tangible and intangible ways.

When you give the gift of praise and thanks to a deserving colleague, you will absolutely be making someone’s day. You will be setting a valuable example to your colleagues by showing positive, public vulnerability and appreciation. You will have the opportunity to surface important issues such as weaknesses in systems that may have been identified and resolved, customer service success stories that can be learned from, or ways that one colleague was able to help and support another colleague. As a result, your organization be more effective because people are being more transparent and more collaborative.

We all have the instinct of self-preservation and protection. But when we step out of our armor and share genuine praise, thanks and appreciation, everyone benefits.

On to Week 11!

One Perfect Song: Here Comes the Sun

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“Here Comes the Sun”
Written by George Harrison
Recorded by The Beatles
Released September 26, 1969

It’s a gray, rainy day today in Chicago. But, it is warmer today than it was yesterday, and I hope it is colder today than it will be tomorrow. The promise of spring is here, and I am thinking about “Here Comes the Sun.”

“Here Comes the Sun” is a sonic, joyous masterpiece. It has a sound that is at once sweet, inviting and optimistic. Spring is here. It is warmer outside. “That ice is slowly melting.” We are immediately part of this song because we connect to the promise of springtime, and the excitement it brings.

Paul McCartney and John Lennon were always the primary songwriters in The Beatles, but George was always given one or two slots on most of their albums. “I Need You” and “You Like Me Too Much” on Help! “Think for Yourself” and “If I Needed Someone” on Rubber Soul. These are some of the finest songs in the history of rock and roll music, but when they are on an album next to songs like “You’re Going to Lose That Girl” by John Lennon or “I’ve Just Seen a Face” by Paul McCartney, they are invariably going to suffer in comparison.

georgeharrison03However, Abbey Road would signal an arrival, of sorts, for Harrison. “Something” on the first side of the album, and “Here Comes The Sun” on the second side. If these were the only two songs George Harrison ever wrote and recorded, he would widely be considered one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. Frank Sinatra once famously said that “”Something” is the greatest love song of the last 50 years.” Soon, The Beatles would break up and George Harrison would release All Things Must Pass, an amazing triple album filled with classics he had been writing through the years.

Abbey Road is the last album that The Beatles recorded together, even though Let It Be was released approximately eight months later. The recording and collaboration process of Abbey Road during the spring of 1969 was particularly difficult for all members of the band. On the verge of breaking up, tensions were high in the studio, drug use was rampant, and the band was quickly falling apart. Harrison needed an escape from the negative studio atmosphere, and he found refuge at Eric Clapton’s estate. Sitting in the garden on an April afternoon after a particularly cold February and March, Harrison wrote “Here Comes The Sun” as way to welcome springtime, and to share his relief at being able to get away, if only from a little while, from the band that had become the source of so much pain, and artistic limitation.

“Here Comes The Sun” is one of those songs you have probably heard hundreds of times, so much so that when the song is on, it becomes nothing more than pleasant background noise. But find a moment…put on a pair of headphones. Really listen to this song.

Listen.

It starts with an achingly sweet melody played on an acoustic guitar (capo, 7th fret), a Moog synthesizer comes in, in harmony with the guitar, and everything is gently slowed to a pause George begins to sings the chorus to open the song.

“Here comes the sun, doot n’ do do
Here comes the sun, and I say
It’s all right”

George is joined by Ringo’s snappy snare drum and a lush string section as we are brought into the first verse.

“Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It’s all right.”

Who of us can’t identify?!?! The tempo picks up, driven by Paul’s impeccably fluid bass, and we feel relief. We feel peace. We feel the joy and the warmth of the sun hitting our face in the garden. Instruments continued to get layered upon another, and the celebration continues. The song ends with the simple, repetitive line “Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.” This song has become part of who we are, and a part of the way so many of us welcome the warmer days of springtime.

It’s funny to think, but before the Abbey Road album was released in 1969, the world had not yet heard “Here Comes the Sun.” Before 1969, springtime brought no such universally recognized anthem. Before 1969, anyone humming “doot ‘n do do” would be singing alone. For over 5,000 years of recorded history, nobody had ever experienced the delight of unexpectedly hearing the song played on the radio on a beautiful April afternoon. Can you imagine not knowing “Here Comes the Sun?”

“Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It’s all right.”

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It’s all right.

Strategy, Impact and Empathy: 3 Keys to Yammer Success.

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Organizations launch Yammer networks with big dreams, high hopes and lofty expectations. Yammer will put constituents within easy reach. An audience will be created. Connections will be made in ways that will make messages easy to share. Economies of scale will be achieved. Our mission will move forward, and our organization will become stronger.

However, once the Yammer network has been launched, organizations too often make posts on Yammer only as an afterthought. Yammer is not seen as a way to engage an audience as much as a way to push information out. We have become so accustomed to sharing information “at” people, we routinely ignore the opportunity Yammer provides to have conversations “with” people. Content for email and websites is usually carefully planned. And then, only as time and opportunity allows, posts that echo that content are also made on Yammer.

But don’t sell Yammer short, and don’t minimize its potential impact. When Yammer is used as a way to engage, organizations can have conversations with their audience that deepen and strengthen its mission and message. When Yammer is used as a way to share resources, it becomes the beginning of a conversation, rather than the end of a creation cycle.

With just a little planning and preparation, Yammer can easily become an incredibly effective part of your overall communications efforts when you remember to post with strategy, intent and empathy.

  1. Letter SPost with STRATEGY: How is Yammer part of the overall communications strategy? How is the information you have to share crafted for your website, as opposed to email, as opposed to your Yammer network? While email is a suitable platform to make people aware of information, it is not a suitable platform to engage people with that information. Bring them to Yammer because you want to hear from people, you want surface reactions to what is being shared, and you want people to discuss your information amongst themselves.
  2. searchPost with INTENT: If information is shared on Yammer as only a means to mark off a procedural checkbox so we can say that yes…information has been shared on all available platforms, a valuable opportunity will be missed. We carefully craft messages for our websites. That message is then changed for our email. Make one more change, and craft the message for Yammer in a way that will encourage replies, questions and further sharing. The nature of each of these platforms is different and powerful, as is the way information is best shared on those platforms.
  3. Letter EPost with EMPATHY: When creating messages and sharing information on Yammer, do so with empathy. Imagine you are a member of your community. You are a leader. You are busy. You want to connect with the information being shared, but you don’t have time to click, search and find. You just want to find the information you need, you need to make immediate sense of the information, and then you need to move on. How can you post that information in such a way that your post will be easy to find, easy to understand and easy to share? Empathy is the key.

The success of any information being shared, on any platform, will be directly reflective of the level of strategy, intent and empathy invested in that effort. Don’t make use Yammer as an afterthought. Use the unique nature of the platform to engage your audience, to inspire them to action, and to provide opportunities for meaningful engagement.

Yammer and Working Out Loud: A Mobius Strip of Mission and Functionality

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It was probably during a Junior High School algebra class I first learned about the Mobius strip concept, a surface with one side and no boundry. A Mobius strip can easily be created by connecting both ends of a strip of paper together, after giving it a half turn twist. The effect is an object that before had two sides, now has one. An object that before had an end and a beginning, is now endless and eternal.

Through my management of a Yammer network, I came across the concept of Working Out Loud. A Yammer network enables us to bring our work beyond just ourselves, and connect others in our network to our ideas, our challenges and our successes. Additionally, we can now become connected to the work of others by reviewing groups in our Yammer network, and be more informed on what is happening in different teams throughout our organizations.

41I09QksHALWorking Out Loud is a wonderful book by John Stepper that teaches “instead of networking to get something, you lead with generosity. You make your work visible and frame it as a contribution.” In many ways, Yammer and Working Out Loud compliment one another, and I hoped that if I could bring Working Out Loud to my organization, my colleagues would learn new skills, and I would see more adoption of our Yammer network.We brought Working Out Loud circles (a practical application of what is taught in the book) to our organization.

I was thrilled when our Social Media Manager joined the second Working Out Loud circle. I hoped she would find ways to incorporate the teachings of Working Out Loud in her work, and I also hoped that she would become more involved in our Yammer network.

A Working Out Loud circle lasts for 12 weeks, and our circle members use a private Yammer group to stay in touch between meetings and to share files and links. I knew I would not see results immediately…I was in the this for the long haul. Imagine my delight when, during our 3rd week meeting, our Social Media Manager said “I think I finally ‘get’ Yammer. I like it!” She is posting comments in our group, replying to posts and sharing files.

The functionality of Yammer supports and empowers our employees in executing the mission of our organization. Because of Yammer, we bring Working Out Loud to our organization, which provides our employees with new tools and skills…new functionalities, in doing their work.

I don’t think, in the case of our Social Media Manager, that Yammer would have necessarily been adopted without Working Out Loud. And yet, we would not have brought Working Out Loud to our employees had we not first used Yammer. Ideally, more of our staff who experience Working Out Loud will bring more of their work to our Yammer network, which will in turn encourage more people to participate in Working Out Loud.

Just like the Mobius strip, there is no end.

Working Out Loud: Week 9

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I play the guitar. I like to play the guitar. I’ve been playing the guitar for a little over 10 years now. I’m not very good, but I like playing. 12744335_10153917431997902_20172829185019112_n

When I first began to play the guitar, I did not think I would be an expert on day one, but I wanted to learn how to play, so I stuck with it. I knew it would take time. After 10 years, I know lots of basic chords, I can play some barre chords, and I have fun playing music with other people.

In Week 9 of Working Out Loud, we learn about making contributions in a variety different ways, such as blogging. A key aspect of Working Out Loud is “leading with generosity.” What do we have that we can share? How can we be generous with what we know? How can our knowledge serve others, and be the basis of rewarding, ongoing relationships.

We can tweet useful facts and links to articles. We can email attachments to people we respect, and hope that they will have the time and inclination to open our emails. We can blog. Blogging is a wonderful way to share what you know, and an effective way to be transparent and generous. But, as John Stepper points out in Working Out Loud, while it is a very accessible platform, blogging is not very easy. In fact, just like the guitar, or cooking, or public speaking, most people won’t be very good at blogging when they first try. Mr. Stepper writes “I wrote hundreds of blog posts before I was able to write this book.”

Reading Working Out Loud provided me with the inspiration to try blogging. I accepted the fact that, in order to become good at blogging, I had to develop the habit to write often. Only if I wrote often would I become good. I started my blog on September 1, 2016, and made it clear that I did not know what I was doing. In fact I wrote “I don’t really know how to do this. I don’t know who will be reading my ramblings and musings. I am not even sure what I will be writing about.”

I published the blog. I linked to it from Facebook and Twitter. Zero views. I wrote again, and again, and again. My blog about the day I met Mavis Staples got 10 views. My blog about a very public complaint that was made about my work got 76 views, and the blog I wrote about my experience at the 2016 Microsoft Ignite Conference got over 160 views.

Though I have become somewhat addicted to studying the statistics of my blog, I resolved early on to write only for myself. I love it when people actually read what I write, when people accept my generosity. As I blog more and more, I hope I will become a better writer.

So be generous. Write if you like to write. Write about things that make you happy, things that you care about. Even if no one reads your blog (PLEASE…READ MY BLOG!!!!) it will be worthwhile.

Just as with any other creative or professional discipline, whether  you are writing, coding, leading or playing the guitar…the more you practice, the better you will be. Be good.

One Perfect Song: Tears of a Clown

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“Tears of a Clown”
Written by Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Hank Cosby
Recorded by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles
Released 1967

“Smokey Robinson is America’s greatest living poet.”

Though this quote has been attributed to Bob Dylan, it has never been confirmed that our modern day Bard actually uttered these exact words. It may have been him, it may have been his manager, or it may have just been a creative journalist with a wild imagination. But whether these words actually came from Bob Dylan or not is ultimately irrelevant. The quote is compelling. Whoever said it has a good point.

“So take a good look at my face
You’ll see my smile looks out of place
If you look closer, it’s easy to trace
The tracks of my tears”

Tracks of My Tears, 1965

“Try to get yourself a bargain son
Don’t be sold on the very first one
Pretty girls come a dime a dozen
Try to find one who’s gonna give you true lovin'”
Shop Around, 1960

“I don’t like you, but I love you,
Seems that I’m always thinking of you.
Oh, oh, oh, you treat me badly,
I love you madly, you really got a hold on me.”
You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me, 1962**

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles was one of the first acts to sign to the Motown label, and in addition to leading the Miracles, Robinson wrote and produced hits for other artists, and eventually became a label executive. His name was attached to dozens of the greatest songs in the history of rock and roll, either as a performer or writer, and he continues to perform to this day.

“Tears of A Clown” was first included on the 1967 album Make it Happen, but was not released as a single until 1970. Thematically, this song breaks no new ground. The character in the song may look happy, but since breaking up with his girlfriend, he is very sad. That is the whole song. If Smokey Robinson tried to sell this song in a pitch meeting, no doubt it would be rejected immediately.

But “Tears of a Clown” is a monster.

Orchestrated to sound like it is being heard outside the big tent of a circus, it prominently features both a penny whistle and bassoon. Two instruments not normally heard in rock and soul hits of the 1960’s. It starts at full throttle, and goes full speed for a powerful 2:39. It never slows, it never falters.

“Now if there’s a smile on my face, it’s only there trying to fool the public.
But when it comes down to fooling you, now honey that’s quite a different subject.
But don’t let my glad expression, give you the wrong impression.
Really I’m sad, sadder than sad.”
It is as if he is wearing clown make up, with a crudely drawn smile. To the outside world, he is happy and carefree, but inside, he mourns his lost love.
“But don’t let my glad expression, give you the wrong impression
Really I’m sad, oh I’m sadder than sad
You’re gone and I’m hurting so bad
Like a clown I appear to be glad (sad, sad, sad, sad)
Now they’re some sad things known to man
But ain’t too much sadder than, the tears of a clown.”
The happy music continues to play, in sharp contrast to the tragic story. The bassoon is thumping deep underneath the happy whine of the penny whistle. The Funk Brothers rhythm section, featuring the legendary James Jamerson on bass, continues to move forward at a breakneck speed.
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The cadence and rhyme of every line, every word is perfect. The smile on my face should not convince that I am happy. “I’m sadder than sad. I’m hurting so bad.” This song is a tragedy only a clown could identify with. In the brilliant bridge, he explains himself, with a reference to one of the great tragic clowns.
“Just like Pagliacci did, I try to keep my sadness hid.
Smiling in the crowd I try, but in my lonely room I cry,
The tears of a clown.”
There is never a moment in the song we don’t believe the pain and unhappiness. Smokey’s performance is passionate and breathless. This song becomes the template for every rock and roll circus song that followed. Whether Bruce Springsteen is singing ‘Wild Billy’s Circus Story,” the Talking Heads are tempting fate with the “Democratic Circus,”or The Band is celebrating with “Life is a Carnival,” nobody comes close to the mood and desperation of Smokey Robins. Okay…maybe Springsteen comes close.
Smokey Robinson triumphs over pain and sadness in this song. Like so many great works of art, his suffering results in great music. The last lines of the song can almost be read as a guide book to writing great lyrics.
“Don’t let my glad expression, give you the wrong impression
Don’t let this smile I wear, make you think that I don’t care
‘Cause really I’m sad.”
This is great rock and roll, and Smokey Robinson is truly one of our greatest poets.
**So many clips found on YouTube, especially of older acts, are live lip-synced performances from TV shows, or just show still images of the musician, or the song lyrics as the song plays. This clip of “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me” is refreshing, because it is an actual live performance. In this one short clip, the raw power of these singers is laid bare. Smokey loosens his tie and squirms and squeaks as the horns blare and the Miracles dance and sing behind him. Take a few moments to watch. Time well spent.

Working Out Loud: Week 8

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Week 8 of our Working Out Loud circle is largely based around the simple concept of empathy. I have been dealing with the concept of empathy more and more in my work, so it was especially meaningful to explore the concept in detail with my Working Out Loud circle colleagues.

When sharing resources in our Yammer network, I encourage users to post with empathy. I encourage users to imagine they are someone else looking for the piece of information they have to share. How can they make that piece of information easy to find? Where will it be stored? How will it be named?

Imagine a leader at Congregation Beth El has a membership policy they would like to share. Would it be easier to find if it was named “Beth El Membership Policy, 2017” or “BethElMemPOL.LGv.o2”?

Clearly, the second file name is a working title. The content of the file may be valuable, but a user may be less hesitant to click on the name, unclear as to what is in the file. However, the first file name is clear, easy to read, and easy for a user to determine its content. Before uploading the first file, the person sharing the information paused. They considered the needs of a person looking for this information. They wanted this information to be found, and used. They were exercising empathy.

In Working Out Loud this week, we took this concept of empathy and applied it to our efforts to connect with people, and grow our networks.
-Empathy over email. How can we word our emails so that the person we are trying to connect with will actually find the email subject interesting enough to open the email, and will find the email compelling enough that they will actually respond to the email?
-Empathy and introductions. How can we connect two people we know, and not have one person feel forced into a networking relationship they don’t want to be a part of?
-Empathy in sharing information. We all receive dozens, if not hundreds of emails every day, but I have a book recommendation I want to share with you. I really want you to read this book, I think you would  enjoy the book. Do I send you an email that simply says “Click on this link. I think you’ll like this book.”? Or do I say, “You have been doing so much great work with fundraising. I just came across this  book that provides lots of fresh ideas. I read it and immediately thought of you. Check it out!”

Working Out Loud encourages us to “lead with generosity.” When we network while focusing on what we have to share, what gifts we have to give (rather than what we might receive), we can grow our network much faster, and much more effectively. These lessons of empathy we learned this week serve to further the message of generosity.

Empathy is, in effect, a generosity of spirit. Though we are certainly focused on ourselves when we are networking, and focused on how we can grow and improve our career and life, those goals can be achieved by focusing on others. What do other people need? How will other people connect to information? What is of interest and concern to people in our network?

This week our Working Out  Loud group came to the difficult realization that we are 2/3 of our way through the process. So much has been gained, so much has been learned, so much has been enjoyed. I think these next 4 weeks will be particularly meaningful as we realize we will soon be on our own to continue these important practices and habits.