Sunday 12 June 2016

Joining my first #WOL Circle and reflections on week one

Digital Identities 

The use of smart technology (aka mobile phones, tablets and laptops) has gone from being esoteric and newfangled to ubiquitous and everyday. So many of us now use these devices on a daily basis to access, create and interact with information. Social media has enabled users to become the producers, and through these social spaces widen the connections we have, eliminating what may previously have been geographical barriers. Interactions can be real-time or as and when. We each get to choose who we connect with and when we want to interact.

So what does this have to do with 'working out loud'? Well a few weeks ago I gave a guest talk on Shareology and Social Media at the University of Sussex. Essentially the focus of the talk was about the value of sharing and the networks we can develop by doing so. The talk was being live tweeted and live streamed via periscope.

Within this talk I made reference to John Stepper's book Working out Loud 
John describes this concept as follows:
“Working Out Loud starts with 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.” 
During the event as participants tweeted aspects of my talk, some of these tweets were picked up by John Stepper (yes the author) and Helen Crump. Having online identities through the use of social media enabled these connections. As Isabel points out in her tweet above "Working Out Loud helps us to find our voice". Clearly both John and Helen as I later discovered had an interest in the conversations relating to 'working out loud' and I later engaged with their comments. 

However what happened next was totally unpredictable. These tweets continued and led to two fascinating conversations about working out loud (WOL). The first with John started with direct messages on Twitter and then a conference call where we talked passionately about networking, digital identity and open learning and reflection for more than an hour. Never in a month of Sundays had I anticipated the generosity of John to organise a call from New York with me in Sheffield. The second conversation with Helen (who I have met once some years ago at a conference in Plymouth) again started with tweets and was followed by a great Skype chat where we shared our common interests in open and social learning, and the concept of working out loud. As luck would have it Helen had just started a WOL circle and invited me to join this. More about this in a moment.

Making a new commitment

For some years now I have benefited from developing online networks. Some of these networks overlap, others don't; some are temporal and others ongoing; some are discipline/topic related, and others have come about through perhaps a little luck and serendipity. Within these networks I have developed a rich set of connections and expanded what is referred to by many as 'personal learning networks'. Some of these blossom into ongoing learning communities. On reading 'Working Out Loud' I could see the connection between these learning networks and the potential of working out loud circles. Becoming part of a circle I discovered was a 12 week commitment. Was I ready to make such a commitment?

Now I will be honest I had a conversation with myself and one voice was asking, can you fit another something into what is already a busy life overflowing with projects? However another voice was saying follow your instinct - this is a commitment that is for me, an opportunity to choose a personal goal and through a WOL circle the potential to be encouraged to fulfill this over 12 weeks and hopefully a chance to help others to do so too. 

I made the decision to commit, although it wasn't initially straight forward. Emails went back and forth and as one person dropped out, another joined our little fledgling group. It took a few weeks before we could get together online but we now have a wonderful circle of four that includes Helen, Robyn, Hala and myself and have successfully held our first meeting via Skype. 

What’s a Working Out Loud circle? 

To explain this a bit further a WOL circle is described as a peer support group of 4-5 people, one that helps you make progress towards a goal by building relationships related to that goal. Groups meet for an hour a week for 12 weeks. By the end, you’ll have developed a larger, more diverse network, as well as habits and a mindset you can apply towards any goal. 

Essentially we each have three questions to personally consider:
  1. What am I trying to do?
  2. Who is related to my goal?
  3. How can I contribute to them to deepen our relationships?
This initially sounds very deep and it took quite a while of soul searching to come up with a meaningful goal.

Week 1: Choose a simple goal and list people related to it   

For our first meeting we spent much of the time introducing ourselves and teasing out our thoughts on a personal goal as well as our motivations for joining the circle.  Our task for the first week following our online meeting was to firm up our goal and then begin a list of about 10 people or organisations that might help with this. One suggestion is to create a relationship list on Twitter. This resonated with me as I have a rich collection of Twitter lists and have found these to be a valuable way to group connections who have specific shared interests. 

The hour online flew by and I enjoyed it immensely. As an avid user of social media, where much of this is text based, it is good to be reminded of how easy and rewarding an online conversation can be when you use tools like Skype or Google Hangouts. For me this is the next best thing to having a face to face conversation. 

So where will this lead me? John Stepper talks about the 5 elements of working out loud in his book and these are: 
  • purposeful discovery
  • relationships
  • generosity
  • visible work
  • a growth mindset
I can already envisage that having chosen a goal, the sense of belongingness within this group, even at this early stage, will encourage me to seek out information and this will result in purposeful discovery. As we get to know each other better our circle relationships will develop and potentially the connections we seek to make in relation to our personal goals will too. The generosity within the group is already evident and through sharing our experiences as we make sense of this new journey I anticipate we will all grow as individuals. My plan is to blog my experience as I go along, for myself really but in the spirit of working out loud I will share my personal journey and discoveries along the way.    

To add, there are many working out loud circles going on across the globe! To find out more you can search for other conversations on Twitter via the hashtag #WOL or the stories shared on the Working Out Loud website