What is Specific. Why is General.

Many people define their career by what they do. Ask them to describe their experience and they will give you an account of years in a role in an industry. The answer will be a dry recitation of their curriculum vitae. Focusing on this list of what narrows their potential future opportunities. If we start looking to fit them to another similar role in the same industry we have narrowed the world of opportunity down significantly. Poor recruiters consider candidates against a role and industry checklist, but we all know that roles and time is a very narrow understanding of how people contribute to their organisation.

Change the question. Ask people why they enjoy their work and you will get a much richer answer. They will tell a story and their eyes light up. Perhaps the answer will be about the challenge, the learning and the problem solving.  Perhaps it will be about the ability to help others or to achieve a particular personal or strategic goal. Perhaps they enjoy their work because of others with whom they get to work.

That answer is much more powerful in helping an individual frame what opportunities are ahead. Focusing on the why increases the opportunities to contribute to that purpose beyond one role or one industry. Focusing on the why also makes it more likely that future opportunities deliver a sense of personal reward.

Roles and industries come and go. With accelerating change and disruption, we need to all be open to the adaptation that arises when you focus on why.


This International Working Out Loud Week we will be sharing a reflection on a different element of working out loud each day.  We will be using John Stepper’s latest iteration of the five elements of Working Out Loud as a guide to those reflections.

We start with Purpose. Purposefulness in working out loud helps unify all the other elements of working out loud: the mindfulness of networks, the visible sharing, the generosity and the growth mindset.


We work for a purpose. We work to have some impact on others. We work to make ourselves and our world a better place. That purpose should be at the heart of our working out loud too.

Working out loud should be directed to some end.  Working out loud cannot be a random broadcast of activity. We share our work visibly and narrate our work so that others can benefit, whether through a greater understanding of our work, through opportunities to collaborate or have input or through learning about the process we take when we work. Our purpose inspires us to use whatever practices will help us have greater effect.

Purpose should shape the networks and communities with whom we share our work. Our purpose reflects a desire to use our skills, networks and capabilities to help others.  With whom we work out loud should be shaped by these same people.  We should work out loud to benefit from and benefit those best placed to engage with our purpose.

Generosity is inherent in purpose. Purpose leads outside the building of our work, outside our own narrow concerns and encourages us to reflect on how our work can give to the world.  This generous mindset helps us assuage the common self-centred fears of sharing our work as it happens – fear of loss, fear of embarrassment and fear of unfairness.

Purpose also sustains us in our growth mindset.  There are obstacles in any work. There are many obstacles in adopting a practice of working out loud. There is also no one right universal way of working out loud that will suit every person, situation and purpose. We embrace all the practices and approaches that have been created to foster purposeful sharing of work because any practice may be of benefit to someone. There are many schools of working out loud.  People may be inspired by the ideas and practices of Bryce Williams, John Stepper, Jane Bozarth, Harold Jarche, Sahana Chattopadhyay, Helen Blunden, Dennis Pearce, Jonathan Anthony, Catherine Shinners, Ayelet Baron, Lesley Crook, Isabel De Clercq, Bert Vries,  Simon Terry and many more. Focusing on how we can learn together, how we can help each other to achieve more and how we can move beyond the setbacks is important to taking our work and this new practice to the world.

Purpose is the reason at the heart of our work, our life and our careers. As we seek to use working out loud ‘for a better life and career’ we must be guided by purpose in our practice.

International Working Out Loud Week runs from 6-12 June 2016.

The Sugar High

Life is full of potential sugar highs: your growing base of free users, unprofitable sales, improving your market share, an industry award, that amazingly emotional talk, the hilarious video, your first, hundredth and even millionth follower, an inspirational quote, laughs, status, money, attention and even power.

Sugar highs are best consumed as part of a balanced active & purposeful life. Sugar highs must be created responsibly. Without the rewards of helping others to fulfil their potential, sugar highs become a cycle of gorging and cravings in the hope of forestalling the inevitable crash. The long term measure of an experience is not just how it makes you feel now but also how it helps you to do the work that is your change in the world.

Competency vs Capability Mindset: The Organisation

Design your organisation for the potential of its people and their capabilities, not the limits of an expertise.

I recently noticed that Capability or Competency? Mindsets matter was the second most read post on this blog. Part of the appeal of that post is that it addresses a critical shift in mindset for those grappling with the new dynamics of the future of work. We stand facing an organisational version of the personal insight Marshall Goldsmith described succinctly as “What Got Me Here Won’t Get Me There”

Competency-led Organisations

The Core Competency concept introduced by Prahalad and Hamel refined a concept that had been strong in management for decades. It is undoubtedly true that organisations compete by being better, more competent, at something than their competitors. However the mindset of being more competent differs from a competency. This subtlety was often lost as core competency flowed into the mainstream of management thinking.

The focus on core competencies created a mindset that organisation gets to choose its competencies as part of a strategic planning process and should set targets for competencies to fulfil its strategy.  While Prahalad and Hamel spoke of the need for organisations to look forward to assess and build their competencies, much of the focus in organisations has been historical. The biggest outcome of the discussion of core competency has been a narrowing of organisational ambition and a focusing of activity on historical strengths. “That’s not our core competency” is more common than “We can leverage core competencies”.

Influenced by themes that go back to the beginning of scientific management, we have turned core competencies into rigid processes, standards and policies. We have judged these competencies by what sustained competitive advantage in past markets. We have spent less time on the changing customer perceptions of value and the ongoing dynamics of the future marketplace driven by new competitors. The list is long of disrupted organisations who felt safe because a new entrant lacked their core competencies. In many cases the infrastructure to reinforce and sustain these core competencies became a burden in their ability to adapt and survive. 

Capability-led Organisations

The Big Learning mindset that pervades the future of work highlights that competitive advantage in the next century is based on the ability to build the capabilities required to compete in an environment of uncertainty. Rather than specifying a fixed goal of competency, we seek to build an open capability to fulfil our strategic intent and our customers’ needs as they arise.

Adapting organisations to foster autonomy, learning and change is what enables people to build the practical capabilities necessary to learn, grow and execute. The process you inherit is less important than the customer insight you gain in working to meet your customer needs. Prahalad and Hamel reinforced that in Competing for the Future their update of the core competencies discussion. The discussion on the need for organisations to build open capabilities that can help manage and drive adaptation.  These capabilities include openness to their networks and environment, collaboration, ability to learn, share and drive change. Critical too is the development of purpose as the new focus for organisational activity and the inherent rationale for groups of people to come together in work to benefit others.

Design for Capabilities

Responsive Organisations need to design for a capability-led response to a uncertain future. They need to develop core Big Learning practices like working out loud, personal knowledge management, adaptive leadership and experimentation. They need to design their organisations to allow individuals and the collective to focus on the realisation of purpose.

This organisational design will leverage networks, transparency, autonomy, experimentation and the inherent motivation of employees in ways that we have not yet seen. Developing a new competency in holocracy, agile, lean product development, design thinking, big data or any other single practice is not enough. An organisation must build the capability to continuously adapt to customer needs in a changing market.

Ultimately, it will also focus organisations more strongly on realising the potential of people, customers and other stakeholders. We need to design our organisations to build the capabilities that realise human potential. That can only help make work more human.

The Hustle

Want to do something meaningful? Meaningful is hard. It is going to take hustle.

Meaningful is Hard

There is no truer statement than “if it was easy, someone would have done it by now”. Making change that matters and doing purposeful work takes effort. The obstacles are real. They are the real work.  Do the work.  

The effort begins with understanding what impact you want to have. Then you have to understand how you can fulfil your purpose. Lastly you need to find people to work with and opportunities to tackle. Finally you get to find out whether you can make a living through working on your purpose. Some times purpose is a living but others times purpose turns out to be a hobby or a calling.

To make matters worse, you need to do all that work in the wrong order and in overlapping steps. In many cases the answers are unclear or contradictory. You do the work and you learn a little more about where you are going.  You keep doing the work and you learn even more. The work sustains you and provides momentum & networks that matter. 

The Hustle Required

There is far more hustle required than you expect. Here’s one example of the hustle required to persuade others: 2% of sales are closed in the first meeting. Yes, 98% of the pitches fail when every failed pitch feels like time to call it quits. 80% of sales are closed after more than 5 follow-up calls, when every empty call feels like time to move on. No wonder 44% of sales people give up after only one follow-up. The winners are those who hustle more and hustle longer. Remember these numbers come from enterprise sales, if your change is more unique or more unusual it could require even more hustle to find your market.  The winners in change stay in the game and they hustle.

The hustle is just working intensively on your purpose: making connections, building relationships, identifying problems and offering ways to solve them. You don’t need to use sharp practices. There are no shortcuts. They will only cut you in the end. You need to do more than “build it” and “turn up”. You need to get out into the market and challenge people to listen to your pitch. 

Hustle. Work your purpose hard. Remember to take the odd break to reflect and reset yourself for the next burst of hustle. If you work it continuously, the hustle will become the Grind.

Your Purpose in a Network

“All the value that we create is delivered for others and negotiated with others. We cannot escape the networks in our work. We are not an island widget producing output in a process. We are humans tackling increasingly complicated problems in webs of relationships that stretch through our organizations and out to the network where our purposes have their effects.”

We can’t escape networks as individuals and as organisations. We are embedded in a wirearchy that is far more powerful than we are aware. When avoidance is no longer a strategy we must engage. What is the purpose of your work and leadership in the networks around you?

There is no Island

Let’s say you were a traditionalist manager and you saw social communication as a distraction from the perfect order of your process driven life and neatly structured hierarchical silos. You can ban any form of networking in your organisation. You can ensure that employees never get together physically across the boundaries of teams. You can turn your organisation into closed cells in the name of efficiency. You can replace employees with robots to make the more compliant.


  • You still have customers and they are organised into networks that reach around into your organisation
  • Your competitors are leveraging networks to reach new customers, to learn, to solve challenges and to create new innovations
  • Your suppliers are using networks that involve your employees and customers to understand how best to create value too
  • Your employees still have phones & internet connections, friends (some of whom are customers), connections in the real world that may want to influence your organisation or even their own thoughts on what your organisation should be doing from their external community activity.
  • Even your robots will be networked in an era of the internet of things

Even if you wanted to ignore the network and focus solely on the performance of a hierarchical process driven organisation, you no longer can. The network has subverted the hierarchy.  The networks have always been there disrupting your efforts at perfection. They are just more visible and more capable than ever. Your employees, competitors, suppliers, customers and community have always been networked into groups large and small by human interaction. Now those conversations are global, mobile, persistent, transparent and real time.

Purpose in a Network

Welcome to the wirearchy. It doesn’t replace the hierarchy. It works with it, shaping your actions and the actions of others in your organisation with its ‘dynamic two way flow of information, trust and authority’. 

The wirearchy challenges you to consider your purpose. Your purpose guides how your actions reach out into the networks around you and have an effect on others.  That effect on others is what determines the information you receive, the authority you are given and the trust you earn. Improving these things takes work. It cannot be delivered by management fiat or a great personal or corporate brand campaign in the era of networks.

In a wirearchy, we each have the opportunity to improve our information, authority and trust. We each have the opportunity to lead. Unlike traditional management this is an opportunity, not a requirement. Fail to use it when required and the network will route around you taking away your hard won gains. The network doesn’t require your participation; it simply values it.

The Purpose is in the Work

The purpose is in the work. You won’t find it in a job, a manager’s opinion or in a book. Choose the work that you like to do and go have an impact in your networks doing that. Your role in the wirearchy will be surfaced by action. You will also get a better sense of the value that you create for others, helping you to better appreciate your performance in the network. 

The simplest purposeful actions that each of us can take are those that create value for others in our networks:

  • Connect People: Help others find their path & communities in the network
  • Share our Work and our Passions: work out loud on the activities going on in your life to let others learn and help
  • Solve Challenges with and for others to share your expertise, experience and capabilities
  • Innovate and Experiment to create new value together

Start where you feel comfortable. Start where you feel you can make a difference. Your networks and your purpose will guide your leadership work from there.

2016 – Tackling Reality

We may doubt that we’re up to being a warrior-in-training. But we can ask ourselves this question: “Do I prefer to grow up and relate to life directly, or do I choose to live and die in fear? 

– Pema Chodron

Welcome back old friend. I’m glad you’re here. Now, let’s get to work 

Carl Richards “Learning to Deal with Imposter Syndrome”

It may be cheaper and easier in the short run to ignore failures, schedule work so that there’s no time for reflection, require compliance with organizational norms, and turn to experts for quick solutions. But these short-term approaches will limit the organization’s ability to learn.

– Francaseca Gino and Bradley Staats “Why Organisations Don’t Learn

Let’s add one more detail to the picture
the much longer,
much less visible chains that allow us freely to pass by. 

Chains by Wislawa Szymborka trans. Clare Kavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak

Leading into year end, I have been reflecting on what I learned in 2015 and what it means for 2016. All of the quotes above appeared in things that I read today. Reading these quotes clarified for me one of the key insights of 2015 that I had been considering (but perhaps was ducking) – life is far better when you are dealing directly with reality.

Tackling Reality Personally

Life as a solo consultant has its challenges. Over two years into that journey I have come to better understand, accept and deal with its ups and its downs. Work isn’t always consistent or predictable. The point at which you need to give up is usually when things change. The best work arrives all at the same time. There are human limits in time and capabilities. Some times you have to say no. You don’t get to do everything you want or need to do. Others will do differently. Things never go quite as planned. Big risks are essential to progress and so are the small (& big) failures. 

Accepting these realities has made me far more comfortable in my practice. Accepting these some times harsh realities has made me more ready to take advantages of the opportunities that are created.  These opportunities might be the chance to play a larger role in Change Agents Worldwide or another community, the new work that comes unexpectedly or the ability to leverage down time for reflection, connection and new projects, rather than panic.

I have found too that a better & richer focus on what is really going on for others and for me has strengthened both the personal and work relationships in my life.  Taking the time to really understand reality of the situation matters more to me than ever. Confronting reality isn’t always easy. Engaging with some perceptions and beliefs can be painful, some of these are deeply hidden and it can take a long time to accept some of the more difficult realities. However, reality will not and cannot be ignored.

My lessons from applying this effort with others have been equally insightful. So many times in our busyness, we assume we know what is required, we rely on expertise and miss the opportunities to really engage, to really help and to make a real difference. Our ability to work and collaborate with others depends on a rich shared context based in reality. Don’t accept things at face value. Take the time in 2016 to probe and to query the reality of the situation. Without feet planted firmly in reality, we have no way to step forward alone or together.

2016 will be another year of working deeply connected in reality for me. 

Helping Organisations Tackle Reality

In 2015, I blogged in a number of different ways about the need for organisations to better engage with reality. I called our hierarchical organisations dumb. I talked about hierarchy as filter failure. I highlighted that these organisations ignore complexity and even need satire to prick their bubbles some times. Change Agents need a good grip on reality and pragmatic skills to move organisations forward. There are many more examples of the battle to hold organisations accountable to the reality of their situation in the blog posts this year.

The future of work demands organisations step out from their cloisters and engage the reality and the pressures of the world inside their organisation and the world around them. Effectiveness of purpose demands that we look to the real human costs and benefit of that which we do. Internal efficiency or narrowly defined success metrics are no longer enough. Global networks and dynamic disruptive global competition will hold us to account for our failure to confront and leverage reality. 

The better organisations are learning how to use the reality of their people, their capabilities and their networks. They leverage the human capabilities of the people, their networks and their capabilities to continuously create change to grow and be more effective. These organisations recognise the reality that they are a human organisation, that they must base their actions on real conversations and real human capabilities for success. The future of work must be much more human to deliver their purposes. 

The need to tackle reality more effectively is why I focus on learning, leadership and collaboration as core enablers of the future of work. I believe that these three are essential to my personal purpose of making work more human. 2016 will be a key time helping organisations improve their effectiveness and better deliver that purpose in the real world.


The human brain sees through attention. Focused effort improves mastery. Managing attention shapes success. Where’s your focus?

We see that to which we are paying attention. Our brain screens out things that aren’t changing and can ignore the raft of elements irrelevant to our focus. We are programmed for confirmation bias. This also means that focus often brings us that we seek. Shifting focus enables us to see things we missed before.

Focus also creates the positive sensation of flow. When we concentrate on matching our rising skill to rising challenge we become absorbed in the task. We enjoy the timeless feeling of growing mastery in that focus. Sustaining focus is essential to continued development over time. Focus and you create your own unique expertise.

In coaching, you often find people can’t see the opportunities and the strengths that they have. They are so focused on barriers, issues and threats that the opportunities surprise them. That has been my personal experience of taking the leap from corporate life to consulting. I was so worried by the risks that I was surprised by the opportunities. I needed to retrain my attention to the opportunities.

Where’s your focus? How is your focus helping you achieve your purpose?