Australia’s Simon Terry and colleagues lead the fun annual Working Out Loud (WOL) Week, running this year from June 5 to June 11. While working out loud (also called “narrating work,” “making work visible,” or my preference, “showing your work”) is something I advocate doing all the time, as part of your everyday activities and work processes, WOL Week is a good time to support the faithful WOL practitioners and invite newer ones to get started.
Figure 1: Examples of working out loud from my “Show Your Work” page on Pinterest
“Working out loud” doesn’t mean broadcasting every moment of every day, or crowing about every accomplishment, or only showing final polished work products. Rather, it’s a way of capturing that so-hard-to-nail-down tacit knowledge: not just what we do but how we get things done. Think about the time someone left your organization and, despite extensive documentation of “activities,” no one could pick up where she left off. Or the time you finished a project only to find out someone in another department had done the same thing. It’s a way of helping to connect dots across organizations or disciplines; it’s a way of helping us reflect and, it’s hoped, improve our own future work; it’s a way of getting help and learning from each other; and sure, it can be a way of showing off our skills or expertise. As Charles Jennings says: “Showing our work means everyone doesn’t have to learn everything the hard way.” (See References.)
The #wolweek guidelines suggest activities for each day of the week:
- Purpose—Set a goal and make a plan. Choose some activities, projects, or tasks you’ll share about. Decide where: internally? Twitter? Slack? Sticky note on door?
- Connection—Reach out to some people in your network. Contact a stakeholder you haven’t interacted with lately. Send a note to some new people in your organization or new followers on LinkedIn or Twitter. Find new ways to connect.
- Contribution—Find someone you can help. Do they have a question you can answer? Do you have a skill that interests or could help them? I find co-workers often have an interest in learning about new social tools but are embarrassed to ask in public or don’t know how to start. One-on-one time has paid off in many ways. Ask them about their work: “What are you doing?” “How did you learn to do that?” “What did you find surprising, challenging, or rewarding about that?” People love to talk about their work. Acknowledge people for their work or expertise. Build bridges.
- Sharing—Share one piece of work in progress to a relevant community. Ask for feedback for improving it.
- Asking for help—Share a challenge. Share what you need help with to advance it, make it better. Offer help to others: Wenger, Trayner, and de Laat note that asking for help is a sign of a healthy community, as it is an explicit show of trust. Share what you’re working on; ask others what they’re working on. Ask, “How did you learn that?” “Can you show me how to do that?” “Why did you do it that way?”
It depends. Sometimes I take a screenshot. Sometimes I make a video. Sometimes I write a quick note about what I’m doing and capture it as a photo. Sometimes I write a blog post. What makes sense for what you are working on, and the means by which you’ll share it? Instagram wants a picture. Your weekly reports might want a text narrative. Check out my Pinterest board linked in Figure 1 for lots of examples.
The immediate reaction I get from many who are new to working out loud is: “I can’t just publish everything I do on Twitter.” Well, of course not, and no one would want to see it if you did. Some things you only share with your boss; other things, maybe with your work area, your division, your whole organization. Other things might be appropriate for clients or customers. Maybe a few things for the whole world. (And maybe some things you just keep to yourself.) Certainly abide by rules about disclosure, particularly proprietary information, financials, research, etc. Think about who would benefit from your sharing, and don’t assume that’s a small slice of the world.
There’s an example I use in workshops: teacher Paul Bogush’s blog post about making RSA-style animated videos with his kids. He offers instructions, tips, lessons learned, and even photos of how to set up equipment. When I ask workshop participants who might appreciate his post, they start with “other teachers at his school,” but then, with a little nudging, move to “any teacher,” and finally they realize the post would be useful for “anyone who wants to make a video like that.” Note that Paul’s post is also a great help to him when he wants to do this again.
The single best way to start working out loud: Stop saving everything to your C: drive.
And don’t let this be just a one-week-a-year thing. Once you get started, try to make it a habit: As you finish one thing and before moving on to the next, stop and take a breath. Should you make a note, take a photo, tweet a screenshot, talk to a colleague? On your commute home from work, ask yourself: “What story would I tell my five-year-old about my day?” For the last few years, we’ve been talking a lot about “social learning.” Well, this is what social learning is.