Exploring the practice of Working Out Loud

About a decade back I had decided to sink my teeth in bringing new life to a dormant knowledge center. From the beginning it was clear that the change of approach and working style would require my new colleagues to gain an insight in: ‘learning about learning’ and that we would try to learn from our own practice. I identified a consultant who would work with us on ‘learning’ and ‘learning on the job’. As I believe in leading by example and that asking for outside eyes would add value, I asked her to coach me occasionally. During one of these conversations, we explored my leadership style. Until then I worked with a mental model: partly expert, partly facilitator, ad-hoc coach and critical observer. Consciously and unconsciously my management style always had this shroud of mystery weaved in. Something to do with ‘addicted to hidden power’ and as protection reflex from my working years in the large development bureaucracies.  She explained to me that if I wanted to achieve ’empowering’ my team and developing a spirit of ‘collective self-guidance’ and that my working and thinking out loud would be inviting and engaging.  I since try to practice this as a basic approach to work.

John Stepper has been blogging about ‘Working-Out-Loud’ for several years and is about to publish a book on Working-Out-Loud shortly. His blog is an eclectic collection of stories about his life, experiences and reflections. Another take on this is to observe that this blog is all over the place and lacks focus. I think such an observation is unfair, as the stories show that there are many inspirational moments in doing your job, and that reflections can enable you to appreciate the value of an experience many years later in life.  John shares his approach and experience on Working Out Loud freely, and in that sense works out loud. The guide is John operationalisation of the concept. It is about forming a peer support group for 12 weeks that aims at realizing a personal goal at work or in your life. There are basic rules and the weekly meetings, one hour each week, follow a set curriculum designed by john Stepper. Just to make sure you are not misguided the introduction is named: ‘Read this first’, in this he outlines his take on Working-Out-Loud.

Jane Bozarth bases her approach to show your work and the How to’s of working out loud on the basic preamble that by social media sharing of ‘what you are doing’ and ‘how you are going about it’ you can make the tacit knowledge of ‘developing a solution, solving a dilemma’  or even the work-around adopted available within your organization. She recently published a book ‘Show your Work’ and the preamble explains clearly that the idea and practice of working out loud is not ‘new’ or ‘mystical’. The focus is on showing the work issue through a video, blog, picture, or talking about solving or struggling with a problem. It is not necessarily about the person undertaking the job. Two basic rules of thumb used are about: ‘facilitating the learning from the work to emerge and not about making more work’ and ‘about asking the right questions’. The latter point has long been a corner stone of Nancy Dixon…see for example does your organisation have an asking problem, and confirms that showing your work is not a new concept or mantra.

Sibrenne Wagenaar and Joke van Alten recently started an experiment, mainly in Dutch, based on the concept of Working-Out-Loud, inspired by Jane Bozarth and John Stepper. Interestingly they named their initiative around the verbs: DoenDenkenDelen (3Ds :-)) Do Think Share. Several reasons makes this is an exciting initiative, firstly they facilitate a fortnightly tweetchat #dddchat on Do+Think+Share in which they propose several questions in an effort to keep the chat going. I’ll share my experience of this! Secondly, they follow this through with a summary of the chat on Storify. Thirdly they write a reflection on the tweetchat-action on the earmarked blog DoenDenkenDelen.  Interestingly the comment thread on the blog receives well thought through contributions. Based on my participation this is an engaging approach based on three verbs, as such adds a further dimension to Working-Out-Loud. Noteworthy is that they bypass the boundaries of the organizational setting, and the thoughtful alignment over different social media channels reenforces the gist of Do+Think+Share.

A recent experience showed to me that adopting the attitude and value of Working-Out-Loud is not without cost. For the past eighteen months I have been involved in an entrepreneurial initiative of setting up a generative dialogue and open innovation process. My co-developer told me that I should stop giving away methodologies, experiences with methods and designs made as the time was not ripe (whatever that meant) and his analysis was that I gave away too much too soon. The implication was that we had very little to show and were unable to link with like minded people working on open innovation and this increasingly gave me sleepless nights. A few weeks back I withdrew from this self chosen work setting, and although it has left me largely empty handed, the relief of sharing, showing and asking questions and making comments is a great relief. It makes me wonder how many professionals have become part of a system that prevents them from embracing a dimension of Working-Out-Loud or Do Think Share….

Finally let me finish with a great example of Working-Out-loud by Cynthia Kurz in this blog ‘The Snail crept in …’ she explores her struggle with embracing twitter as a communication channel and the confinement of 140 characters. It illustrates how you can share an experience without having come to a conclusive end and thus answers one of the questions that emerges over and over again in Working-Out-Loud discussions, should you only share finished and well rounded experiences.




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