Working Out Loud is the Lean Start-up of Knowledge


Working out loud enables early validation and engagement of others in ideas. By putting ideas to the test early when formed only to a minimum viable level wasted effort is avoided and the ideas move to fruition quicker. In this way working out loud reflects the value creation approaches of lean start-up.

Working out loud on Minimum Viable Ideas

One of the exercises in Harold Jarche’s PKM in 40 days program is around Narration of your work. I am a huge fan of working out loud and initially I wasn’t sure that I had much to learn. However, I took a risk and learned something new.

My experiment was to apply some lean start-up thinking to a concept that I am developing and put it out in a minimum viable form and seek feedback on how to develop that idea further in a relevant community. In this case, the idea was represented in minimum viable form as a single diagram and a story of where I was headed. Minimum viability in this case is just enough information to convey the information and test the key hypotheses that I wished to explore. 

We are used to fully thinking things through before sharing them. I am especially cautious around this. We are told that sharing something incomplete might be dangerous as people might form an incorrect impression or might copy the idea. I’d hate to miss an opportunity around something that seems important to my work. We are not use to putting minimum viable ideas forward for debate. 

However, perfecting ideas beyond that point in the quiet of our own workplace often means that when they are delivered they fall flat, miss the mark or need further work. How often have you worked long and hard on an idea that you believe in to have the “is that all?” response? I know it too well.

Working out loud brings Validation

My experience of narration was really powerful validation.  The diagram has drawn a great deal of support and feedback.  People have encouraged me to flesh out the tools behind the work.  They have suggested next steps, connections and applications that I can leverage further.  I have even had volunteers offer to work with me and someone offering to coach me in the lean start-up of this concept.

Working out loud clarifies Hypotheses

The other aspect of this experience was that working out loud enabled me to better understand the hypotheses that were a part of the work that I was doing. Had I gone on alone, I would have just buried these assumptions in the work.

Framing up my engagement of others as a test of the ideas pushed me to understand what were the key hypotheses that I needed others to confirm. Testing the assumptions reduces the risk of investing more time in the idea.

Working out loud reinforces Learning (Permanently Beta)

Because I and others know the idea is in development, improvement is part and parcel of sharing the work out loud. I don’t feel obliged to defend the work as I have less invested. I can be more dispassionate about the feedback of others as to how to improve the work. I learn more faster.

Work out loud to create value

Working out Loud with a Lean Start-up mindset can deliver powerful value in the creation and sharing of knowledge. As knowledge work becomes more important in the future of work, we need to be more effective and faster in our creation and sharing of knowledge. Practices like working out loud will drive real value the productivity, effectiveness and engagement of knowledge workers.

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