Belief in Working Out Loud is Belief in Others

Practitioners of Working Out Loud come from all faiths. They share a common belief system. They have faith in the value of transparency and generosity. They have faith in the potential of humanity to collaborate for greater benefit.

“Working Out Loud is like a religious experience. It can be hard to explain the value of working openly to others”.

I hear variants of this comment from advocates of working out loud often. If you have advocated for working out loud, you have had the experience. You believe passionately in the value that you have experienced in working out loud. You want to share this with others. Some people jump on board straight away. Many others don’t get it. No matter how much you try to explain they don’t believe you. They won’t even try.

A Simple Divide

This disconnect that working out loud advocates experience is driven by a simple divide. On one side are those who would meet the characteristics of the Givers of Adam Grant’s “Give and Take”.  Givers help others with no expectation of reciprocity because they can.  Givers believe in contributing to the greater good. On the other side of the equation are those who only act when there’s an advantage or at least a clear benefit to them. These people need short-term reciprocal benefits to act.

If you expect benefits for yourself from every action, then working out loud seems irrational. Why would you exert effort to help others with their work with no immediate reward? Why would you risk embarrassment or loss of credit for your work? There’s no return coming.

Adam Grant highlights that the real benefits to Givers are reputational. The benefits flow unevenly and over the long term. They are the result of network effects, not transactions. To be able to realise all of these benefits you need faith in others. You need to believe in the value of the greater good. In the next post, we will look at how this convoluted path plays out.

Trust is Not Rational

At the heart of the divide is a view of others: are they helpful or are they seeking advantage? This is a question of belief, not calculation.  The answer is founded in willingness to trust in others. Advocates of working out loud face a challenge that changing these kinds of belief is not a rational process.

When we advocate for working out loud, we love to stack up reasons why people should try working out loud. We describe the benefits. We map simple steps and build support processes to help people to get started. No matter how many reasons and how much proof we offer, actually doing working out loud takes someone to trust in others.

Trust is not driven by logic. Trust is driven by beliefs, emotions, and experience. The decision to trust in others and share something out loud that is imperfect is going to take a leap. This is the ‘trembling finger’ moment in all working out loud. Those who believe others are benign will find in their belief system the reasons, emotions, and experience to trust others. Those who are more suspicious are going to need to experience something better first. Their lack of trust means that the risks of sharing are all too evident and it may well violate strongly held beliefs of the need to behave cautiously.

If someone is resistant to working out loud, no amount of argument or proof is going to change their view. They won’t work out loud until they experience benefits and attribute them to working in a different way. If they continue to experience the benefit of working out loud, perhaps over time their beliefs will change.


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