Just Start: Working Out Loud in #WOLWEEK

What are you going to do today to share your work in progress in a purposeful way?

#wolweek

It is never too late to take advantage of International Working Out Loud week (7-13 November 2016).  All you need to do is start sharing your work purposefully.

The week before Working Out Loud week is always a busy one.  The most common topic of conversation is “is it too late to do something ?”  My answer is always the same “No, let’s do it.”  The theme this Wolweek is “Working and Sharing Purposefully”. That applies to how we promote working out loud during the week too.

People often want to overthink and overplan working out loud. They want to do it exactly right. They want to know they are doing it in the authorised way.  They want to know exactly what will happen when they share their work before they do so. They want to know what method of starting working out loud in their organisation will work best for…

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Word Gets Around – Reputation and Working Out Loud

People often worry about working out loud because they believe the practice poses a risk to their reputation. In the modern networked workplace, it can be a greater risk to have no reputation or one chosen only by others.

Working Out Loud involves purposefully sharing work in progress so that others can learn and contribute. Many people used to traditional ways of working where only final artefacts are shared see this as a risk to their reputation.  They are worried that experiments, errors, revisions or even the confusion of the development of work might reflect badly on their expertise. They worry that their reputation may suffer if they share their work before it is perfect.

Reputation is an important component of the networked workplace. As our work becomes more agile and dynamic we need to make decisions on who has authority, who we can trust and who influences our decisions. Reputation plays a key role in influencing these calls.

However the best reputations are based on stories of actual work. They aren’t based on a  marketing pitch. You get a reputation not just because of the output you produce but how you produce it. A good reputation is rarely one of how someone perfectly executes 100% of the time without drama. Those stories are too unreal and too boring to share. Great reputations are people who solve problems, engage others and demonstrate their abilities working through challenges and triumphing in the end.

Surprising your stakeholders by sharing some of your challenges may be risky but it is far riskier to pretend you have none. Pretence is the way reputations are destroyed.  Building a deeper relationship by purposefully sharing the work, seeking input and creating solutions to challenges together will make your stakeholders an engine of a positive reputation.

Many people who are worried about reputation actually create for themselves the opposite risk. They share nothing of their work. That silence is not filled by people saying good things about their work. With nothing specific to attract attention or to discuss, most people won’t say anything at all. In a sceptical world, the absence of a reputation is bad news.  The silence that is created is filled by people talking about other topics or worse talking from ignorance of what is going on and why.

Word of your work gets around. To build a strong and healthy relationship, you want discussion of your work. Shape the views and conversations about your work purposefully through working out loud.

International Working Out Loud week is from 7-13 November 2016.  See wolweek.com for more details.

#WOLWeek: 7 Days of Working Out Loud

7 Days worth of practice of working out loud for the upcoming #wolweek

#wolweek

As International Working Out Loud Week approaches on 7-13 November 2016, many people want to experiment with working out loud in their networks and their organisations. Here’s how to use the 7 days of International Working Out Loud Week underway and to set up your working out loud practice ongoing.

7-days-ofworking-out-loud

We know new practices are best learned through experience and consistency of practice.  Using a practice consistently is the way to iron out the kinks, to learn what works for you and to build new habits.

Here are seven days’ worth of actions to get you started on working out loud during working out loud week.

Day 1: Share a Purpose

Choose some purpose that is important to you to make the focus of your #wolweek efforts. This purpose may be delivering a great outcome in a project for a group of stakeholders or it could be a personal ambition…

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Working Out Loud: Sometimes Nobody Knows

Working Out Loud surfaces the hard, the difficult and the uncertainty of work. The value it delivers begins with what we usually hide. Transparently sharing work in progress reduces the stress of uncertainty.

When you see the work around you in the form of polished artefacts, the performance of others can be intimidating.  The glossy output gives no signal of how hard it was to put together, how much effort was involved or even the doubts and uncertainties of the creator. We can feel like others are so much more talented and accomplished because they don’t share our doubts and uncertainties about work.

This morning on the radio a musician, Emma Louise, was telling the story that her big surprise when she meets other musicians to talk about work is the discovery that everybody is uncertain about what they are doing. She described the relief in knowing she was not alone in her doubts.

This is not just a challenge for creative arts. In many workplaces one of the commonest forms of stress is the pressure to hide one’s own doubts and uncertainties about work.  Nobody else is sharing any doubt so your own feels wrong.  Hidden behind all the artefacts is a whole lot of confusion.

Working Out Loud brings work in progress out into the open.  While it will raise anxiety at first to share one’s shortcomings, doubts and concerns, my experience is that it is exactly like the conversation that Emma Louise describes.  Others emboldened by openness and vulnerability will admit their own doubts and concerns. Soon we find out that those we most admire and are most intimidated by have a little part of their work where they are just ‘making it up as they go along’.  Collaborating together to support one another, to share skills and to close gaps is a powerful way to tighten a team and reduce the intimidating barrier of perception.

If you are concerned to admit that you don’t know the answer through working out loud, remember sometimes nobody knows. You may just have to find the answer together.

The Asymmetrical Advantage of Working Out Loud

Working out loud enables others to better understand you and your work. That can be an advantage if it allows you to focus on them.

Working out loud is not close to common. The practice is growing as more people realise the benefits of purposefully sharing their work in progress. However, it a passionate but small community who consistently practice working out loud.

As someone who works out loud a lot, I have seen a particular advantage in the asymmetry of working out loud practice. People I meet often know a lot about what I do. That enables our interaction to focus more on what they do.

There are a number of advantages in my working having been exposed first:

  • Pull over Push: In discussion people will bring up the ideas and work that I have done that they want to discuss. They pull me towards more effective conversation without the hard work of pitching and digging. People choose to interact based on what they already know of my work. That is a better and more useful choice.
  • Trust comes with understanding: the more someone has followed my work the better they are likely to understand my approach and who I am. That provides a sure foundation for our interaction and helps ensure that there are fewer misunderstandings. Ultimately, if they chose to interact on the basis of that knowledge I can be surer that we are likely to have a productive conversation based in deeper trust.
  • Less Talk & More Listening: The less I have to talk to explain myself in an interaction the more I can listen. Listening to another person is a great way to build understanding and connection but our desire to get out the story of our work can get in the way. We all love to be heard.  People enjoy a conversation that is mostly about their work, needs and challenges.
  • More work solving problems: The less time I have to spend on pitching and explaining my work the more time we can spend discussing solutions to problems. Being able to reference already shared work saves time too. Having another person in the conversation who is familiar with your thoughts and approaches can mean both of you can collaborate to solve ideas together.

The Adaptive Nature of Working Out Loud

Leveraging our expertise leads us in straight lines to our usual solutions. Leveraging the expertise of a network creates new adaptive possibilities.

The Entropic Silo of Expertise

Expertise is incredibly important to success in business and in life. Talent people will outperform amateurs.  However, without care expertise can create a narrowing of the possibilities to solve problems and improve work.

Expertise usually comes allied to experience. Having done it before, the answers seem obvious. This ability to quickly apply past solutions can lead experts to develop a sense of uniqueness and even ego around their expertise. If it is perceived there is no value asking others or to ask others might imply a vulnerability in expertise, experts begin to experience the entropy of lack of feedback. Working in isolation and implementing familiar patterns without much reflection, the expert is vulnerable to changing needs, changing circumstances and external innovation. Worse still, an expertise that is not shared is trapped in that person’s head and not able to be learned from or leveraged by others. For an organisation, this creates increasing key person risks.

For an expert the requirements of a solution may seem far more complex than for actual users. A simple example is the temptation for a proud expert to design out any risk of failure. This risk aversion reflects their desire to be associated with a superior solution. That solution may also be more expensive, slower and over specified for the actual user.

The Adaptive Nature of Working Out Loud

To change and adapt to our systems, we need to experience vulnerability. We need a lack of clarity and a sense of disequilibrium to force us to reflect on the need for changes to make our work more effective. Working out loud can supply this disequilibrium to push us from our silos of expertise and to consider the diverse ideas and inputs of others.

The disequilibrium of  exposing our expertise to the needs and desires of our users is a highly generative one. Importantly it brings purpose and goals back into the forefront of the expert’s work. Critically too, this form of working out loud can enable experts with different approaches to the same issue to connect across disciplines to develop novel approaches to meet user needs.

Importantly to be vulnerable, we need a safe space to share. Creating a environment in which people have the shared purpose, trust and confidence to work out loud is an essential pre-requisite.  This space might be created in the small group dynamics of a working out loud circle or in a trusted community of peers or even in public. Wherever it is created their will be adaptive leaders who take on the role of maintaining the environment and safety in the group.  They will also play the role of stirring up tensions to force the group to reflect on their networks and other ways of solving challenges. Working out loud needs leaders who can create these safe spaces and also influence interactions to leverage rather than break down under tension.

If your organisation is rich in technical expertise, such as law, engineering, healthcare or any specific business discipline, there is a significant benefit in working out loud to foster adaptation in your experts. Use working out loud to connect your experts to users, other experts and stakeholders and you will see new adaptive potential.

Work Changes Culture

Sharing Out Loud

Work changes culture, not words. The future of work needs action to create new ways of working together. Creating new value requires people to do more than communicate. They must work in new ways.

With management of enterprise collaboration often falling in the Employee Communications function in organisations it can be tempting to see the challenges as primarily challenges of communication. How do we get people to use a new communication tool? What information do we want people to share in our new communication tool? Which communication tool should we use when?

The bigger and more valuable opportunity is to change the very nature of work. Changing work behaviours runs directly into the challenges of changing the culture of the organisation.  After all, culture is the expectation of future behaviours in any organisation. What ways of working are expected, what work is valued and how others will support your work is all wrapped up in a rich tapestry of cultural expectations born of past behaviours, some going back as far as the origins of the organisation.

As we have seen from communication campaigns around values in organisations, message can temporarily influence expectations. However, what confirms a change in expectations is when people see new behaviours being practiced consistently, rewarded and ultimately expected by others.

Sharing information in enterprise social networks is a start but the real value of working out loud is created when people begin to change the very nature of their work process to respond to expectations that they be more agile, more transparent, more collaborative, more trusting and more open to the expertise of others.  When this occurs they get the benefits of the input of others in greater speed, productivity and effectiveness. The changing nature of work and the changing culture of the organisation will develop hand in hand in this case and be supported by increasing personal and organisation value to justify the ongoing change.

Organisations that want to realise the true value of enterprise collaboration need to create an expectation that work will change to be more open. The best way to start that change is not with talk but by fostering the action that role models it to all in the organisation.