When will we Work Out Loud? Soon!

Breaking Down “Work Out Loud”

One of my favorite phrases to use for describing behaviors and critical outcomes of using Social Collaboration tools is “Work Out Loud.” So I was thrilled (from afar) to see some of the tweets around the topic from the Santa Clara version of the E20 Conference a few weeks ago. The terminology emerged from a few sessions, most notably the session by Brian Tullis and Joe Crumpler titled “In the Flow: Patterns of Observable Work.” I also love Joe’s follow-up blog post, Narrating Your Work, as a testimonial to the concepts working in action.

So we’ve got “Working Out Loud” bouncing around with “Observable Work” and “Narrating Your Work” as options we can use to teach folks new behaviors within our companies and ways to leverage open social collaboration capabilities. I think fundamentally each phrase is trying to convey the same point. Although, as I thought about each, I tried to think how people may interpret each phrase if they had never heard them before. I thought some different interpretations were possible, and here is how I am resolving it all in my head:

Working Out Loud   =   Observable Work   +   Narrating Your Work

Assumption: Narrating Your Work implies the act of journaling (blogging, micro-blogging, etc.)what you are doing in an open way for those interested to find and follow…however, by terminology doesn’t necessarily describe creating the work outputs / deliverables themselves in a manner available for others to consume. It also brings with it a “feel” of an additive activity to already-existing workload, which in my experience, some folks can be reluctant to accept. Joe even addressed that in his post talking about setting the 15 min aside to do so. Now, I realize that the benefits of doing this eventually buys you time back in other areas (email updates, status reports, status meetings, etc.) with a net overall time savings, but the act itself is still framed as a separate activity from the work itself in this phrase.

Whereas Observable Work to me implies creating / modifying / storing your work in places that others can see it, follow it and contribute to it IN PROCESS. The key being that items are available during the course of being worked on, and not waiting until a “final” deliverable to publish to a broader audience.

But those two concepts combined, however, bring it all together. Social-based software platforms can aid in this process, with capabilities that automatically “narrate” your Observable Work activities by publishing notices to the activity streams of your followers or the followers of communities in which you are conducting Observable Work. But the art we develop as socially proficient knowledge workers is where and how to best complement the activity-triggered auto-narrative with our own meta-narrative to achieve the types of positive benefits Joe describes in his blog post above.

I think having two elements with which to break down “Work Out Loud” helps with teaching key behaviors of social collaboration and providing examples of how software capabilities help contribute to each (ex. Wikis/Discussions/Open File Libraries = observable, Blogs/Micro-blogs = narrating).

Speaking of Teaching…We’re at Now, Now

The other fun observation I recently had about Working Out Loud, is that the movie Spaceballs already set this example for us back in the late 80’s with the classic “We’re at Now, now!” scene.

If you don’t know the premise of the scene, Dark Helmet and his faithful number one (Colonel Sandurz) are trying to hunt the good guys and have lost track of them. They get the great idea to watch Spaceballs: The Movie, which they happen to be in the process of filming. But thanks to new “advanced technology”, they have access a VHS version of the in-progress movie. So their plan is to watch scenes ahead of them in the movie to find where the good guys have gone.

The in-process copy of Spaceballs: The Movie is the blog / wiki / micro-blog equivalent of Working Out Loud. Just think of your in-process documents, status update blog posts and daily micro-blog updates as Your Project: The Movie.  See the value Dark Helmet got outta having that resource at his disposal, knowing the whereabouts of other characters, without even having to call a production meeting?  Unfortunately, it has taken us 23 years to figure out how to apply the genius of Spaceballs to our work environment! So let’s translate the conversation between Dark Helmet and Colonel Sandurz into teachable lessons we can apply today:

  1. What the hell am I looking at? – Ever get this question when trying to explain the benefits of social collaboration or demonstrate your new social software platform to business partners? It’s a new way of working!
  2. You’re looking at now. Everything that happens now is happening now. – The current status, current issues and current state of deliverables are right in front of you to find easily when you need it.
  3. What happened to then? – By “journaling” your work in this platform, the current information is at the forefront for people that are interested to find, but the history of those stories is retained and easy to find as well.  Having your “journal” in emails or stashed away Word documents / PPT files makes finding the right information harder to dig out, or requires access to just the right person to find it in a timely manner.
  4. We’re at Now, now. When will then be now? Soon! – You mean we don’t need as many status meetings? I can keep working and get more work done because you already know what is going on as a result of me Working Out Loud, and can ask your questions or add clarifications real-time instead of waiting for pre-scheduled meetings or status reports? Great!
  5. What? Where? When? WHOOOO!!??!! - Exactly! By shifting your primary work and communications out of knowledge silos and into observable platforms, anyone following the work can answer those questions or find answers to those questions with little effort.

Next week: When searching is your only option to find what is most relevant to you, think Combing the Desert!