Working Out Loud with Stories about Working Out Loud

This is hard for me to believe, but I wrote this post about Working Out Loud over 2 years ago: When Will We Work Out Loud? Soon! Then I went quiet (irony?) on this blog and also to a degree on Twitter, not so coincidentally coinciding with the launch of our internal employee social network.

Trust me, I’ve done plenty of working slightly muffled within our walls to spread the word and trying to educate folks about better ways of getting work done. But I have since felt a bit hypocritical not continuing the Work Out Loud theme more in the public domain.

Yet that Spaceballs themed blog post has taken on a life of its own continuing to draw in readers and references from bloggers on a fairly regular basis. (Take note of the hidden Working Out Loud value statement there for a minute. Kind of like when people joke about the wealthy making money while they sleep because their money works for them…I’m hopefully still helping people when I sleep because I’ve Worked Out Loud a time or two in my life. Helping me sleep better at night.)

Fortunately for everyone, John Stepper has done an outstanding job of developing his blog into a weekly must read on social collaboration, working out loud, and other future work concepts. His posts are my routine accompaniment to Saturday morning coffee. He must wake up much earlier than I do on the weekends :) And the concept continues to get referenced in various blogs and articles on Social Business and Social Collaboration.

I’ve also struggled with how to balance my desires to share more publicly while respecting company policies regarding the use of social media. It takes a little extra energy to understand where the lines need to be in terms of what I can share and what I should not while writing posts like these…and still trying to be informative and useful…not just a bunch of generic theory that does little to further the conversation or the education of potential readers.

Each time my blog was linked to over the last 2 years I was flattered, but also embarrassed at how my blog looked and that my last post was 2 years ago, about winning a Twitter contest to hang with the owner of the Colts! So I’ve finally prioritized some things well enough to remedy that embarrassment.

I’ve always been a person that was better at identifying stories and relating those to value than sounding like a genius in theory or deep analysis. So that’s what I want to focus on. Real stories of people Working Out Loud and generating value and outcomes greater than had they not done so. And hopefully the stories will trigger new ideas and inspire new action toward the cause of changing how work gets done and how knowledge is shared.

I’m cheating with my first story. You just read it. One blog post written on a whim over two years ago, sarcastically relating serious business concepts to Dark Helmet and Colnel Sandurz, continuing to provide value to thousands of readers to this day. I certainly never imagined as I wrote it, what the concept could become as a result. And it is mostly thanks to how others have further expanded on and applied the concept in ways I am not capable. (Embedded lesson #2 here for those taking notes.)

What types of stories have you observed thanks to someone Working Out Loud that had a positive impact on an outcome? Your stories will most certainly trigger reminders of more examples that I have experienced and can’t wait to share in future posts.

“May the Schwartz be with you!”

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!

ME2: Social Collaboration Myths

I just had one of those “I’m writing an email and I really should be sharing this more broadly!” moments…so I thought I would write a ME2 Tuesday Edition since I’ve been a ME2 slacker lately.

The questions I was posed had to do with concerns over the use of various enterprise social collaboration tools, which is natural. I don’t fault the questions nor the questioners, because this is new to folks and if you haven’t experienced it first hand yet, probably difficult to recognize.

These same concerns are being asked at all enterprises that are investigating the use of social-based platforms to do business. They are great questions to ask, and gladly I had some data to provide some comfort. The primary questions asked were the following:

  • Will people spend too much time and not get their work done?
  • Will people misuse / abuse the technology to say inappropriate things?
  • How do we make clear that these tools are for “business use” only? And will people be able to make that distinction?

First, let me start by referencing this Andrew McAfee Harvard Business Review article – “Shattering The Myths About Enterprise 2.0″. It covers some of the concerns listed above. Specifically the information around Myth 1…and here’s my personal summary of that myth:

Myth 1: E2.0′s Risks Outweigh the Rewards
  • Risk perception: “What if people post hate speech?”, “What if people criticize leadership strategy?”, “Don’t these technologies make it easy for valuable information to seep out of the company?”, “Won’t employees use the collaboration software to plan social events instead of for work activities?”
  • Why these risks rarely come to fruition:
    • Attribution of content is the norm in business social collaboration software, not anonymity.
    • Sense of community amongst participants results in quick community reaction to abusive use of the platform.
    • In addition to organizational leaders, community leaders with earned influence can shape fellow employee’s behavior within the platform.
    • Many people have been active in public online forums and have learned how to act appropriately in online / transparent contexts.
    • Compare to email which is mostly private. Contributions to an ESSP are monitored by the entire workforce, thus the temptation or false sense of security to conduct inappropriate communications is less. If anything, this could lower the risk of non-compliant virtual communication.

Next, in terms of limiting usage to “business use” communication only…I offer some caution. While we don’t want this to become viewed as another “Facebook” for employees, encouraging and allowing some interaction that is fun and non-work related (but still within the rules of conduct policies) is a good thing. It helps the virtual environment thrive by building relationships, which then encourages more comfort in business-related sharing.

It seems every company example I have read about that has existing social networks supports this notion vehemently as a critical success factor. The underlying argument – “People talk about non-work topics in meetings and around their desks, why wouldn’t we encourage that in a virtual environment as well?” It really helps with building a sense of community which promotes further business benefits…and I’ve seen this occurring within our internal blogging and micro-blogging community where professional sharing and personal relationship building are balanced very well. Others out there have similar experiences or testimonials to add here?

Now a personal testimonial…a couple of years ago before I got into internal blogging, following internal blogs and enterprise micro-blogging…when I needed a mind break I would read external websites about sports, news, television, etc. But recently I’ve noticed I do much less of that and I spend more of my “down time” at work reading other people’s blogs and posts instead. I still need that mental down time to be effective at focusing deeply on my work. But now, instead, I am using that time to learn about the work of others, build virtual relationships with people I wouldn’t meet or work with otherwise and occasionally teaching / helping others with their questions along the way as well.

So my internal social interactions have replaced my non-work distractions more than they have replaced me focusing on my work deliverables / objectives.

And at the same time, having those connections helps me complete my deliverables / objectives with more community input and help (crowdsourced) along the way!

Any other Enterprise 2.0 practitioners out there seeing similar benefits? Anyone out there who has experienced the opposite and found themselves less effective due to the “vacuum” that is social networking at work?