Working Out Loud Stories: OH – Someone Working Softly

I’ll help translate a little for those not down with the lingo: OH = Overheard.

This week I had the unique experience of overhearing an example of working softly. They were killing me softly with their example, one time…one time. (Sorry, couldn’t resist) It was a situation where understanding how to work out loud, and having an understanding of methods to utilize how others have worked out loud would have saved this person some time and some pain.

OK, here’s the situation…

I work in an open style work environment where desks are first come first served, and some days you can be working around people you’ve never met…as I was on this day. I was chugging away on my own work (hopefully not writing an email for the sake of my #socbiz street cred), when I innocently overheard a phone conversation between someone I didn’t know and our IT help desk.

Some background first. A few hundred early adopters are receiving an operating system upgrade that isn’t widespread across the company yet, and thus there are a few behaviors that are new to all of us, unique to the early adopters, and thus not widely known to the help desk yet (through no fault of their own). Our early adopters have been using a social community to share learnings, tips and troubleshoot issues with the new OS.

One specific issue that a few people came across and used the community to solve was related to viewing streaming video. I happened to come across the same problem myself earlier, so I knew of the exact thread which contained the answer, which was about a 30 second setting change.

Back to my new friend on the phone. He was reporting the same problem to a rep at the help desk, and I could hear them walking through some trial and error steps that I knew weren’t going to help. If I had known the person’s name I could have IM’d him a link to the thread. But I didn’t feel right interrupting the phone call. So I decided to wait.

Twenty minutes later, he was still on the phone, now logging a ticket that would escalate the issue to another tier of support to get back with him later. But I had to run to a meeting, so couldn’t let him know what I knew until I got back. But when I returned an hour later, he was gone and I still didn’t know his name. So unless we ran into one another again, I had lost my opportunity to help…my way.

I figured he had spent at least 30 minutes on the phone without getting his issue resolved, and who knows what he has gone through since or if he ever even found the solution? Even if it had taken him 15 minutes of his work time searching our community platform to find the answer, he would have come out ahead. A skill that investing 15 minutes to learn more about would have already paid him back in time savings.

Or, if he had posted his issue as a new question in the 700+ person community, someone aware of the already existing thread probably would have replied in less than 30 minutes with a link to the easy solution. And during that time he likely could have gone back to other tasks.

Or even better yet, imagine if I had been someone he knew better, overhearing that phone call, and if I would have had the comfort level to just jump in? Ambient awareness and word of mouth could have brought value to the situation even if the thread itself wasn’t directly used to fix the problem.

No matter how you slice it, this situation could have been helped by thinking with a “working out loud” mindset first. Or if I had the guts to interrupt the phone call…but I was taught to not interrupt people :)

Do you have any stories of obvious lost opportunities from people NOT working out loud?

Working Out Loud Stories: Reply with a Link Instead

When I consult with people at work, trying my best to profess the magic of working out loud, a very common reaction I hear is, “I can’t shift my behaviors because everyone else I am working with is still just sending and reading emails. They don’t check [insert your online social platform here].”

A certain parental bridge analogy immediately comes to mind…and you could succumb to the behavior of others and waste your time when replying to something that involves the sharing of your reusable knowledge…or you could decide to maximize the return on your effort by working in a way that captures the knowledge you’re about to share in a more visible and reusable manner…replying with merely a link to your answer…instead of yet another tucked away email message full of content that few will ever find again.

Working Out Loud about Working Out Loud:

Late last year, I was forwarded an email with a request from a senior executive for successful examples of sales and marketing making use of social collaboration within our organization. I started an email listing a few communities that I knew of that were generating positive outcomes. At first my logic was “This was a private request, and this individual may not access our social business platform on a regular basis, so email would be the best response.”

As I was writing it, I realized how many other people may find that information useful. So I decided to instead create a wiki page and reply to the request with a link to my page. And I posted the page in a community focused on the practice of social business within the organization.

I included 9 communities in my initial list and replied to the email with a link to my new wiki page. and believe it or not I didn’t get any flack for replying with a link instead of putting the answer in an email body.

Within a couple hours of me posting the new page, I had someone from Europe editing the page to add their own examples that I had missed. Then a month later a few more were added…with some likes and bookmarks collected along the way as well. It had become a crowdsourced list of great examples that I continued to use as an educational resource for people working in sales and marketing.

The interactions could have ended there and I would have told you it was a success story because I converted the value from one person to tens of people at that point. But wait…there’s more…

About six months later, I had a conference call with some peers who asked me once again for good examples of internal sales and marketing communities. And once again I found myself typing an email with a link to that wiki page to help them find it. “Bryce! Walk the talk, dude!”

I listened to my inner voice and I shared the link with them via an open status update with mentions. First of all, sending people a link of something I had shared in the past and could find in less than a minute saved me a lot of time vs trying to recreate such a list again. Not to mention that the contributions of others had made it better, with a more global perspective added.

That simple shift in behavior led to more people discovering the 6-month-old resource and commenting about how helpful it was. It had some renewed life. Some people shared it within their own communities, some community managers shared it because they were proud for being openly recognized for the work they had done within that community. And quite a few people started joining communities they didn’t know existed within their field of interest / expertise.

As of today, the list I started with 9 example communities is up to 30, crowdsourced by the community and now on revision 12. It has a few hundred views and will continue to gather more.

Shifting one simple email request out into the open created value for others and made my life easier for future requests. And then months later, choosing to share that reference with others via an open method instead of email helped to resurface the wiki page and increase its value even further. The domino effects of that one initial decision to work out loud were in full motion.

Don’t think that every example has to go viral with thousands of hits to be a successful outcome of working out loud. As soon as that wiki page went from one view to two views I had increased the return I got and that my company got from that initial interaction…for what amounted to the same effort on my part.

I’ll throw in the disclaimer to not “shift” conversations where there is a risk you could reveal something the other parties involved may deem sensitive…but consider if generalizing your response in the name of sharing may work? Or ask for permission to post the answer / interaction more openly due to the potential for shared value.

Have you experienced any similar examples of one decision to be more transparent resulted in value you didn’t see coming?

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!