In this post I’ll have a go at summarising my approach to working in the open and why I think it’s more beneficial than working behind closed doors.
Transparency makes everything better.
Presuming who needs to know what is the downfall of many great initiatives. I used to think that you got better outcomes by filtering who had input. I used to think that things should be highly polished before they’re put in front of people. I was wrong.
Working in the open has some really important things going for it. Some think of it in terms of sharing learning and creating networks, but there are some other very compelling reasons for adopting a more transparent approach to work. *Especially* in areas involving change or complexity.
- Builds trust through displaying vulnerability.
- Promotes accountability & openness.
- Inhibits the urge to gloss over problems or inflate outcomes (aka Bullshit).
- Is a mechanism for bringing everyone along rather than the select few.
- Is a sure fire way of testing your own (sometimes hidden) assumptions.
- Can course correct decisions before they’re set in stone.
- Is a way of maintaining an institutional memory to refer back to.
The harmony of personal AND professional.
When sharing what I’m working on, I sometimes subconsciously fall into the trap of saying WE instead of I. I think that’s an important distinction to make.
Firstly, I think personal experiences are more engaging, relatable and useful than the account of a faceless 3rd party.
Secondly, it reminds me that I’m writing from MY perspective as a human being with lots of messy thoughts and feelings that don’t always make immediate sense or logic.. and that’s okay! This is a work in progress. I’m figuring things out, I just don’t have them figured out yet. It’s also a reminder that I have an active role in what I choose to do next. How do I make my bit of the world better than when I found it?
Thirdly, it helps steer away from accidentally sharing the work of others without consent. My general rule of thumb is I don’t share anything from anyone else unless already in the public domain. If it is in the public domain, give credit where it’s due.
Be honest, be positive.
Life has its ups and downs, as does work. Some weeks I’m flying high whilst others can feel like drudgery, hopefully more the former than the latter. I think it’s crucial that this is reflected in the work I share as a realistic representation of what progress looks like. It’s often a case of two steps forward one step back.
In working openly, I think there’s an art in striking the balance between the positive and negative. Few people will want to hear how utterly amazing you are or conversely read a 10,000 word rant on everything that’s wrong with your work place.
I generally find it’s best to frame things as a learning experience. Through this lense I can objectively view what went right, or wrong, and then consider how I’d do things different next time around.
Through the rough and smooth I think it’s good to have a general air of positivity. Have a belief that things can be made better. Perhaps not every day or even every week, but as long as the general trend is heading in a postive direction that’s good enough.
It’s nice to be nice.
Work can be challenging and working in the open can be even more so, especially when things aren’t going so well. Therefore, I try to be kind to people who are striving to work in the open and contribute where possible.
Contributions come in many forms. In order of least effort to most effort..
- Like their post/tweet.
- Share their work.
- Leave a comment.
- Connect them with someone who might be able to help.
- Write a post based on their tweet or post.
- Arrange a physical or virtual coffee chat to swap ideas.
- Go and visit them in person.
Working in the open can be lonely to start with, especially if you’re the only person doing it. I think that’s why it’s important to support your fellow human beings and let them know someone appreciates the effort. Don’t assume they hear it all the time because they probably don’t. And even if they do.. who doesn’t like nice feedback?! During my occasional pangs of imposter syndrome, a kind word here and there has given me enough encouragement to dust myself off and push on.
In the network, authority is earned not bestowed.
I’m a firm believer that good work is all about employing the whole person, not just a narrow definition of skills. There’s something to be said for a deep mastery of a subject area and if that’s your thing — cool! But we can also benefit from excellent communicators in technology roles or comms professionals with a firm grasp of the digital world.
Inside our organisations, authority and expertise are assigned by the spot you occupy in the hierarchy. Outside of the organisation though, we are instead arranged by networks. In a (social media) network, you are judged solely on what you put out into the world. If you are a Doctor with a deep interest in Virtual Reality, lean into that. Be the unique blend of your own set of interests and skills and gain recognition for it. Do and write about the things that most closely align with your passion and purpose and see where it takes you.
Or to put it another way, Working Out Loud gives people the opportunity to exercise talents outside their assumed remit. In doing so, they themselves become connectors across more traditional professional boundaries. And that’s a good thing to nurture because it can shed new light on old challenges or uncover totally uncharted territory.
Community and Connections.
At first, I thought putting work in a visible place was all that needed doing. That through some magical serendipity the words would find their way to the people who are most interested in them. Whilst that certainly promotes accountability and transparency, what good does being open do if nobody really notices you’re being open?
I now think there’s also an element of community development in the form of lowering the bar for participation (how easy is it for someone/anyone to contribute should they want to?) and actively seeking out opinion (who’s voice is missing from this conversation?).
Needless to say — none of this works if it’s all take, take, take. I find that if I’m generous with my work then people are happy to repay in kind. Like any community, you get out what you put in.
Use all the tools at your disposal.
Working Out Loud doesn’t have to be a blog, or a Twitter account. It can also be a Kanban board. Or a flipchart. Or a poster. Or a lunch time meetup.
Generally I find the best tools aren’t always the best tools, they’re often just the ones that people will actually use. Go where the people you want to connect with are, don’t make it difficult for them to come to you.
What stops people from working openly?
This is the main reason I hear for not working openly. Finding the time to do it. Like trying to do anything new, if you don’t change your routine and commit to it, it’ll never happen. For me, I tried to make it part of my workflow, not an additional task. I also found having a routine helped form a habit. I used to write my posts every Friday evening as a way to declutter my brain of work stuff ready for the weekend.
Some people say they don’t have permission to work openly. Good news! I don’t think you really need it to get started. There are ways of talking about your work without divulging specific details that you might not be able to officially share. These might end up being more personal posts that abstractly talk about hypothetical situations, thoughts or ideas, but they still exercise the same essential working out loud muscles.
There’s no getting away from it, working in the open does mean opening yourself up to being vulnerable. It’s not all or nothing though. It’s more of a sliding scale with closed at one end and open at the other. You don’t have to start with a Jerry McGuire-esque manifesto of how your workplace has got it all wrong and how you could instill a new set of values. Start with small, modest, recoverable posts and build confidence over time. You may find it easier to work openly outside your organisation to begin with as there’s less pressure. Essentially, do whatever feels least scary to start with start tackling your (most likely unfounded) worries about working openly.
If you’re interested in this topic, here’s some other things you might want to peruse.
- The Working Out Loud book by John Stepper is a good place to start: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Working-Out-Loud
- Dyfrig Williams did a great whistle stop tour of the above book and framed it from the viewpoint of public services: https://medium.com/doing-better-things/working-out-loud-dc5f9234a5fc
- An excellent three part series on working openly by Jukesie: https://productforthepeople.xyz/working-open-works-1-8de0bd983c1a
- A post from Bromford Lab about their renewed approach to Working Out Loud: https://medium.com/@BromfordLab/why-we-havent-been-working-out-loud-7b3b321eb6ab
- There’s a community of people who do a weekly post about their work, called weeknotes. If you’re looking for a template to get started, this is pretty great (as is the community): https://weeknot.es/
- This post isn’t about Working Out Loud per se, but here you can see the method in action: https://medium.com/@stamanfar/ai-ok-what-happened-next-d1f3363cd9d2