Working Out Loud: Make Work Open To Make It Better

Working out loud : a process of narrating work socially, and involving your co-workers, business partners, and customers to join you.

My dear friend, Dion Hinchcliffe, wrote a great post recently where he charted the way the social tools are changing the way we work, by making it more open and transparent, and pulling it out of closed and opaque systems, like email, document management tools, or business applications. He makes the case that pulling work out of the shadows of these pre-social technologies and bringing it out in the open changes everything:

Dion Hinchcliffe, Open Work: Using Social Software To Make Our Work Visible Again

Now too often, work takes place in digital silos that greatly reduce the human involvement, fails to capture much of the knowledge at all (something I call knowledge evaporation), and leaves little behind to learn from, build upon, or otherwise reuse. This is because older digital tools aren’t nearly as focused on discovery, collaboration, or network effects.

How can we fix this by applying social media to our work? With an ad hoc approach sometimes known as observable work — or as my colleague Susan Scrupski likes to call it, working out loud — it’s a process of narrating your work in a social forum and involving your co-workers, business partners, and customers to join you, as appropriate.

[…] the key principle is a simple one: “Anyone can contribute.” Today’s work mindset is such that early drafts and ideas in the rough are kept hidden and not shared until far too much work is already done before input is requested. As we’ve learned with agile software, course corrections are much easier and more effective when done early and often. This is where agility and social business have much in common. In the end, being in frequent (some would say constant) contact with ones stakeholders makes for a highly aligned, mutually well understood, and jointly accepted work product. The activity streams of social media, when integrated in the flow of work, ensure that this is the case.

I really like the term ‘open work’, and the more colloquial ‘working out loud’.

However, the key idea that is left unsaid in Dion’s post is this: bringing activities out of closed repositories and applications, and pulling them into the open increases the likelihood of learning key information earlier. That key information might be a contribution that shortens a step in a person’s workflow, or an insight that shows that the approach being taken won’t work. In other words, working out loud leads to succeeding (or failing) more quickly. And those are the characteristics of high intelligence.

In a real sense, open work makes a company more intelligent: quicker to improve, and more resilient in the context of uncertainty.

Originally published at on August 1, 2011.

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store