Do you ‘work out loud’?

If you haven’t come across it yet Working Out Loud is a term coined by Bryce Williams in 2010  and subject of a book by chief evangelist John Stepper. The definition of working out loud is:

Working out loud = Observable Work + Narrating Your Work

It means making use of existing channels to journal your work, perhaps using blog posts, video or sharing via social networks. As existing work patterns change to more flexible, remote, virtual and non-hierarchical structures, working out loud could be considered to be a highly useful element of a successful collaboration culture within organisations and across personal networks.

While keeping up with events during the recent Working Out Loud Week I also found this highly recommended piece about a writer’s struggles with his “distraction sickness” – the “endless bombardment of news and gossip and images” that turned him into a “manic information addict”.

It chimed a lot with my own feelings towards social media this year. I didn’t have the same level of addiction as the writer but I did finally wean myself off a talkboard I’d known since 2001 and cut down the amount I looked at my phone. These two changes have given me a greater feeling of clarity and improved my concentration levels.

It made me think about how much distraction we deal with every day at work from many sources and raises the question:

At what point does open collaboration stop being a benefit and become a distraction?

As writers for the web we are always taught to write for our audience, so within this context we should also think about how much time people have to read our sharings (I am aware of the irony here btw).  If the chief reason for working out loud is to build your personal brand (…) or raise your profile, how will that come across to the people reading your regular narrations and how much importance would or should they give to your work?  By the same token, how much weight are you able to give to the sharings of others who post with the same intentions?

It is clear that a balance does need to be struck where, in an organisation, the value created from working out loud may be offset by the reduction in colleagues’ focus and time spent reading incremental distractions.

Here’s a hypothetical. A company where working out loud is actively encouraged as a means to increase engagement on their Enterprise Social Network reaches a stage where they find the level of distraction across the company has become unmanageable. It would follow for Internal Comms to put their governance hat on and limit the amount people publish or set tighter guidelines on acceptable usage. Working Out Loud as a thing would then have passed as an fad and there would need to be some head scratching as usage drops on their expensive ESN platform.

The Working out loud ethos has huge potential to help people develop networks and learn and share their knowledge. Within organisations though, every time we work out loud someone has just been distracted.