Working and Learning Out Loud

Working out loud is a way to ensure others know what you are doing and to be conscious of your own work. It is being mindful of your work and how it may influence others. But working out loud is nothing if there is no time taken for reflection. Learning out loud takes you to a different level, one that may seem even more precarious. It’s sharing your half-baked ideas with the world. But these ideas, combined with others over time, can build a resilient web of innovation.

Working out loud connects us as professionals and humans. It is a highly social activity. It also exposes us, so it requires trust. While we may get interesting ideas from our informal networks, such as on social media, we still need trusted spaces to test things out. A place to test new ideas is often the missing link between doing work and leisure time. We may see something interesting while engaging on social media at night, but when it comes time to go to work, there is no easy way to make the connection. At work we need to stay focused. We might have a chance for a quick chat over lunch, but for the most part we focus on getting things done.

While there is some current impetus behind working out loud at work, the concept falls apart if it does not connect outside the workplace. If not, WoL is just an echo chamber. When there is no place to test ideas in a trusted space, how can an individual’s ideas translate into new ways of doing things? We need others to help us. We have to test ideas together, but not under the constraints of deadline-driven projects. Helping make space, such as communities of practice, is an essential first step in enabling working out loud, and most importantly, reaping its benefits.

Working and learning out loud are integral parts of personal knowledge mastery. In our social networks they help us to seek new opinions and share our own with a diverse group of people. We can seek new connections without permission. Trusted spaces, like communities of practice, give us a place to take half-baked ideas and test them out, with minimal risk. Meanwhile, we can sharpen these ideas and share them in our workplaces when we discern the time is appropriate. All of this is an art, requiring ongoing practice, and countless negotiated conversations and relationships. I have likened it to a dance hall.

Working out loud is definitely part of PKM but it is a varying practice, depending on the place and time. Without learning out loud it can be just noise. Without experimentation it is merely whimsy. But when complex work, the driver of the creative economy, gets a stream of new ideas that have been developed in trusted communities of practice, which are informed by even broader social networks, then you have the foundation for a connected enterprise. Companies can deal with complexity by becoming learning organizations, engaging in continuous seeking, sense-making, and sharing of knowledge.


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