Re: Working Out Loud - I can’t even hear myself think #WOL #information-overload

Dennis Pearce

Great discussion on one of my favorite topics!  A couple of points I'd like to make:

One is that I think the technology aspect, especially the need for a collaboration platform, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a good WOL environment. This is why platforms vs. channels is so important.  In channels (email, phone, etc.) the sender has control over the transfer, so email inboxes can quickly become overflowing.  But a well-designed platform (this is where KM comes in) should allow the receiver to be in control by giving them the ability to control the scope and frequency of their notifications.  Granted, external platforms like Facebook might push content on you that you don't want, but a good internal Enterprise Social Network should give you the freedom to have as much or as little awareness of what's going on as you choose to subscribe to.  Thus, I think the combination of a good ESN and a WOL culture can turn organizational knowledge into a "utility" like electricity or water, where it's just always there in the background, but you decide how much and in what form you want it delivered to you.  See a blog post of mine for more on this idea:

Second, a lot of what we say about WOL depends on how we define it, and it can be pretty fuzzy and hard to pin down (much like KM).  As much as I admire John Stepper's work, I feel like he only covers half of what WOL is.  No fault of his -- I know him and know he's very passionate about helping people become better at sharing what they do, so that's where his focus is.  But I take my view of WOL from Bryce Williams' original definition:

Working Out Loud = Observable Work + Narrating Your Work

It's not just talking about your work but doing it openly.  When I was writing my doctoral dissertation on this topic, my advisor wanted me to come up with a more academic definition, and we landed on:
"'Working Out Loud' is the act of doing work and/or narrating that work, whether individually or as a group, as it progresses such that it is immediately observable on an organization’s internal enterprise social network or on external social platforms and available for review and comment by others who may not necessarily be part of the specific intended audience."

My point is that there is more to WOL than just sharing what you know.  For example if your team is working on a project in MS Teams but you choose to make that team public instead of private, that is also WOL.  You're not doing any extra work and nobody outside the team has to follow it if they don't want to, but it's available and findable if someone does.  I would also argue that WOL is not really the same thing as sharing, because there is no transaction involved.  More on that here:

One final point -- sharing presumes an immediacy and something of a time constraint on the activity, whereas WOL (in my definition) is only bounded by the length of time the information is preserved.  This means that WOL might not only benefit others, but also future you.

As a personal example, people blog for a lot of different reasons: to promote themselves, to build an audience, to provoke, to share ideas they come across, etc.  I started mine (which the above posts are from) not so much to share with others but just as a way to log my thoughts and ideas for myself, which is why the posts are so sporadic and often come in clusters.  It's a place I can go back to and refresh my memory on ideas I might have forgotten about.  But by doing it openly, I'll get the occasional interaction with someone that spawns even more ideas.

All of this is to say that I think when done right, WOL shouldn't require extra work for the contributor and shouldn't create extra noise for everyone else.

Dennis Pearce

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