Why you should work out loud

These days offices (or de facto offices like coffee shops) are often quiet — too quiet for some people’s taste — with most of us softly tapping away on keyboards, headphones in ears. But in other ways, according to experts, the most modern workplace is “louder” than ever. They’re obviously not talking about decibel levels; what they mean is the rise of the idea of “working out loud.”

What does “working out loud” even mean?

Understanding the idea of working out loud isn’t difficult; in fact, it can be simple AND hilarious, according to Eli Lilly & Company’s social guy Bryce Williams, who wrote a classic post defining the concept. His favorite teaching tool? A clip from the Star Wars spoof Spaceballs.

Besides brightening your day, what’s the point of watching bumbling Dark Helmet and his trusty number one watch themselves making a movie while they’re making a movie? It encapsulates the idea of making your work viewable to others as you’re doing it. Accomplishing this entails two complementary behaviors, according to Williams:

  • Narrating your work: “The act of journaling (blogging, micro-blogging, etc.) what you are doing in an open way for those interested to find and follow.”
  • Making it observable: “Creating / modifying / storing your work in places that others can see it, follow it and contribute to it IN PROCESS.”

“Social-based software platforms can aid in this process,” he notes.

But why would I want to do that?

Business strategist Dion Hinchcliffe has offered one of the clearest answers to this question. “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.” he writes. “In the end, being in frequent (some would say constant) contact with one’s stakeholders makes for a highly aligned, mutually well understood, and jointly accepted work product.”

Working out loud, in other words, makes for better work because it allows more input from colleagues and possibly customers.

What are the drawbacks?

But is more input from colleagues always a good thing? Hinchcliffe acknowledges everyone working out loud together can be metaphorically noisy.

“The deluge of communication and conservation can be interrruptive when not managed well. Driving enough relevant participation for those unfamiliar with the discipline can be hard at first too,” he writes.

But just because there are challenges and learning what to share (and when to stay quiet) takes time doesn’t mean that this isn’t still preferable to keeping work in process locked away in silos. Hinchcliffe likens working out loud to that old saying about democracy: it’s the worst way of doing things except for all the other known ways.

And perhaps the comparison to democracy is apt. Both systems are messy and occasionally confusing, but, in the end, more likely than tight control to unleash human potential and solve difficult problems.

Post by Jessica Stillman

Jessica Stillman is a semi-nomadic freelance writer (current location: sunny Nicosia, Cyprus) with interests in entrepreneurship, remote collaboration, unconventional career paths and generational differences.