Book Summary – Show Your Work (The Payoffs and How-To’s of Working Out Loud)

These easy-to-use, efficient tools can help you “work out loud” by helping you target where your work goes:

  • “Social media”– To share with “the entire world.”
  • “Email”– To reach a specific person or group.
  • “Social site”– To share with an “open or restricted group.”
  • “Team site”– To share privately within your work group.
  • Instant message or “IM”– To share in search of a fast answer or feedback.
  • “Local store”– To bank your work for future use, but not to share it.

The Upside for Organizations

Showing your work reduces the time you have to spend in meetings, creates a bridge across silos, and decreases the effort of producing reports or searching for information. Many workers devote the lion’s share of their day to “barely repeatable processes” – dealing with staff and clients, or managing hiccups and problems. Work is seldom linear; it’s fluid and not easy to diagram. Making your work process observable to others facilitates innovation, embraces suggestions and improvements, promotes transparency, and allows others to learn in real time. It assists in recruitment, enables remote staff members to feel connected, and boosts learning and morale. Hoarding information, or “undersharing,” creates distrust, inhibits problem solving, ignores issues as they develop and adds to the formation of silos.

“Learning happens when people explore an idea, talk to each other about it, explain their thinking, share what they’re doing.”

Having staff members narrate their work demonstrates how people find solutions or make and correct mistakes. Sharing missteps provides a wonderful opportunity for learning. For example, the US Teacher of the Year, Sarah Brown Wessling, videotaped her classes on a day when her lesson plan initially missed its mark. The assignment she gave the students in her first class did not engage their interest, and they responded by misbehaving. She adjusted the plan before the next class. She added an audio explanation of her process, including input from another teacher, and posted the video on the Teaching Channel site. This proved more instructive than if she’d simply provided a copy of her revised lesson plan.

The Upside for Workers

Showing your work provides a forum for peer feedback and input, helps identify your best practices, and pinpoints your mistakes. It showcases your skills in your field or company. Explaining your processes and teaching others forces you to articulate your thoughts and ideas. Generally, when people are asked to explain their reasoning, they retain the information longer and perform better on tests. Sharing knowledge “pays it forward,” by allowing others to benefit from your learning journey. Making your work observable invites others to offer help and guidance or to share similar experiences.

“People aren’t very good at telling what they do and often know more than they can articulate.”

For example, a business team asked a new employee for his help with a presentation. After improving their slides, he compared his revised slides to the current ones and illustrated why his changes would enhance the presentation. He provided a “real solution to a real problem,” and showed his capabilities to his new managers. By showing his work, he impressed his new boss. In another example, a government agency hired a writer to create an employee “Code of Conduct.” The assignment required her to compose a definition for “professionalism.” She asked her Twitter-based “personal learning network” (“PLN”) for advice and created a Google Doc to garner contributions. Her network collaborated on a definition that suited her purpose – and she felt it was better than the definition she would have written on her own.

Changing Nature of Knowledge

Organizations traditionally view knowledge as proprietary – something to capture, store, own and protect as an asset. This “knowledge-as-data” view differs from the idea that well-informed people hold knowledge or expertise to use for the benefit of an organization. In both approaches, organizations and individuals hoard knowledge as capital to exchange for rewards or status. An emerging view of knowledge regards it as an intangible resource generated by communities of people collaborating to solve problems or expand the whole community’s knowledge base.

“In the desire to oversimplify, we end up with documents that are akin to having a map without landmarks or road signs, with the organization unable to see the routes people really take.”

New technological tools make information readily and easily accessible. The mind-set that “share is the new save” is replacing the “hand-it-in” mentality that left completed projects or homework tucked away in a drawer forever. Today, students and workers post presentations on SlideShare, YouTube and the like, giving their work a long and healthy virtual life.

Learning and Development

Learning and development (L&D) infuses organizations with a culture that supports sharing and gaining knowledge at work. Sharing allows people to learn organically; they can explore ideas, describe their thinking and show their action steps as co-workers. Participation in collaborating, receiving instruction and solving problems also serendipitously spurs learning.

“Whatever you decide to do, it shouldn’t require custom platforms, two days of training and a task force working up an implementation plan.”

To facilitate work sharing, offer training in technological tools that display work products, such as SlideShare. Show employees how to capture their ideas via video, pictures or screenshots. Encourage their work by offering “likes,” making comments or asking questions. Sharing “should be an organic activity” that fits into the workflow. Displaying your work shouldn’t create more work, so incorporate showable processes using the tools that work best for you. For example, a copier technician could post a photo of a broken part to a community wiki, or a knowledge worker could upload a presentation to a company-sharing site accompanied by a brief, microblog description. After you share your work, ask, “What went well? What would I do differently next time?”

“In considering, ‘Which tool is best?’ it matters more to ask, ‘What’s comfortable and easy to use and fits easily within the work flow’?”

Employees should be free to choose the sharing tools that work best for them – blogs, wikis and microblogging or presentation sites like SlideShare. Workers can share bookmarks using Diigo and Delicious or offer bookmarks accompanied by articles and notes with Evernote. Users can create collages and murals and share them via the website mural.ly. Easy video-sharing platforms include YouTube, Vimeo or TeacherTube. And, Google Glass and Google Hangout let participants view work in real time. Photo-sharing platforms are easy to access and pin.

Fear of Sharing

These simple solutions suggested by learning and development leaders help counteract an employee’s fear of sharing work:

  • “Not knowing how or what to show”– Provide examples; introduce simple tools and offer easy tutorials.
  • “Needing some help with the tools”– Select easy-to-master tools.
  • “Fearing what they show won’t be useful”– Encourage others to respond with positive feedback and comments.
  • “Lack of time”– Sharing work reduces time generating reports or attending meetings.
  • “Fear of not getting credit, being criticized or exposing failure”– Create a work culture that prizes collaboration, respects co-workers and views failure as part of the learning process.

Case Studies

Videos are worth several thousand words. Posting videos on sharing sites gives others a clear view of what you do. YouTube features short films on everything from how to build a deck to how to play “Stairway to Heaven” on a guitar. Popular gardener and speaker Pearl Fryar posts demonstrations showing how to trim plants into topiaries. Surgeons wear Google Glass during surgeries, giving other doctors a first-person view of their operations.

“Anyone who’s diligently followed a written recipe only to have a terrible end result has felt the disconnect between tacit and explicit knowledge.”

When retired art teacher Gloria Mercer needed an activity to strengthen her right hand after surgery, she learned how to decorate bakery-style cookies. She shared her journey on Facebook, with blogging and videos. Other people in her social networks began baking cookies. A “community of practice” formed as viewers shared their successes and failures. Mercer’s experience shows how observable work facilitates learning and encourages feedback and sharing. It highlights the organic nature of networks and knowledge.

“Try to think of showing your work as an act of generosity, of helping each other out, not as another onerous task to perform.”

Paul Bogush created a blog to share his experience teaching middle-school students how to make a video about the Louisiana Purchase in the RSA animated style that “shows a hand sketching an image.” He recorded their progress day-by-day, beginning with researching the subject, watching RSA videos, sketching pictures and writing narration. He shared their decisions and mistakes as they drew boards and practiced filming. He wrapped up the blog by noting what he felt worked, pointing out errors and asking for input by saying, “Come back and leave some advice in the comments.”

“People like to be asked for their opinions and ideas; showing your work can be another avenue for creating dialogue and getting feedback.”

Musician David Byrne of Talking Heads detailed in his book How Music Works how he made the album Grown Back Wards from inception to distribution. “By being transparent and using my own experience as an example, I could let other musicians see what their options are and how their decisions might pan out,” he explained.

“This Is How I…”

Sharing your daily activities with people within your organization fosters better communication, generates a greater understanding about the challenges you encounter and helps solicit input from employees on other teams. New hires at Aspen Dental, for example, post daily progress reports on their class blog. Feedback from experienced workers helps them during their training.

“One of the problems with traditional knowledge management is the temptation to try and oversimplify an unavoidably complex task.”

People in the job market can take advantage of new tools to create and display their skills and achievements. Online portfolios have a stronger visual impact and leave a more powerful impression than traditional résumés. Sharing notes from a webinar or narrating a self-learning project allows others to learn with you.

“Models and formulas…often fit common circumstances in only the most abstract way.”

A team member attending the DevLearn meeting in Las Vegas shared important summary points with co-workers at the end of each session and garnered more than 70 views. One developer blogged about how he taught himself code, imparting what he learned by building a prototype in eight weeks. His tips about easy-to use resources and which steps to take in which order helped novice coders who were attempting the same task.

“Saying, ‘I don’t have time to narrate my work,’ is akin to saying, ‘I’m too busy cutting down the tree to stop and sharpen the saw’.”

Yammer’s head of learning and development, Allison Michels, often asks team members, “What are you working on right this second?” Offering people “snapshots” or excerpts from your work flow shows them a work in progress rather than post-project highlights. It lets you ask for help or advice, which builds trust, strengthens relationships and promotes collaboration. For example, artist April Barci posted pictures of a painting as she painted it. A couple of writers utilized different display methods to show how they outlined a book. Sacha Chua uses “sketchnoting,” a mixture of handwriting and sketching, as a visual explanation of his planning process.