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Working out loud about Working Out Loud

I recently read John Stepper’s Working Out Loud (WOL) book, which I recommend. It was John’s blog regarding the APQC knowledge management conference that prompted me to get the book off my “read someday” queue. And, because I knew I wanted to go deep with the content, I created a mind-map to help me retain the key concepts (the mind-map is available to all as a PDF or MS Word file).

Working Out Loud book cover

Before I read the book, I suspected that I had been “working out loud” for many years. The book confirmed that belief, while also offering extra motivation and structure to refine my practice.

I was unable to attend the APQC conference, and I still hope to learn some key takeaways from those that did attend. In the meantime, to get started with further learning on my own, I began to dig into the Working Out Loud website and the Facebook and LinkedIn WOL groups.


The questions now on my mind are mostly related to applying WOL at organizational scale, which is not a focus in the book. What I am wondering about:

  1. “Thinking out loud” versus “working out loud”. While acknowledging the risk of going down a semantic rabbit hole, I draw a distinction between these two phases. To me, “Thinking out loud” is about developing and refining ideas in an open forum. Working out loud is more about putting forth your reasonably baked ideas to attract feedback and potential collaborators.
  2. Within an organization, does Working Out Loud increase information overload? Of course, I see the organizational benefit for working out loud; but, do we need to mitigate the increased risk of information overload from the increasingly open communications? Wouldn’t that be a nice problem to have?
  3. When institutionalizing WOL within a company, is it prudent to place any boundaries on the goals the participants choose to pursue? Do goals need to be somehow aligned with the company’s mission and goals? The Week 1 WOL guide doesn’t answer this explicitly; however, it seems to implicitly answer the question as “no”. I feel conflicted on this point and lean towards recommending a light-hand to suggest, but not enforce, that goals should connect with the company’s mission and goals. That said, even goals outside of the company’s mission can lead to building valuable networking skills and creating relationships between employees, which benefit the organization.
  4. How can or should WOL integrate with continuous improvement programs such as Lean? I am seeing WOL as subordinate to, but aligned with, systematic Lean programs. Does/can/should WOL become a technique exercised on the behalf of Lean? Can WOL Circles be Quality Circles and/or tied to Kaizen continuous improvement? The WOL Getting Started does say that “The way Circles are designed, they can be readily integrated into onboarding, leadership development, innovation, digital transformation, diversity, and other programs.” Doing so would further answer the above point as “yes”. Answering as “yes” then raises another question for me…
  5. Should WOL goals always be individual goals? (contrast to a WOL circle taking up fewer goals than the number of participants) I tend to think “yes” — since individual goals maximize individual interest, leadership, and passion. Accepting this then takes me back to #2, information overload. How many distinct goals can the organization absorb at any point in time? The prescribed one hour per week for circle meetings is minimal; however, what level of support is the organizational taking on aside from the circle-time commitment? Is there a risk that circle participants become frustrated because the broader organization isn’t fully onboard to provide the required support?
  6. Lastly, I have a personal concern that my own working out loud during my career sabbatical has led to only a few new connections and hasn’t noticeably helped with my job search — leaving me to wonder where might I be unknowingly sabotaging my efforts?

Published in Knowledge Management


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