I read a blog post by Seth Godin titled “Shields Up” made me think about the practice of working out loud. In the blog Seth argues for protecting your nascent ideas from people who would shoot them down before they have a chance to take root and grow. So what does this say about working out loud? Is there a right time to share? Do you run a risk if you share too early?
“Ok, fine”, you say. But what does this have to do with dodge ball? Trust me, I’m getting there. Last weekend I was an organizer for a charity dodge ball tournament and spent time yesterday sharing pictures and videos from the event. While I was working on this I realized that there is a lot of similarities between dodge ball and working out loud.
Success in dodge ball depends on getting the other team out. One way to do this is to throw a ball and hit them. But before you can hit someone with a ball, you have to have a ball to throw. The teams that did well in the tournament had one player take on the role of “retriever”. This person runs around the court getting balls and providing them to the other player to throw. As you can imagine, this makes the retriever something of a target. However their contribution is really important to making the team successful.
I would say the same approach applies to working out loud. In my experience, people who are willing to share their work in progress are in the minority. Putting their ideas and unfinished work out there makes them a target for criticism and people telling them why that will never work. However, doing so can be extremely beneficial to their team. Sharing their work can allow them to make adjustments while it’s still easy to make changes rather than when things get too far along and changes take more time and effort. Sharing your mistakes can prevent others from making the same mistake. Sharing questions can help others who have the same question but were afraid to ask.
Working out loud is also a great way to build a sense of team. I’ve been a part of group that were called “teams” but were really nothing more than a collection of independent contributors. Everyone worked independently and you rarely knew what they were working on until it was finished. By contrast, the times I have truly felt part of a team were those times when we all worked together. We would pitch in, help out, share ideas, and offer feedback. It was all done in the spirit of ensuring that we were all successful.
With those newly formed ideas, you have to consider how and with whom you are sharing. Trust and collaboration are essential. Sharing with a close group of colleagues, teammates, and mentors can provide you with new perspectives and helpful insights. While sharing too broadly can leave you feeling bombarded with less than helpful criticisms. Done right, sharing your ideas and work in progress can help to nourish those ideas. Sharing too broadly, too early can just leave you feeling bruised.
Ideally, you can share in an environment of “psychological safety” as illustrated in the video shared by John Stepper in the Working Out Loud Facebook group. If you have been reluctant to work out loud, you might want to start small with one or two trusted friends or colleagues. Once you begin to see the benefits, you can slowly begin expanding that circle and allow more and more people to benefit from your thoughts, ideas, questions and even mistakes. Soon you will learn to dodge those critiques that were meant to harm you and your team will be all the more successful for your contributions.