Next week, November 17 to 21 is International Working Out Loud Week (WOL Week). Education Northwest, my organization, is one that has struggled at times to identify and implement the best ways to share knowledge and increase transparency across areas of work. We are not unique in that. I am hoping that the activities we’re rolling out for WOL Week will advance the cause.
What is WOL, aka Show Your Work? It’s a practice of simply documenting work and/or thoughts about that work, as it is happening or immediately after as an extension of the task. I hear you cringing: Great, more work?! Two short answers before I get into the more meaty whys below. 1. Once in the habit, this will save you work. 2. It’s kind of fun.
There are four main factors that, taken together, I think make a compelling case for doing some form of WOL.
- The speed of knowledge: Content is everywhere, data is all around, information streams at us constantly. Knowledge and its application – synthesized information that we can apply in meaningful ways – can run incredibly fast. Not just knowledge of a topic, field, or practice, but also knowledge of how to do things, in this workplace, and with the right tools and processes. WOL can help us keep up, by prompting us to document what we do and how we do it, and to have insight into other’s practices, too.
- The movement of people: Very few of us stay at an organization across years and decades anymore (and in this regard, Education Northwest’s staff longevity is an exception to other places I’ve been). Even if we do, the job that we do today isn’t the same as the job we did five years ago or will do five years from now (and if it is, ask WHY!?!). WOL practice is a way to document what we do and how we do it, and helps retain institutional memory and accelerate best practices.
- Learning is our primary task: As I’ve argued on numerous occasions, learning is our job: Working is learning, learning is working. See points 1 and 2 above. If we don’t have a method to keep up and keep learning, we are left behind, as individuals in the workforce and in our organizations.
- Loss of people whose job it is to know how to get things done: Watch any TV show set
in the workplace before 1995, and you’ll see the cadre of people who actually know how to get things done. They were called admins, support staff, interns or junior staff. (In a way Education Northwest is an exception here, too – I’m grateful for the terrific support staff we have.) Need to pull reports? Send a letter to the board? Work the system to get a contractor paid? Now we are meant to be self-reliant. That is, responsible for our professional development and subject AND how to get things done. That’s our world. WOL practices are a great way to address that, too. People are notoriously bad at describing what they actually do to get things done – it’s tucked away between the ears. I don’t know how to get a contractor’s payment though HR and payroll, but surely someone in my organization does and may have shared that info. See? It saves you time!
There are all kinds of reasons to give WOL a try. Don’t worry if you don’t know your hashtags from your hash browns. Use whatever works for you – write a sticky note, take a picture of it, and send it to your colleagues. Join me and the (tens of?) thousands of folks who understand that we need new and better ways to share with each other in our workplaces and across our professions.