The 5 Elements of Working Out Loud (Revisited)

A lot has happened since I wrote The 5 Elements of Working Out Loud in early 2014. The book came out, Working Out Loud circles started forming, and those peer support groups are now in fourteen countries and spreading inside a wide range of organizations.

Based on all those people putting the ideas into practice, we've been able to observe what works and doesn't work, and how we can improve things. Though the five elements are roughly the same, the emphasis on the different elements has shifted.

An updated description

The phrase working out loud has its roots in sharing your work online. That was the entire point back in 2010 when the phrase first appeared. However, even as more articles and books appeared about working out loud, only a minority of people tried it or realized the benefits. The vast majority kept working as they always did.

Over the years, I’ve tried to extend the original idea and make it so simple and compelling that anyone could and would practice it. To do that, I reframed what working out loud means so it would appeal to our intrinsic human motivators - our desire for autonomy, for learning, and for purpose, including connections to other people.

Here’s how I describe it now:

Working out loud is an approach to building relationships that can help you in some way. It’s a practice that combines conventional wisdom about relationships with modern ways to reach and engage people. When you work out loud, you feel good and empowered at the same time.

It's a personal practice that evolves over time. And in addition to the individual benefits, it can help HR departments (and organizations generally) create a more engaged, digital-savvy workforce and an open, connected culture.

The 5 Elements

In the original post, I wrote that “Working Out Loud starts with making your work visible in such a way that it might help others.” That turned out to be limiting, as most people found “making your work visible” to be too daunting as a first step. It also wasn’t clear why you would make your work visible, other than the hope that something good might happen.

So here’s an updated version of the 5 elements and how they tend to appeal more directly to our intrinsic motivators. There’s a chapter on each one of them in Part II of Working Out Loud.

Relationships: Relationships are at the heart of working out loud. The path to opportunities and to knowledge is very often via other people. As you deepen relationships with people in your network, they’re more likely to help you or collaborate in some way, and deepening relationships taps into your intrinsic need for feeling connected to something and someone beside yourself.

Generosity: Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, said, “The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, wrote about the power of “small gifts, freely given.” Your contributions can include things as simple (and powerful) as recognition and appreciation. The reason generosity is a good way to build relationships is because we’re wired for reciprocal altruism. That means that you don’t have to keep score or think of giving to people as a quid pro quo transaction. Rather, you can make contributions in a way that feels good and genuine knowing that, over the entirety of your network, there will naturally be a benefit to you too as others reciprocate. 

Visible work: You don't have to be a social media maven to work out loud. You can do it over coffee and email. Using social platforms, though, has a number of advantages. When you make your work visible and frame it as a contribution, social platforms can amplify who you are and what you do; greatly extend your reach; and expand the set of contributions you can make and how you can offer them. The feedback on your visible work can also make you and your work better, thus tapping into your intrinsic need for learning.

Purposeful discovery: Given the infinite amount of contributing and connecting you can do, you need to make it purposeful in order to be effective. It needn't be your One Special Purpose but rather something as simple as “I’d like to learn more about <X>” or “I’d like to explore opportunities in another industry or location.” You can still have room for serendipity, but having a goal in mind orients your activities, including the kinds of relationships you’re trying to develop and contributions you should make. As working out loud becomes a habit, you can apply it towards any goal.

A growth mindset: This last element isn’t about things to do but rather a mindset to have as you do them. Carol Dweck, researcher and author of Growth Mindset, showed how you can develop a more open, curious approach to work and life and be more resilient in the face of setbacks. Adopting such a mindset means you’re more likely to try new things and to persist even when someone, for example, doesn’t respond to your contributions as you had hoped.

Your own practice

You may have noticed I used the word “practice” several times when describing working out loud, and that I offered a general description in lieu of a definition. That’s because working out loud is not a recipe with a prescriptive set of instructions to follow.

It's more personal than that. You start with steps that are simple and can offer some benefits quite quickly. Over time, as your personal practice evolves and you explore what's right for you, you might try some more advanced techniques or seek out some additional resources to help you. Small steps, practiced over time, with feedback and peer support help you develop a set of positive habits - and help you discover your best self.