I love the “working out loud” approach. It’s highly social, which now, after years of personal work, runs through me like a stick of rock. In that (ongoing) personal journey, I have learnt not only the benefits and indescribable joys (and sometimes, the excruciating pain) of joining the rest of the human race, but also how to do it. WOL also gives us the opportunity to exercise our opposable minds with each other. This is our ability to hold seemingly contradictory or conflicting ideas in a creative tension so that we come up with novel solutions or insights. The idea that we can co-create something that neither of us could have worked out individually is highly appealing to me. The challenges before us, many of which seem intractable, are products of old ways of thinking and being. One of my things is that the new solutions will come out of collaboration, learning together and co-creation. That, for me, is one of the strongest “selling points” in WOL: I can’t solve it myself, neither can you, but together we might synthesise a wondrous future.
So how’s this for working out loud….
I hate feedback.
Feedback, as I learnt from one of my greatest teachers, is that dissonant screech you get coming through a speaker system. In my time, I have trained in a myriad of personal and professional development settings, via a variety of modalities, methods and processes. I always looked forward to (and still do) the “feedback-y” bits of those. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I hate feedback. I love supervision. Super. Vision.
The thing I enjoy is the learning; the “supervisory” conversations with others who hold my learning and development in mind and who have super vision, i.e. see things I don’t see. In these conversations, I would receive information about myself and how I function in the world, have the opportunity to integrate it into my self-concept and update my knowledge and capabilities. This would uncover blindspots, help me to see things about myself I couldn’t possibly see on my own and expand my self-awareness. Purpose: self development.
There is, I believe, a cultural conserve around “feedback”. In a lot of situations, feedback comes across exactly like a dissonant racket and is welcomed with just as much openness and delight as you would expect such a screech to invite. I believe this is related to our cultural conserve of “feedback” and how it’s done. It tends to be (mostly) one-way: one person giving feedback to another. Rather than a mutual and engaging conversation, it gets structured into a “three positive things, three negative things, and one more positive thing to finish on so that we can end on a positive note” type of ritual. It also tends not to be strengths-based. Hang on a sec, didn’t I just say it starts with “three positive things”? Yes, but that is not strengths-based. Telling someone something “negative”, no matter how it’s dressed up, is not strengths-based.
Taking a strengths-based approach
I believe there is an entirely different way of looking at this, which is to view humans as inherently good and their behaviours as inherently meaningful and sensible. We may not see the good, nor understand the meaning and sense of why people do what they do, but let’s just imagine it is so. If we start with this assumption, then instead of giving “feedback”, let’s look at what people have done and build on it. If we see learning as a process rather than an event…..as a constant becoming….then everything we do is the starting point for the next thing to learn. Beings in beta, always refining and retuning and building on.
“What a bunch of new age, PC nonsense! It’s this sort of thinking that is driving this business to the wall!”
Well, perhaps……However, to fail to recognise strengths is akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water. It is demoralising and demotivating. Even in our worst ever moments, there is the seed of something useful, life-giving and good. As Dr. Max Clayton states, “…there tends to be an over-emphasis on the inadequacies of people….When people become aware of what is (good) in their functioning,…problematic areas of their life become easier to manage.” If we want people to really learn and to really change, this is what we want: that they are able to self-manage and that they find it easy to do.
What does this have to do with working out loud?
Working out loud is part of the “new way of doing things” (#nwodt, just to give myself a bit of hashtag license). When I do my work on Twitter, blogs or Google+, then what I’m working on there is open. When I’m working in a room with people, I employ a human technology that works with what is emergent, so I’m also working out in the open; to a very great extent, what happens next is dependent on what has just happened. I’m working out loud. If I’m working out in the open, I’m exposing myself and am vulnerable. What might stop people from doing this? When I put something in the public domain, I am taking a risk. As Eric Ziegler writes, “people are scared of putting themselves out there and working out loud. They are fearful that there will be negative repercussions when they make a mistake out in the open. They are fearful that people will think less of them. They are not willing to risk sharing because there is no benefit or that other people will not find what they are sharing as interesting or informative.” All very human.
Seems to me that our limbic systems come into play here just a little bit. These alarm systems that sit right within our brains don’t like danger. They also don’t like perceived danger. The thing about our limbic system is that it doesn’t know the difference between real danger and perceived danger; it’s all just danger. Like a gazelle in the open savannah, when we are exposed and there is a potential for attack, we are in a heightened state of vigilance, which could explain the reluctance of many to work out loud. Yes, there are clearly benefits to working out loud, however the cultural conserve of “feedback” leads many not to.
I understand these reservations. I have felt the things that Eric describes as fear-inducing and I know how it feels. Not good. That is kind of irrelevant. I’ve had some amazing supervision sessions with some great teachers in my time and I haven’t felt ‘great’, but those conversations have certainly taught me invaluable stuff. I will add: after all the many years of aforementioned ‘personal work’, I have a pretty solid sense of self-worth and I certainly welcome conversation, questions, something that would expand my (and your) knowledge. I also bounce back quickly. This is not to say, however, that to have my thoughts and perspectives dismissed in three or four sentences of “feedback” by people with substantial prestige, status and influence doesn’t sting. And as I say, I don’t mind not feeling great; I do mind not having the engagement that leads to all involved becoming greater. Where is the interaction? Where is the engagement with me? Where is the responsiveness to me and the perspectives I hold? A terse, un-engaged dismissal, phrased using language of the “old way of doing things” has wrapped within it an assumption, conscious or unconscious, that my experiences hold little value, my synthesis and meaning made of said experiences erroneous and the thought processes used faulty. If we work out loud, allowing our works-in-progress to be spotlit, and they are treated like a critic treats a theatre performance, scrutinised from another subjective perspective using language of definitiveness, we will understandably think twice about making a new habit. If we work out loud and someone comes along and infers (using the most educated and authoritative language) “Idiot”, and does it in a way which shows no curiosity or interest in where we are coming from, we all lose out. We have the technology, we are all right here.
For me, part of the “old way of doing things” means that we take up an either/or stance. This is part of the whole “feedback” cultural conserve. I see what you have written and if I like it or agree with it, I might share it. And if I don’t like it or don’t agree with it, rather than simply saying nothing, I feel somehow moved to explain why I don’t agree and why you are wrong. Limiting. When I’ve had a simple “I don’t agree and this why you are wrong….” as a response, I am left thinking, “So where is the learning? For me and for you?” Missed opportunity. If you have some super vision that I am blind to, the absence of engagement leaves us both poorer for it. If there is some engagement, we might both come out better for it, our world views expanded.
Part of the #nwodt was described over 20 years ago by the venerable Mr. Edward de Bono in his book “I Am Right, You Are Wrong” when he set out some differences between the “rock logic” of traditional thinking (absolutes, adversarial point scoring, rigid categories, either/or) and the “water logic” of perception (both/and, constructive and creative thinking).
So, I accept the challenge, I will continue to work out loud, I will allow myself to be vulnerable. In response, I request curiosity, responsiveness and a spirit of “building on”. Please engage with me. As a person. A human person. And if you find yourself moved to say something which is more about being right or showing how much smarter you are or how much dumber I am, please refrain. (…and I realise that I am coaching myself here, as much as anyone else.)
My WOL credo
My understanding of working out loud is that I show my work and invite engagement so that we all might learn from it. Working out loud is more than ‘stuff I do in public’, though. Like many #nwodt, it’s got a bunch of assumptions that go with it. Here are some of mine.
- I believe that it is social. With my background, that means that it is mutual and two-way. Central to this, I try to become aware of any power differential: “power” being my status, my network connections, the ‘clubs’ I belong to or don’t, the influence I am able to exert……. So I commit to being more mindful of how I engage.
- I believe that effective working out loud starts with the belief: “I don’t have all the answers.” I believe that WOL requires a modicum of giving people some credit for having had some experience in life and having made some meaning of it. So I commit to being more mindful of what I don’t know about others.
- I believe it requires enough self-awareness to know that we all have blind spots. This simply means we understand that we have them, not that we know what they are….they are called BLIND for a reason. So I commit to being more mindful of the unknown unknowns: mind AND yours.
- I believe that there is something in people who work well and comfortably out loud that acknowledges self-deception. As David McRaney writes in his post about the illusion of asymmetric insight, the misconception we hold about ourselves is that we celebrate diversity and respect others’ points of view. The reality that our behaviour belies is that we are driven to believe others are wrong simply because they are “others” and they couldn’t possibly be as self-aware/clever/educated/experienced/skilful as us. So I commit to being more mindful of the lies I tell myself.
- I believe that to in order for me to work out loud, I will value community and learning over the need to be right. When I’m in a learning mood, I find myself asking genuinely naive and curious questions, being aware of stuff I don’t actually know and that someone else does know stuff that I don’t. So I commit to being more mindful of my internal voices.
- I believe it’s useful to notice what state I am in and to consciously warm up to being in the role of Open Receptive Learner. It’s not necessarily our default, considering the kind of schooling institutions and workplaces most of us have been predominantly exposed to. So I commit to being more mindful of the Role I’m enacting.
Some of the most inspiring and lucid out-loud-thinkers that I’ve come across include Dan Oestreich, Louise Altman and Bob Marshall. Read Dan’s work to see how beautifully and humanly he describes the challenges he faces in his work as a coach to others. Read Louise’s work to see how deeply she cares about humanity and the lengths she goes to learn and learn and learn about herself in relation to others. Read Bob’s work to see how he bares open his thought processes as he extends his revolutionary method of working to make work work better.
This bit of working out loud about working out loud has clarified some things for me….but at this stage, it’s still just me on my own. Responses?