Working Out Loud: Relationships and Legacy

Last week was celebrated as International Working Out Loud Week.

For those of you who are new to this, Working Out Loud is a practice of sharing your work/work in progress with a relevant community to enable learning and collaboration.

It is about being vulnerable and putting yourself, your lessons out there in communities for others to contribute and consume. It is a great way to leverage wisdom of community to improve your own work, contribute to a community that shares your purpose and build relationships based on ideas.

I started this blog in April 2006 to simply document my lessons in leading people, projects and improvement initiatives. Along the journey, I learned that if I want people to read and share their comments, I will have to do the same. And that’s how this cycle of creation, curation and contribution started. My practice of sharing what I learn along the way for last 11 years has served me (and hopefully others) well.

This journey has allowed me to live some of the five elements of working out loud: being visible, connected, generous, curious and purposeful. And all the amazing folks I interact with, communities that feed my thinking and opportunities that come my way are only happy by-products of this journey.

When introducing November 2017 #WOLWeek, Simon Terry wrote a post about how working out loud is a way to deepen relationships and create a legacy. Here is a quick sketch note version with key ideas from his post.

I encourage you to visit for amazing insights and resources to inspire you to work out loud.


Here’s a sketchnote on five elements of working out loud with insights by John Stepper:

Purpose and Progress: Powerful Motivators

Progress is a powerful motivator. When individuals and teams achieve small wins, they have a big impact on the overall motivation. It also generates positive momentum and energy to take further steps in the journey of achieving the purpose.

Authors Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer presented their research findings in a book titled The Progress Principle” – Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement and Creativity at Work where they found,

“Of all the positive events that influence the inner work life, the single most powerful is progress in meaningful work” – The Progress Principle

The converse is also true. Setbacks and lack of visibility into progress (as a team and as an organization) can be powerful de-motivator.

In this context, three things are very crucial from a leadership perspective:

Make the purpose visible.

We are talking about meaningful work here. In the daily conundrum, it is easy for your folks to lose the sight of the purpose and meaning of their work. While the meaning of our work is largely driven by the personal lens we use to see our work, the key question you need to ask as a leader is: Are people clear about what we are trying to achieve here and how their work contributes to that purpose?

Enable Progress.

People will get stuck. Their ability to make progress will be stifled by all internal and external forces. And that’s when they will need help. Enable progress by helping people, coaching them when required and eliminating the roadblocks (potential derailers). When a setback is encountered, help them in finding a way through the set back. The key question you need to ask: “Am I doing everything I possibly can to ensure that I am enabling progress?”

Make the progress visible.

Once people are clear about the purpose, then progress matters. Leaders have a huge role to play in making the progress visible. Use all forums of communication (daily stand up meetings, weekly status, monthly meetings, newsletters, wiki, portals etc) to make the progress visible. The key question you need to ask: Knowing what purpose are we working to achieve, do people know all the time about progress we are making (or not) towards the purpose?

Why does this matter? Because people want to make valuable contributions to a purpose larger than themselves. And when they know that they are making progress in achieving meaningful work, they are more likely to be intrinsically motivated.

That’s what we need more of in organization’s and teams today – isn’t it?

Information is not Knowledge, Knowledge is not Wisdom

“Information is not knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

This is even more true in a hyper-connected world where access to information is abundant. Having more information can, at the best, make you look smart at the tea party but it does not move a needle, unless you do something about what you already know.

We need to move up in the DIKW hierarchy which attempts to define relationship between Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom.

Data is discrete collection of signs, symbols and letters. When described properly in a certain frame of reference, data becomes information.

The truth is – knowledge happens when information meets experience, values, contextual understanding about the specific situations, application, intuition and beliefs. Real knowledge is the synthesis of all these. The act of constant learning is the act of constantly synthesizing information with experiences. The act of constantly bridging the gap between what we know and what we do.

Knowledge provides a roadmap to address situations and contextual challenges. But are you solving the right problems for the right reasons?  That is wisdom – the “why” of things we do. Information is “what” and knowledge is” “how”.

Sandra Carey puts it beautifully –

“Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living. The other helps you make a life.”

Knowledge looks at procedures, methods and application. Wisdom looks at objectives – it clarifies the purpose. And, methods are only useful when purpose is clear.

That is what we need more of – in life and in organizations. Without purpose and clarity, all the techniques, processes and knowledge that we have in our kitty will only add to complexity. What we need is exactly the opposite.

Purpose Precedes Process

If process is a vehicle, purpose is the compass. Purpose gives a definite direction to processes. People (and their expertise) are the drivers. Technology acts as an accelerator.

Most system implementation or change initiatives focus enough on the P-P-T – People, process and technology and somewhere along the lines, the focus on purpose blurs. I have seen improvement experts who are always on the quest to find the next new thing, a fancy template or a complex matrix document that they can include in their ‘kitty’ of best practices. Being “process oriented” is definitely an asset, unless that is the only thing you are focusing on.

If you constantly teach/propagate processes to your people, they would comply at the least. But if you sell them a compelling purpose, a powerful “why” and then show them “how” a particular process element would help them meet that purpose, process buy-in comes naturally.

Focus on purpose is also a great tool to identify waste in your system. Constant alignment with a purpose helps you focus on what is absolutely essential, what can be simplified and what is not needed at all. In a constantly changing external environment, businesses can stay on top of their game with a strong commitment to purpose.

People first respond to purpose, and then need tools to achieve that purpose.

Bottom line? Sell the purpose and process will take care of itself.

The Importance of “Know Why”?

Knowledge industry, particularly software, is full of people who possess “know-how” – knowledge of how to get something done. Give them a task, and they will be able to apply their technical skills (read ‘know-how’) to accomplish it.

A lot of people possess a very sound “know-what” – knowledge of facts, figures and methods. Give them a topic and it is likely that they know the theory and facts. “Know-how” shines with “Know-what”.

Sales and marketing folks focus on “know-who” – people they know, have met and have a business relationship with.

There is a proliferation of know-how-what-who people, however, what we need more in businesses today is “know-why” people – those who possess knowledge of the purpose of doing something, insight into the meaning of work.

In lean terms, doing everything else without knowing the purpose and meaning is a “waste” – because everything that is done without understanding the purpose is a cost.

Understanding the purpose, context and meaning requires something more than simple “explicit knowledge”. It requires curiosity, implicit insight, ability to connect the dots, question our work, think about system and understand the invisible currents.

Purpose is powerful tool to keep people aligned, establish a vision (for team and organization), inspire team members and guide large scale strategic changes.

“Know-why” is at the core of excellence and is a pillar on which improvements are (and should be) done.

Given business priorities and rate of change, it is very easy to get carried away by tactical tasks, speed and progress. Corporate culture rewards speed, action and progress. But if you are running fast in the wrong direction, you are prone to accidents.

To avoid this, it is crucial that we know why we are doing what we are doing. Is it adding value? What problems are we solving? Is it really worth it? Why?

So, once in a while, it helps to slow down. Step back. Question our work, see the broader picture and flex our “know why” muscle.

“Know-why” empowers how, what and who. We surely need people who know how and what to do – but we need more and more people/leaders who combine what and how with a powerful why.

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Join in the conversation: How can you instil a strong sense of “know-why” in your organization/team/self? Is there a dearth of “know-why” in business today? What can we do about it? Let your ideas flow in comments below.