With ever greater conviction as time passes, i realise that #WorkingOutLoud is the central mechanism of my work: the methodology by which i build understanding and share ideas.
Today, as part of a broader programme of reflective practice through 2023, i will share a perspective on what #WorkingOutLoud actually is, what it has given me, and how it works.
There is a caveat here: i am not describing a ‘thing’, but rather a methodology and practice. Plenty of people will have different views on what #WorkingOutLoud is, and how it ‘works’, and they are all equally valid. My post today is a critical reflection on my own practice, and hence my own evolving understanding and belief.
One simple definition of #WorkingOutLoud is to share the journey as well as the destination. To share evolving thoughts, partially complete writing, and unfinished business. But that may create an illusion that there is a ‘complete’ end point. That somehow our thinking, and writing, are ‘done’.
My current understanding of #WorkingOutLoud from a philosophical perspective, is to be constantly curious, multi disciplinary, connective, and in motion. To be fluid in one’s certainty, and have a willingness to be wrong. This speaks to #WorkingOutLoud as a mode of understanding, almost a belief system.
One could also view it differently, from a more methodological perspective: a way of working. Under this perspective, #WorkingOutLoud is a constructive discipline, a series of tools and a broad framework for constructing knowledge, meaning, and broader application. It could be really quite pragmatic, and possibly more clearly learnable.
I am torn between the two: my understanding of both has evolved, and both have given me something.
As a philosophy, i have found #WorkingOutLoud to be closely aligned to the mindset of the generalist or trans-disciplinary practitioner. A perspective whereby one consciously moves location and perspective of knowledge, and actively seeks to interconnect. It is out of this understanding that i find i have broadly adopted geographic and exploration metaphors in my work. Indeed, i position myself as an ‘Explorer’, which relates both to intellectual as well as the geographically integrated nature of my writing: i think that my work is intrinsically tied to movement, both in creation and explanation.
As a methodology, #WorkingOutLoud has given me very practical tools, which i will explore in a little more detail here: this is not a definitive list, but an illustrative range.
I think that #WorkingOutLoud encourages one to develop and share fragments of thinking, not simply complete thoughts. The building blocks or sparks. This may sound simple, but it may end up feeling a little like the bowl of keys that many of us have hidden away in a cupboard or drawer: you need to find the old garage key, you know it’s in there somewhere, but there’s no easy way to match the key to the door, and you suspect that many of the doors are long gone. Fragmentary ideas can be divergent, and this introduces a weight to carry, especially when we are so conditioned into imagining that completeness, simplicity, and easy understanding are the desired end state. #WorkingOutLoud is necessarily divergent and often incomprehensible at any given moment.
On the plus side: at times one can feel these ideas coming together. Fragments of thought can assemble into coherent ideas. It can be an almost meditative experience, and it’s probably no coincidence that again my writing, my creativity, is tied into the flow states of walking, or illustrating.
An example of this would be the ‘The Humble Leader’ work, which i laboured on for around twelve years, through three main iterations, through most of which it was divergent and fragmentary, and yet it suddenly fell into place. Indeed, whilst i will analyse that work in more detail separately, i would note that the final writing process was more poetic and meditative than structured and tortuous!
‘Prototyping Fragile Connections’ is very much part of the daily practice of #WorkingOutLoud: how does ‘this’ sit next to ‘that’? Putting things on the table and moving them around. Not seeking permanence, but rather patterns, magnetism or tensions.
I attempted to capture this process with a tabletop game around ‘The Socially Dynamic Organisation’, which provided a structure to explore tensions, and within which to dialogue multiple possible interpretations of Organisational Design.
Really it was a #WorkingOutLoud game in that it did not reward ‘one’ correct structure, but rather created a scaffolding for dialogue around many potential structures, which ties into the next point: ‘Building Vocabulary’.
In my practice, ‘Building Vocabulary’ is an ongoing and evolutionary process, and one that is intimately connected to the methodology of #WorkingOutLoud – in that one does not simply share work with a language that is ‘known’, but rather develops new language for the telling.
An example of this would be something i now use widely in my work: ‘at the intersection’. Originally, in the 1st Edition of the Social Leadership Handbook’, i would describe Social Leadership as happening in social systems that surrounded formal ones. In the second edition i modified that to describe how the social systems ran around, and through the formal ones. This viewed formal structure more as a scaffolding than a monolith. It bought the two systems together through permeability. But latterly i have taken to a new vocabulary: leading at the intersection of systems. It’s just a small change of words, but a radical change of context.
I would no longer see Social Leadership as located fully in the Social System, bur rather explicitly at the intersection. And the language of intersections has then permeated out more widely into my work, where it has bumped up against other #WorkingOutLoud concepts of Edge-Land Spaces and Cultural Graffiti.
‘In Many Communities’ reflects the intersectional nature of the Social Age, and hence of my own exploration: and thus the way that the lenses through which any particular piece of work may be interpreted are dependent upon the community that one inhabits. #WorkingOutLoud may have a benefit (both a philosophical and methodological one) of carrying one’s ideas and story through many different communities, and hence through many different lenses.
This allows for a language of commonality and difference; what do many people see, yet call something different, and where does true divergence lie?
There is a shadow to this though: when work is carried between spaces, when it lies in a trans-disciplinary practice, it may also fall through cracks. We can find that our own story or understanding delaminates from popular models of understanding. Or to put it another way: you can feel that you are losing your audience.
In some ways this is a sign of success: to escape the constraints of one community (on our thinking, our ideas), but yet is also disturbing in the experience.
‘Layering Understanding’ is a methodological aspect of #WorkingOutLoud that i find particularly valuable, although possibly hard to explain: it’s about a kind of embodied metacognition. The ability to hold multiple half truths together by situating work at different levels of abstraction, some of which may be coherent, others far less so.
Imagine it like this: we have broad ideas, and narrow ones, things that impact today, and those that shape tomorrow. And through #WorkingOutLoud, one can prototype conversations of ideas at all of these levels at once. Even though sometimes one will be clearer than the other.
Take the current obsession with ChatCPT: there is much narrative of today ‘what it can do now’, and some speculation of tomorrow ‘what it will cause’ – the death of education etc. Being able to explore ideas in parallel at these different levels, through these different lenses, is a valuable approach, especially if one find the language and framework to do so on an ongoing basis. What does this mean for me, for us, for the system, for our systems?
To be ‘Rapidly Disposable’ speaks to the transient and evolutionary nature of #WorkingOutLoud: not finding ‘the’ answer, but rather an answer that carries us one step forwards. Ideas are held lightly, and publicly. There is an inherent accountability in #WorkingOutLoud, although interestingly ‘consequence’ is lower than in more performance based practice. Being wrong is inherent to this practice. But not careless: the rigour is present, but not focussed upon completion alone.
Finally, ‘Situating in Multiple Contexts’ speaks to how all knowledge is contextual, but that we can view this context as more opportunity than constraint. By actively moving ideas between contexts we can play with it, and interconnect it. So the situation of knowledge, or our own place in the system, can be viewed as perpetually fluid as opposed to fixed, which is as it should be as knowledge itself becomes more fluid.
This latter point speaks to #WorkingOutLoud as a practice that hold certainty lightly, that holds context with fluidity, and where understanding is of value, and yet only impermanent and fleeting as we constantly move forwards.
In this sense, #WorkingOutLoud is a philosophy of uncertainty, and a methodology of constant motion.