You don’t need to read this. I’m really just writing for myself.

My post Working Out Loud Week Lesson: Ignore the Network apparently struck a chord.

And what’s most interesting to me is that it did so among people whose work I truly admire. They’ve reminded me of what’s really important about this “out loud” process. And where working out loud may be falling short.

In the responses to my original post, my good friend Teresa Torres advises to write for yourself and “as an act of thinking.” To which Alan Levine appends, and as an act of remembering. Dave Cormier, Bruno Winck and Kristen Corpolongo – each exemplars of the same mindset – also were kind enough to share their personal insights on the value that comes from adopting it.

Alan points out that it is a challenge to advocate for this mindset – to write or create to think, and to remember – because the payoff is often far away. Kristen notes the “need to separate ourselves from the need for near-instant gratification or acknowledgement.”

A thought about all of this.

I am becoming more conscious of looking at the intersection of long-form and micro posts. We absolutely have to reflect to learn (Harold Jarche has been on this story forever). And it is encouraging to see bits of research linking reflection to job performance that help bring “reflection” into conversations about the workplace and learning.

So we absolutely have to have long-form – as an act of thinking, remembering and reflecting.

The micro-posts – whether via Twitter or status updates within an enterprise social network – play an important role in signalling to the larger network. Sometimes it is to share a snippet of an idea the emerges from our reflections (Torres does this exceptionally well as part of her blog routine). Or maybe it is pre-reflection thinking. Or work-in-progress updates that we just make visible.

I value the signalling capability of micro-posting. It connects me to people and to ideas. And often to some great long-form thinking. It is an incredibly important part of the overall value of connected thinking and learning.

Here’s what I have come to in my thinking about the current state of “working out loud” in the workplace context. What I  described above – the relationship between long-form reflection and micro-posts – is a blinding glimpse of the obvious to people who design or participate in cMOOCs and connected courses. I am not sure I believe the same for the current state of  working out loud.

The essential difference is in the deep appreciation for the value associated with reflection that I see associated with cMOOCs. I am afraid that if we miss making that deeper connection, then working-out-loud may not reach its transformational potential.

Working out loud week lesson: Ignore the network

I am still reflecting on the experience of the #msloc430 working out loud  week. Yes, this definitely was one of those let’s-just-do-this-and-see-what-happens events. But I am beginning to see lessons.

One lesson is – ignore the network. Or put another way: It’s ok to chat up the fire hydrant.

This is counter-intuitive. But I think it works.

I think you should work out loud without any expectation that anyone in the network cares. Do it only for yourself. Do it because it is a good way to force yourself to articulate your thinking about some work-in-progress effort.

That’s it. At the end of one week, or some other time period you define, you have a narrative that captures your thinking journey.

The counter-intuitive part is that I think this is actually the best way to make working-out-loud valuable to the network.

Here’s why. Let’s say I get energized about jumping in on a working-out-loud event. I post something about what I am working on. And no one responds. So I lose energy. One assumption that I might make as a result: Maybe what I am working on isn’t of interest to anyone.

That could be very wrong. Maybe what I am working on isn’t of interest to anyone at this specific point in time. Or people are interested but at this point in time cannot engage in a conversation. Or maybe some people prefer to engage by lurking.

In each of those cases, I am making a making a faulty assumption because I am expecting the network to do something that I can see, at a specific point in time.

During our working-out-loud experiment I was truly intrigued by several work projects that people first wrote about at the start of the week. Some of those discussion threads did not develop much past the initial post. And that’s too bad. Because I would have liked to have gone back – maybe this week, or next, or whenever – to see how the narrative played out. I may have commented. I may have just read.

But I certainly would have found value.

I also suspect that we too easily work ourselves into overinflated expectations about enterprise social networking and things like working-out-loud. We write with the full expectation that the network will respond. That’s supposed to be the value of the network, right? It gives us something when we give it something.

But I’ve just found that the network is fickle. And I am ok with that.

By definition, serendipity happens by chance. If it were predictable it would be no fun.

Photo by Hector Parayuelos via Flickr

A design challenge update: Diversity (and quantity!) of working out loud posts

Last night I posted a bit about the design constraints of our enterprise social network system in trying to mimic some of the serendipitous interactions that you experience when working out loud on the web. Or participating in a cMOOC, which encourages learning and thinking out loud.

It was pretty clear at that point that my discussion thread approach would soon hit a wall. It did. Today.

That’s not a bad thing. To be honest, the community interest was way more than anticipated. And the diverse topics drew in a lot of commentary.

So here is where we are at, as of this evening.

I teach a 2 1/2 day class on enterprise social networks starting tomorrow (Thurs, May 7). Thanks to Keeley Sorokti (@sorokti on Twitter), we have a new option that we’ll experiment with. It still doesn’t quite mimic what I see happening (and useful) on the web – but it’s getting a lot closer.

It’s a combination of using our ESN’s status update, tagging and personal blog features. We can have individuals use their internal ESN blog space to do long-form working out loud (both for original posts and for comments/discussion). Status updates can almost substitute for Twitter – micro posts of just text or links that point to blog posts or other resources.

Tags give us some capability to aggregate streams of all the working out loud activity (status updates, new blog posts, etc). The streams get close to what you experience when reading Twitter streams by using a #wol hashtag. Or when you might scan a stream of aggregated blog post headlines. (The course Thought Vectors in Concept Space is a good example of blog aggregation that I find useful.)

At least two challenges exist. Twitter streams (and aggregated blog headline streams) give a viewer some idea of the topic or content the author is writing about. In our system, some stream activity may simply be a notification that user A replied to user B’s post – no new topical reference point. In addition, setting up good streams takes a bit of know-how on the part of individuals in our user community. As of yet, I am not sure we can really do it for them in a way that mimics what I am after. So stream setup may be a stretch for some users.

Why am I so focused on the steam component? It is important to me.

It’s probably how you found this blog post.

But more than that, there is something valuable about the ease with which an individual can scan items well outside of their normal network, and when that network is creating lots of content and having lots of discussions. Serendipity happens when you have scale and when individuals can choose to just dive in and read someone’s blog post because a snippet caught their eye.

One way to help people learn that skill is to get them involved with something like a working out loud week. Do it multiple times daily for a week – post, mico-post, scan, read, engage – and you get pretty good at dealing with the volume. Hoping our next design iteration gets us closer to making that a reality.

Diversity of working out loud topics and the constraints of #ESN design

We’re at the end of day two of our Working Out Loud week within the full M.S. Learning and Organizational Change (MSLOC) community – about 220 graduate students, staff and faculty.

Let me reflect here for a bit on two observations: The diversity of topics we’re covering and the impact of features/affordances on how this may all play out.

MSLOC students are all working professionals who average 12 years of experience in a wide range of industries and organizational types. What draws them to our graduate program is an interest in understanding the people side of organizational change. That’s reflected in their working out loud topics.

Here’s what they are working out loud on:

  • Finding a blogging platform and setup tips help document a year-long (scholarship sponsored) project in Myanmar.
  • Design of a how-to-make-better product decisions workshop.
  • Self-study of The Social Psychology of Organizing by Karl Weick.
  • Elements of a new manager on-boarding program at a children’s hospital
  • Elements of an on-boarding program for new project managers
  • Design of an education program targeted at talent acquisition leaders
  • Discovering the needs and interests for a women’s initiative at one organization
  • Understanding effective practices for startup implementation of Yammer at a smaller firm (80-100 people)
  • Helping an organization figure out what it means to create a learning culture
  • Developing an on-boarding plan for a specific new hire
  • Developing a market research report based on customer stories
  • Developing a short session for clients on how to get more comfortable with difficult conversations
  • Re-imagining an organization’s existing internal online community to improve information sharing, collaboration and on-boarding
  • Putting a professional voice out into the online world

All of these topics are being explored as sub-threads to a single working-out-loud thread we started on Monday within our the program’s private enterprise social network (ESN). To date, we have 66 total responses (each of the above working-out-loud topics is one response, meaning we have 50-ish replies to topics); 21 active participants in the discussion; and 57 total viewers (which means we have 36 lurkers).

Those are interesting activity numbers. But the level of conversation is more interesting. The discussion thread gives each individual a chance to respond thoughtfully (and they do). Our ESN also includes an @mention feature, allowing participants to signal others an bring them into the conversation (and they do). It truly is an example of thoughtful reciprocity.

This was a calculated move, to have one discussion thread home for all the working out loud activity in our private ESN. It’s unsatisfactory, however. Shortly this thread will be difficult to navigate (we may be there already for many participants).

What we really need – within an ESN – is a way to aggregate the top-line topics and updates that then draws people into a specific space (like a blog) where the conversation is going deeper. This exactly the design that cMOOCs use on the web (see Thought Vectors in Concept Space or Connected Courses as recent examples).

Wondering if anyone in the ESN product space is actually looking at what is going on in with these innovative cMOOCs.

Final thought: Have something to contribute to any of the topics noted above? Use Twitter hashtags #msloc430 #wol