A lot of learning happens the hard way or – much worse – is lost because people don’t do a good job of showing their work.
They don’t document how they got from point A to point B in performing a task or developing a skill.
Or, maybe they do, but they capture only the explicit steps – the type of information you find in your average recipe book or instruction manual – while leaving out the nuances or tangential knowledge that make the difference between average and great or even success and failure.
If you have ever tried to cook something from a recipe and ended up with a dish that doesn’t seem anything like the beautiful picture on the Web site, magazine, or cookbook that you used as a guide, then you know what I mean.
If you have ever started a new job and had a heck of a time figuring out what to do, in spite of any orientation, training, or job manuals you may have received, then you know what I mean.
We routinely encounter situations in life where the manual or map – assuming there even is one – just doesn’t give us what we really need.
Show your work.
That’s the perspective of Jane Bozarth, who I had the chance to interview, and many others who subscribe to the idea of working out loud.
It’s also, of course, the perspective of the legions of elementary school math teachers who have insisted that their students show their work for arriving at the solution to the problem. Showing your work not only helps others learn what you know, it also helps you learn by requiring you to make a bit more effort, go a little deeper, really connect the dots.
Showing your work is about what really happened when you went from point A to point B in learning something.
First, keep it simple. That’s Jane’s mantra, and one I wholeheartedly endorse. Showing your work shouldn’t be about making things complex or creating a lot more work. That kind of defeats the purpose. I see showing your work as requiring three main elements.
As you engage in any new learning experiences – or revisit old ones – take the time to ask “What have I done that will be useful to others who want to learn what I have learned?” Focus not just on the easy stuff, but also on the stuff it takes some work to surface. Challenge yourself to really get to the heart what you have done or are doing. Remember, doing this will contribute significantly to you own learning.
To the extent you can, capture what you are doing as you go. Take notes; take screen shots; capture brief videos. Your mobile phone is a powerful ally in showing your work. Screen capture tools like SnagIt (or the more feature-rich Camtasia) can also be of help. Yes, very often you’ll have to go back to do some revision after the fact, after your own understanding is more complete, but that task will be made much easier if you have captured your actions along the way.
Share things in a way that others can actually find them. To start with, name anything you capture clearly and describe it so others can understand what it is and its importance. Put your work somewhere it can be linked to, whether that means out on the public Internet or on an internal network where you work. Try to avoid sending attachment by e-mail. You want your work to be in a place that it can easily be accessed, re-accessed, shared by others, and updated. You might, for example, consider using a site like Diigo. Or, a social media site like Pinterest – which Jane makes great use of to show examples of showing your work.
That’s it. Not so complicated. Very powerful.
And, the great thing is that because we now have tools like the Web and mobile phones with cameras sharing your work is easier than it has ever been before.
Of course, showing your work is not the answer to all things learning. Learning still requires time, experience, and practice, but through showing your own work and following people who are willing to show their work, you can give your lifelong learning efforts a major boost.
So, reflect on what you know and what you want to learn, and then ask, “How will I show my work?”
P.S. If you want to go deeper, be sure to check out Jane Bozarth’s book Show Your Work: The Payoffs and How-Tos of Working out Loud.
I am an avid lifelong learner who writes and speaks frequently on the critical role of learning in our fast-changing world.