What is working open?

What does “working open” mean?

“Working open” or “working in the open” refers to embracing transparency and open source values in your work. The goal is more and better collaboration, community participation and agility. The term “working in the open” originates mostly from open source software development, where source code, prototypes and works-in-progress were published and shared publicly, often as a way for small groups to reduce collaboration cost, begin testing sooner in the process, and invite others to freely adapt and improve on their work.

Working open can be thought of as a set of values, strategies and tactics. It is marked by an inherent belief in the value of transparency as a way to reduce collaboration cost and encourage permissionless innovation.

The goal of open is:

  • participation. rocket fuel for smart collaboration.
  • agility. speed. flexibility. getting stuff done.
  • testing and rapid prototyping. iterating and refining as we go.
  • leverage. getting greater bang from limited resources. punching above our weight. momentum.
  • inspiration. transparency feels good. focusing on a shared mission and goals.

The goal of open is not:

  • public performance. creating the fake appearance of consultation.
  • endless opinion-sharing. never-ending “feedback.” bike-shedding.
  • magic “crowd-sourcing.” crowds aren’t smart — communities of peers are.

Open is a willingness to share, not only resources, but processes, ideas, thoughts, ways of thinking and operating. Open means working in spaces and places that are transparent and allow others to see what you are doing and how you are doing it, giving rise to opportunities for people to connect, jump in and offer help — and where you can reciprocate and do the same.” 
–Clint Lalonde

What are some typical strategies for working open?

  • Thinking, writing and planning in public.
  • Testing early and often. Breaking large jobs into smaller pieces. Shipping iterations and prototypes earlier in the process.
  • Publicly documenting your vision and roadmap. Making it easier for people to see what you’re after. Posting your vision and roadmap where others can find it.
  • Removing artificial barriers to collaboration. Reducing collaboration cost. More frictionless collaboration. Cutting out administrivia, beaureacry and unnecesary obstacles to collaboration.
  • Permissionless innovation. Creative rule-breaking. Shucking artificial constraints. Routing around bottlenecks, hierarchies and gatekeepers.
  • Open-mindedness. A more humane culture. Avoiding passive-aggressive game-playing. Arming yourself against runaway egos, bullies and HPPOs (Highly Paid People with Opinions.)
  • Sharing. Giving more away, in order to get more back. Growing communities and ecologies.

Why does working open work?

  • Embracing radical pragmatism. Finding the sweetspot where idealism and pragmatism meet.
  • Designing for participation. Thinking through the architecture of participation.
  • Identifying and streamlining on-ramps into your project. Embracing empowerment instead of consumption. Self-service / empowerment.
  • Finding the right balance of order and chaos. Chaordic systems. Designing for small failures as a way to increase resiliency.
  • Re-defining the concept of value. Thinking beyond a short-term bottom line. Contributing to the general health of the ecosystem. Giving something back. Being transparency about ones values and larger goals.
  • Thinking and planning in public. Writing in public, open community calls, public board slides and roadmaps, “open filing cabinets,” etc.)
  • Measuring and feedback. More reliance on data and testing, less gut opinions from HPPOs (Highly Paid People with Opinions).


What are the problems “working open” might help solve?

  • Neverending emails. Drowning in the minutaie of a million back-channel conversations.
  • Sucky meetings. Doing these once in public, instead of a million times in private.
  • Duplicating effort.
  • Ego, bottlenecks and baloney. Passive-aggressive game-playing.
  • Shipping stuff people don’t want.
  • Locking stuff away where no one can find it.
  • Treating people like sheep. Treating end users purely as “users” or consumers, instead of co-builders or collaborators. “Our job is to make stuff — and their job is to consume it.”
  • Ignoring failures or inconvenient truths. Finding creative ways to save face instead of plainly displaying what’s working and what isn’t.
  • Letting Big Guys bring you down. Bullies or gatekeepers getting you down.

What does working open try to replace that with?

  • shareable artefacts
  • experimentation. new tools,
  • agility
  • focus
  • community
  • empowerment
  • social enterprise. Having a mission instead of just a bottom line. Thinking bout the medium and long term.

We’re all seeking new and better ways to do things. We kind of sense that the old ways are slow and aren’t working that well.” — David Sandomierski, Toronto (Open Government and Participatory Budgeting)

Why work open?

Because many of us feel the status quo isn’t working. Both at a personal level, and a bigger picture level. Many of us are frustrated by traditional methods that tend to go slow, or the sense that by the time ideas work their way through various official channels, they’ve lost their mojo or momentum. Or simply die on the vine.

This sense of personal frustration many of us face in our jobs in mirrored at a bigger picture social level as well. The  intuition that hierarchical systems, organized into various hierarchical Goliaths, gatekeepers and corporate monopolies, is failing to serve people or our own long term interest. We need to update the operating system of the planet, and maybe that starts with updating the soul of work, and how we all collaborate each day.

Too much of the world is tending towards secrecy, consolidation, gatekeepers and monopolization. Many see evolving the debate from “left vs. right” to “open vs. closed” as part of that.

Transparency. Agility. Community. Participation.

Working open is a means to an end. The key question is not whether every itty bitty piece of communication or decision-making should be “open” or “closed,” or embracing transparency purely for its own sake. The goal is to instead ask whether it enables useful participation. How does it help the community be more agile? How does it produce visible progress and momentum? How does it help us do good?



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