A couple of posts ago I introduced you to the writings of Austin Kleon, the concept of showing your work and how it can be applied to the world of software development, specifically MetaBroadcast. I broke the 10 chapters into three sections: ‘About you’, ‘for others’ and ‘the bottom line’. It’s the second of these—for others—that I’ll be covering today.
Showing your work is about sharing and while you should be as open as possible, it can’t be a free for all. You can’t vomit out endless info in the hopes that your followers can identify the appropriate meaty chunks for themselves. For both you and your audience to benefit, you have to find the right balance of what, how and when to share, so you don’t take your audience for granted.
tell good stories
Firstly, how you present your work, will determine how people value it. To maximise the value of anything shared it should be carefully structured and the tone should reflect not only the medium you’re using but also the audience in mind.
In a creative context, an exhibition is a type of story. The story being told will be impacted by how works are framed, placed and introduced to the audience: this is the structure. Other considerations (like will there be music? A curator? Scheduled tours or can people meander as they please?) are the language, they’re all tools used to communicate the chosen mood and meaning. Compare a physical exhibition to sharing work online, will it be blogged, tweeted or instgrammed? The platform will impact the medium and thus language used. In all cases your message needs to be communicated clearly and with sincerity.
So how does this work within MetaBroadcast? Story structure normally covers a beginning, middle and end but from a ‘show your work’ perspective it’s more about the past, present and future. This forms the basic structure for pretty much everything within MetaBroadcast.
When it comes to potential employees we take the time to ensure everyone knows the roots of the company, what we’re working on at the moment and where we foresee that leading us in the future. When dealing with clients, we talk them through what we’ve accomplished previously, what we learned and how we are applying that knowledge at present and how it could benefit them. When we’re designing anything new, we take the same three steps: what have we done before and what did we learn, how can we use that for this shiny new thing and what will this new thing teach us in preparation for the future.
And the language of MetaBroadcast? I’m going to refer to one of Chris‘ favourite points of reference—his GCSE French speaking exam—”requires an effort of understanding from the Native Speaker”. We adjust our tone according to the context but always—regardless of the context—stick to the following principles, whether we’re chatting with clients over an upcoming project or working something out between us on the whiteboard.
- Never assume anything on behalf of the person you’re speaking to. Provide any background info necessary to understand the topic.
- Be concise. Don’t overload the listener, just give them the key components required.
- Make a concerted effort to be understood. If the listener is struggling, don’t keep pressing forward. Stop and reassess before continuing.
teach what you know
I have utmost respect for artists that show me behind the scenes and document the processes they use to create their work. It’s fascinating to learn their inspirations, the techniques they use, why they enjoy them and even when they struggle. This kind of honesty really humanises them and the work they do, making it feel attainable for myself… However, this isn’t immediately the case. Even if someone documents—step-by-step—how they created a piece, it doesn’t mean I can instantly replicate it. I can learn much from their experiences but it will take a lot of practice before the benefits are seen in my own work. There is no substitute for experience.
You might remember in my last post I said that “hoarding information halts progress” and from the above, have likely guessed that your stories should contain the best information to help your audience succeed. Sharing your trade secrets begets respect and your willingness to teach will set you apart from the competition. You’re not breeding the next generation of competitors either. You’re supporting your peers and building a community bound by mutual respect where openness is cherished. This is why we always make a point to introduce ourselves to others working in the same field. This is why each engineer is always ready and willing to team up with a colleague to tackle a issue and this is why, even when people have long since departed the company, they’ll still come over for a chat at a meet-up or drop by for #MetaBeerTalks. As for sharing inspirations and how-to guides? Demos and Happy Hour chats provide the basis for most but we also have a veritable library of reference books that we know are useful, because we’ve used them. If something isn’t there that should be? We say so!
don’t turn into human spam
The final point when it comes to sharing for the benefit of others is pretty self explanatory. Quality over quantity.
It’s important to share ‘good work’. Good doesn’t mean perfect either. A hallmark of good work is when the story comes naturally. Perhaps in the undertaking you learned something new or just enjoyed it far more than usual. Sharing the lessons learned or analysing why it was so enjoyable is likely to be of interest to your audience. They engaged with you initially because they liked what you made or wanted to learn from you. Treasure that, expand on it and by the above definition, produce good work worth following.
For me the most useful art shared on instagram is generally unfinished and something the artist isn’t entirely satisfied with. On the surface it might just highlight the gaps in our skills—initially I think, jeez I’d be happy to produce something half that good—yet with consideration, understanding why they’re not satisfied, how and why they wish to change the piece reveals a lot about their processes. I think in the same spirit, this is why our weekly code reviews at MetaBroadcast are so useful. We’re all aware of what the end goal is but we can learn a lot by how an individual is approaching the task as well as have the opportunity to offer input.
You should always be thoughtful and considerate when sharing, don’t barrage your audience with endless content. It’s not all about you! Don’t always be in output mode… If you really want to be of value to your audience, be interested in their endeavours. Listen to them and learn about what they’re trying to achieve, offer help where appropriate. Identify those newly emerging peers and engage with them. Especially in person!
Meet up provides the perfect platform to engage with peers: both in art and tech. While the guys are heading out for a presentation on Cassandra, I’m off to life drawing. If the initial meet and greet is too narrow a window for getting to know your peers, well there’s always the opportunity for chatter over beers… These tend to follow most of the life drawing meet ups I’ve been to and at MetaBroadcast, we go the extra mile to provide monthly #MetaBeerTalks. The perfect mix of presentations, frank discussions, food and booze for all your metadata needs… Sound like fun? You should probably add your email to the invite list via that handy box to the right of this post… As per all the above, we promise to keep comms short and sweet and never to spam you <3