Book Review: Show Your Work, by Jane Bozarth

Categories are tricky. One of the editor’s jobs for an online magazine like this one is to pick keywords that will help readers to find what they need, and to discover what they didn’t know they need. Jane Bozarth’s new book defies most of the keywords in our template, so I’m going to do my best to fill in some missing keywords and to encourage you to read the book.

Tacit and explicit

In Show Your Work, Jane Bozarth addresses an important “something” that is missing from most courses, curricula, and lesson plans: tacit knowledge. Nearly every instructional-design book ever written explains very carefully how to teach explicit knowledge and skills, yet the tacit knowledge and the skills gained from experience are what make the critical difference in performance.

The way that people, whether they are bricklayers or physicists (almost everyone, it seems, except instructional designers and educators), transmit their tacit knowledge is by “working out loud, making work visible, making work discoverable, or narrating work.” There are many tools, often freely available, that we can use to do this with text, video, voice recordings, photos—and these tools are very often available at the end of our arm, in a smartphone or other mobile device. So why don’t we work out loud?

Showing you how to show your work

In fact, it’s easy to show your own work, or to record someone else showing their work. You can then include the captured “showing” in a course, a tool, a job aid, an online video—wherever and in whatever form is most useful. In six unnumbered chapters, 192 pages, with lots of pictures, examples, inspiration, insights, and practice, Jane offers more ideas for doing this than most instructional designers will be able to use in an entire career.

Here’s the breakdown, with some of the short quotes that summarize the content in each of the chapters. (I’m deliberately not giving any details, because I want you to read the book. You won’t regret it. You’ll have to trust me on this.)

  • Introduction (“Remember: Communication over information. Conversation over tools.”)
  • Benefits to Organizations (“Knowing what gets done is not the same as knowing how it gets done.”)
  • Workers: What’s In It for You? (“Saying, ‘I don’t have time to narrate my work’ is akin to saying, ‘I’m too busy cutting down the tree to stop and sharpen the saw.’”)
  • What Is Knowledge? and Why Do People Share It? (“Share is the new save.”)
  • This Is How I Do That. (“If what you’re doing isn’t worth sharing, then why are you doing it?”)
  • Learning and Development (“The point is to extract learning FROM work, not impose more work.”—Charles Jennings)
  • How? (“People talk about their work all the time. How can we make that more visible?”)

Did I mention: this book is fun to read

You can (and maybe you should) skip around in the book. If you don’t care about the theory and the critiques and criticisms of business as usual in the first three chapters, you can go right to “This is How I Do That” (longest chapter in the book) and “How?” and then come back to the other stuff. It’s up to you. Jane didn’t number the chapters. There’s a message in that, I’m pretty sure.

You can immerse yourself in the text—because it’s not just text, it’s stories and pictures. The only thing that would make it better is video and audio, and it’s too bad a publisher can’t do that with a physical paper book.

I see what you did there.

This quote is not in the book, but it’s a key to understanding what Jane did:

“When analytic thought, the knife, is applied to experience, something is always killed in the process.”—Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

What Jane Bozarth has done in Show Your Work is to show how to help others see and understand the tacit knowledge in our experience—what we (or others) are doing, especially the parts that aren’t in the recipe, the model, the template, the task analysis, the flow chart. She does it gently, carefully, without overanalyzing.

Yes, there are examples and explanations from people who do particular things well, and even a template and a checklist or two. The examples and explanations aren’t there to teach you how to do those things, although you may well learn how to do some specific something from an example. They are there to show you ways to show your work, and to share tacit knowledge with others, which is exactly what the title promises.

Jane has been very careful not to kill anything in the process.

Bibliographic information

Bozarth, Jane. Show Your Work: The Payoffs and How-to’s of Working Out Loud. San Francisco: Wiley, 2014.

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