Grow In Public

The Unreasonable Power of Openness

There's a super power the savviest creators and highest performing teams have in common: they learn and grow in full view of their audience and teammates. Sometimes this is by design and other times it's entirely organic, but in either case the average growth curve begins to take the shape of an exponential trajectory.

The potency of this practice is due in large part to the tight feedback loops which are possible only under these conditions. Consider that when a teammate works in full public view of her team, there's an opportunity that wouldn't otherwise exist. Now she's no longer operating alone and something special happens: she and her teammates are both learning and growing at the same time. Likewise when an indie hacker shares a prototype or new idea with her audience, she can immediately assess viability and tune her approach accordingly. Similarly, this in its own way becomes a collective activity with mutually beneficial outcomes.

Another reason has to with the way we as humans have a natural love for stories, especially stories about one another. A great book or film will pull you into the narrative and make you part of it. We feel connected to it in a way that uniquely ties us to the story. We may identify with the characters, their circumstances, the particular narrative arc and are in a way embedded with and woven into it. What this means for our craft is when we open up our work and do it in public we're also offering folks the chance to become part of our story (and indeed for us to become part of theirs). This joining of narratives speaks to the very essence of our humanity.

The Right Ingredients

Certain physical properties are required in order to properly support this approach. As a practical example, there has to be some sort of forum where public work can take place. As a maker, this might be any number of social platforms. If you do open source work then an example might be GitHub, Gitlab, and so on. Or if you're a soloprenuer you might be documenting your story on Twitter or through YouTube. If you work on a remote team, then you may be accustomed to using a suite of tools that help enable this. Whatever forum it's important to note that it must support interactivity of some kind. Without a feed, there is no feedback.1

Along with this is the environment. It must provide essential properties in order to cultivate openness. By far the most important is psychological safety. As a team member, this is the ability to trust your team to show up for you in at least one crucial way: to support you even as you struggle to understand something new or deploy a bug that brings down production. On social media platforms, it's the ability to trust that your audience is part of your journey and gains the most when you reveal your flaws and shortcomings. Psychological safety allows us a kind of radical authenticity that's otherwise impossible.

When we put these things together we can begin incubating a culture that maximizes our collective growth.

Vulnerability, Failure, Growth

This culture is really about enabling and encouraging vulnerability with our peers, our managers, or our audience by excising the inherent risk of being vulnerable–in other words, by making it nearly free. It's a natural human instinct to avoid this precisely because it is dangerous and so we design our culture seeking to remove the danger. This is worthwhile because we learn far more from doing, failing, and continuing than we do from delaying in pursuit of minimal failure. The premium on failure is that we are guaranteed to learn something and the detriment of inaction is that by definition we cannot progress.

As an example, if a person is getting started building products as a soloprenuer and thinks, "Well I haven't done anything yet, so I'll wait to share my story until I've launched and have impressive numbers to show" then they'll likely begin with a necessarily limited experience in the domain of indie product building, unable to hear from folks who are further along the same path. Or if a junior software engineer thinks, "I don't want my teammates to think I'm not good enough" and so decides to work on their own, out of view, then they'll likely artificially limit the value of their teammates' experience. In both cases the hesitation, the fear of vulnerability, is a limiting factor.

If we can shape the world around us such that failure costs almost nothing and we are tapped into the collective wisdom and knowledge of one another, then a virtuous cycle forms and growth is accelerated to an almost unreasonable degree. There are few things more powerful than the force of compounding growth.2

This is the power of building in public.


  1. Here I'm quoting my friend, mentor, and previous manger, Jack Danger. It may sound obvious, but it's surprisingly common that this is overlooked or assumed when it's lacking in a meaningful way.

  2. In fact, there's really no force more powerful when it comes to achieving superlative outcomes.

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