Show Your Work: Key Takeaways

by | Lifehacks for Dreamers

Looking back on school days, can you recall a teacher or two insisting you always “show your work!” when solving a math problem?

In his book, Show Your Work, Austin Kleon repurposes this concept as a strategy to become more prolific online with your creative work.

In this case, he simply means sharing what you’re working on creatively “as you go” rather than waiting to share only the finished polished product later on.

Having recently read and become enamored by his book, I think there are at least two great advantages to this approach:

  • First, it bakes “marketing” into the process along the way – instead of something you have to tack on the end less naturally.
    • Austin’s ideas here remind me of Seth Godin’s approach to “marketing” as simply sharing something of value (that benefits others) for free.
    • …A helpful way of framing it for us less sales-driven wallflower-types if I’ve ever heard one.
  • Second, it can also bake “networking” into the process by helping like-minded creatives find each other online more easily.

But how can we practically apply this strategy?

A Simple Habit: Share Something Daily

The author shares a simple approach for getting into the habit of “showing your work” regularly he calls a “daily dispatch”:

  • As part of wrapping up the day, you simply take a little time to share one small thing from your day’s efforts (see ideas below).
  • The form you share this “one small thing” in can be whatever you want: tweet, blog post, youtube video, etc.

“A good daily dispatch is like getting all the DVD extras before a movies comes out – you get to watch deleted scenes and listen to the director’s commentary while(italics) the movie is being made.”

– Austin Kleon, Show Your Work

The important thing is to get in the habit of “showing your work” and stop hiding everything in private until the “perfect” moment later – that in reality, may never come.

Bonus: A simple way to extend this mini-habit is this:

  • After sharing something, find someone else’ content on a similar wave length and give it some TLC.
  • Perhaps you even figured out a solution to a problem or question someone else online is still looking for. Why not share it?
  • By applying the golden rule to someone else’ similar content (with a share or comment), you just might make a new connection and make their day while you’re at it.

What to share

Building on ideas from the book with a few of my own, here’s a list of three things you can share:

  1. Share what you love
    • Expressing yourself as a fan of things can be a fun and engaging part of your digital “voice” – and a nice payback to those behind it.
    • Note: This can still be focused on what inspires you that’s relevant to your area of focus (aka “staying on brand” as the big wigs say).
  2. Share what you’re learning
    • Document it in a blog post or share a highlight on social media.
    • If it helps you, it can also help someone else.
  3. Share “behind the scenes” glimpses of your process along the way.
    • Workflows, tools, plans
      • What kind of inside peak would you want from how someone you look up to from earlier in their career or journey?
    • Concept art, Rough drafts, Deleted Scenes
    • Fan experiences or testimonials

Anything you can imagine yourself valuing from someone you support.

Note: Even if it’s not discovered by someone who values it until months or years in the future.

Bonus: A Tough But Great Question

One last idea in the book that really stuck out to me is this.

Ask yourself: What do you want your obituary to say?

It’s a tough question. But a great one too.

If I’m being completely honest, I can’t say I’m quite at a point where I’d expect my obituary to say what I’d really want.

And since this books greatest value is potentially helping someone get past holding back what they want to offer the world, it seems like a great question to ask.

Lest we die with our song still unsung.