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[Review] Hacking Work

Beleaguered employees can now leverage on a “cheat code” to streamline work and increase their productivity – without getting into trouble.

With the subtitle “Breaking Stupid Rules For Smart Results”, “Hacking Work” by Bill Jensen and Josh Klein encourages workers of all stripes to utilize “benevolent” hacking to get their jobs done more effectively and efficiently. Unlike “Black Hat” hackers that attack company systems for profit and fun, benevolent hackers are ethical hackers that work around their own company policies, systems and processes to improve them.

Filled with a mixture of the “whys”, “whats”, “hows” and “whens” of corporate work arounds (with lots more useful stuff their well-appointed website here), Hacking Work” encourages readers to devise short-cuts that cuts the corporate crap present in most organizations.

According to the book, the tools and processes instituted in companies are often done in a top-down, corporate-centered fashion (as opposed to being user-centered). Unwittingly, they often inflict much grief on employees.

The solution is that we need to “break stupid rules for smart results”. To do so, we can consider both hard hacks (changes made to non-living systems) and soft hacks (changes made to working relationships or agreements with another person or group). Collectively, these workarounds  circumvent bloated bureaucracies, archaic systems, and dumb processes that “make our life hell”.

According to the book, the top five hacks that we should do are:

1. Hacking Our New Hire Process - a soft hack that is a Negotiating the Deal hack which ensures that we get sufficient leverage before signing on the dotted line.

2. Hacking One Small Thing That Saps Our Energy - small quick wins that cut steps out of a procedure through work-arounds that improve efficiency.

3. Hacking the Start of Every New Project - the start of a project is always a good way to build a successful career.

4. Hacking One Big Thing That Destroys Our Efficiency - this is the grander and perhaps riskier move to kill that stupid procedure or tool that saps your efficiency.

5. Hacking to Make the World a Better Place - the nirvana of hacking, where you change a form, process and tool, and share the hack with the world through public forums like HackingWork.com.

Throughout the book, one reads of examples of individuals who have saved themselves (and their organizations) by bypassing the usual traditional approaches. An example is Matt, a mid manager working in a science museum who used unauthorised tools like Google calendar for scheduling, Flickr for sending photos, wikis for collaboration and a self-made YouTube video for fundraising. These worked far better than what corporate could dish out.

The most insightful chapter of the book titled “Dear Boss…” provides five big ideas for bosses to “save you from yourself”, namely:

1) User-centered design moves from marketplace to workplace: Make it as easy for your people to do great work as you do for your customers to buy your products.

2) ROI gets personal: Your work contract must finally get real and deliver value to your employees in return for the investment of effort and time in your organization, often sacrificing family or leisure time in return.

3) Training and development finally become learner centered: Develop each person in ways that work best for him or her to create amazing returns.

4) The org chart marries social network maps: Your leadership pipeline is democratized, i.e. the next guy you promote may be that part-timer with all the hacking and street smarts.

5) The art and science of clarity move from marketplace to workplace: Understand that not everybody knows how to communicate to everybody, and you should learn how YouTube, Facebook, Google, blogs and Twitter succeeds in human communication.

Towards the end, the book turns philosophical and explains that it is really about “Power, Control and Risk”. In a hacker’s world, these rules need to be overhauled such that they are more balanced in favor of the employee (as opposed to the executive or company). Taboos need to be broken so that any individual in the corporate food chain can find it easy to do great work.

At times forceful and at times humorous, Hacking Work sounds a loud clarion call for one to be bold in embracing workarounds to overcome processes which are broken in the corporate workplace. While many of the examples are IT-related, its principles apply equally to geeks and non-geeks alike.

For more information, do check out the Hacking Work website and as well as their blog.


Walter is a seasoned marketer and publicist with almost 19 years of experience in marketing, communications, social media engagement, events management, strategic planning and corporate development. A judge of the Singapore Blog Awards, he blogs at Cooler Insights.

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