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Friday, March 9, 2012

Book review: "Hacking Work: Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results"


By Terri Schlichenmeyer
“Hacking Work: Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results” by Bill Jensen and Josh Klein
c.2010, Portfolio $25.95 / $32.50 Canada 224 pages

There’s a problem at work, and you know a solution.

You’ve been using it at home for a long time. It’s technologically risk-free, proven, and almost without cost. But you’ve been told by supervisors that “it’s not the way we operate around here” and “we’ve never done things like that”. So you play computer solitaire and waste time when you’d really rather be productive.

Other than growl and grow an ulcer, what else can you do? In the book “Hacking Work” by Bill Jensen and Josh Klein, you’ll learn that there’s a new, unstoppable movement coming…

When you were a kid and Dad offhandedly said “no” to something, the quick fix was to go ask Mom, right? That’s hacking: utilizing an unauthorized alternative to circumvent silly rules to get what you need to get things done.

While the word has unsavory connotations and many businesspeople might gasp in horror at what they perceive as renegade behavior, the facts are that hacking works, it makes a job easier, and employees are more productive. It also keeps you competitive and it can be fun.

Before you start, though, you need to understand that there is a “dark side”. Good hacking benefits everyone and should improve things in the workplace. At the very least, it exposes vulnerabilities. Hacking work should never become an attack or cause malicious harm.

For your first hack, the authors say, choose something easy. It may be a “hard hack”, or something technical. You might attempt a “soft hack” that involves dealing with people and changing a relationship. Most hacks include elements of both. Try hacking something that saps your energy. Hack at the beginning of a project. And if you’re caught and are fired, well, you probably didn’t want to work at that place anyhow, no?

But what if you’re the hackee? If you’re a business owner, you may be sweating right now, pondering your ruination when employees start working willy-nilly without any restraint.

Relax, the authors say. Hacking can solve your most chronic problems at work and it will make your employees happier. Sure, there will always need to be occasional controls, but this is all something you might as well get used to: Millennials – employees born in the early ‘80s and after – hack as second-nature.

As I was reading “Hacking Work”, I waffled between excitement and the sure feeling that this was a good way to get fired. Authors Bill Jensen and Josh Klein address that in this book, named as a “breakthrough idea for 2010” by Harvard Business Review. But is hacking really applicable to your workplace?

Like it or not, yes. Hacking, the authors point out, has been happening in business for years. Your employees are probably doing it right now. Learn to embrace it, they say. Learn to love it. Learn to do it.

For both employee and for the person who signs the paychecks, “Hacking Work” is an intriguing, conversation-sparking (and possibly controversial) book. Take a brave new look - it may be the solution your workplace needs.

-- Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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