Hacking Work: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: September 4th, 2011 by bobmorris

Hacking Work: Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results
Bill Jensen and Josh Klein
Portfolio/Penguin Group (2010)

To what does the title of this book refer? According to the co-authors, Bill Jensen and Josh Klein, “Today’s top performers are taking matters into their own hands. They are bypassing sacred structures and breaking all sorts of rules just to get their work done…Every day in every workplace, benevolent rule breakers like these are ensuring that business succeeds despite itself. They are reinventing how to approach productivity and how to consistently achieve morebetterfaster results.” Jensen and Klein urge their reader to start hacking: “Start taking the usual ways of doing things and work around them to produce improved results. Bend the rules for the good of all. That’s what benevolent hackers do.”

Throughout their narrative, Jensen and Klein explain how to determine what to hack, how to hack effectively with benevolence, how to obtain the resources needed, how to sustain support of change initiatives, and how to support others’ hacking. They provide “A Short History of Hacking’s Journey from Good to Bad to Good” (Pages 15-16), discuss “Top Five Hacks That We’d Recommend That Everyone Do” (Pages 47-48) and how to proceed with each (Pages 53-54), they identify and discuss Hacking’s “Ten Commandments” (Pages 59-65), then identify and discuss “Four Emerging Forces Where Hackers Will Influence the Outcomes” (Pages 88-113), then “Five Big Ideas” for a Boss to consider (Pages 132-255), and explain how and why a hacker must work differently (Pages 164-171) and lead differently (Pages 172-181).

All of the information, insights, and recommendations are based on more than 4,000 “benevolent hacking case studies.” The material is anchored in real-world situations that suggest practical applications of key concepts. Jensen and Klein should also be commended on their brilliant use of reader-friendly devices such as Sidetrips (supplementary digressions), Smartstarts (key takeaways and recommended action steps), and Fasthacks (real-world examples that illustrate key points). As I read this book, I reflected back on all the organizations and on all the leaders with which I have been associated. When doing so, I realized that Jensen and Klein wrote the book for supervisors as well as for those for whom they are responsible.

In the ideal workplace, supervisors and their direct reports either hack through barriers to improvement or support those who do. However, more often than not, aspiring hackers are in fact inept politicians and supervisors who remain hostage to — and are perhaps zealous defenders of — what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Here in a single volume is just about everything aspiring benevolent hackers and their supervisors need to know in order to co-create answers to their organization’s most important business questions and co-create solutions to its most serious problems. Congratulations to Bill Jensen and Josh Klein on a brilliant achievement.

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