Martin P Wilson

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Ideas, Innovation, Inspiration, Insight, IT

Facilitation and Mentoring for Success.

More Efficent or Dangerous Anarchy?

Hacking Work Bill Jensen Josh KleinHacking Work suggests bypassing stupid rules in the workplace makes individuals and organisations more efficient and effective. Or is it high risk anarchy?

Most people have been frustrated by rules and policies that make their work more difficult, often transferring time, and sometimes financial, cost to the individual for theoretical benefit to the organisation. Hacking Work attempts to show how people can bypass apparently stupid rules to the benefit of both the individual and the organisation. However, when the hacker does not properly understand the reasons for the rules there can be considerable risks for both the individual and the organisation.

Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results

In a rather evangelical way Hacking Work starts with the presumption that it is about:

  • Saving Business from Itself, One Bad Act at a Time
  • You Were Born to Hack
  • What’s New, What’s Not, What’s the Most Common Hack?

The next three chapters get in to the detail of hacking but start from that initial assumption that organisations need to be hacked for their own good:

  • Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results
  • Five Hacks Everyone Should Do
  • Do No Harm.

Hacking Work then shows how business don't work well with chapters on:

  • What’s Broken Now
  • What’s Ahead
  • The Elephant in the Room.

Finally it moves on to the bigger picture with three more chapters

  • Dear Boss …
  • Stop the Madness Now
  • Hacking the World.

Whilst without doubt there are many stupid rules in business, not everyone has the knowledge or skills to know which ones they are. The exhortation for everyone to be a hacker of workplace rules is dangerous and, many would argue, foolhardy.

The advice to “Do No Harm” is disingenuous as many people reading this book will not have the information to know what harm they might be causing especially with regard to the organisation’s compliance with legislation and regulation. The advice in the chapter “Do No Harm” about not risking data is limited and ignores the risks of even having it outside the corporate systems with regard to corporate policy, national security or data protection legislation; get that wrong and the hacker has no job, may end up in jail, and colleagues may even have no employer.

Working Round the Rules is Not New

Working around the rules is not a new idea; many highly effective people have been creative in how they comply with workplace rules. Many people, including this writer, have been successful through adopting an ostensibly similar approach to that proposed in Hacking Work, but usually by understanding and adopting the underlying principles behind the rules. It can be a high-risk strategy because if the “hack” does not work or causes unforeseen problems the people involved could be summarily dismissed for gross misconduct. For example if an employee takes data outside the company firewalls so they can work from home on their own computer, they will be in breach of security policies. In most organisations that alone would be sufficient for immediate dismissal, whatever the reason for doing it.

If sensitive data goes astray, the hacker should expect to lose his job and in many situations could face criminal charges. When the UK tax authorities lost disks with personal data, including bank details, of 25 million people it cost the CEO his job. If it had been a commercial organisation, it could have put the survival of the company at risk. All because a junior person took a short cut by sending the disks in the normal post rather than using a closely tracked (hand-to-hand) courier service as required by the data security policy. Not only was it embarrassing it was also a breach of data protection legislation.

Interesting Ideas but Treat with Care 

The authors have the credentials to back up these ideas; Bill Jensen is the CEO of the Jenson Group, a change consultancy firm and Josh Klein is a career hacker of software and institutions who now works as consultant for major corporations.

However, whilst Hacking Work has some interesting ideas readers should take care as it is a rather over-simplification of reality. Following the ideas in the book, even with good intentions, is likely to expose both the hacker and employer to risk if the "stupid rules” are there for legislative or other good reasons. Anybody following the advice should be very clear about why the rules are there and the consequences of their actions in working round them. They should ask themselves the questions: “What is the risk if it goes wrong, do I really understand the reason for the rule and is it really stupid? Are the benefits worth the risk and the possible ramifications if it backfires, am I prepared to accept the consequences?”

Reader beware!

Hacking Work, Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results (2011, ISBN: 978-0-670-91950-5) by Bill Jensen and Josh Klein is published in paperback by Penguin

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