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November 12, 2010

Review: Hacking Work

by brainoids

Hacking Work by Bill Jensen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Meh.

HBR may have it right, Hacking Work may be one of the ten breakthrough ideas of 2010. The downside is, what Jensen and Klein have to say really could fit within the confines of a good HBR article; it’s a bit thin and repetitive for 200 pages. That said … it’s a quick and fairly innocuous pages that doesn’t feel like a waste of time.

Jensen and Klein do a reasonably good job at encouraging those who might not yet be inclined to take personal ownership over their career vector to do so. (As a manager, I’d say this alone redeems the book). The concept that employees’ intellectual capital and effectiveness is theirs to wield and sell in ‘the new economy’ is the underpinning of the book. It’s an interesting proposition, but there are two areas that are critically under-explored:

– The issue of whether or not the economic meltdown will serve to further unlock this new mode of thinking (a global vote of no confidence in corporate leadership, as the authors posit), or inhibit it (due to job insecurity) is mentioned, but not probed in any depth. When the first real, “hard” data get published on this topic, this book might be worth a re-visit.

– Put bluntly, the issue of whether or not most employees have the skills and maturity to hack the workplace, well, that’s the $64M question. Jensen and Klein assert repeatedly that in their ‘extensive interviews’ workplace hacks are already happening, all over the place – but again, there’s precious little hard data to support this. It’s a critical weakness. The book is supposed to be targeted at those not yet hacking, though its real audience is likely to be the already-converted (highly skilled employee hackers and supportive managers).

This second weakness would bother me less if the “sell” weren’t couched in very naive and simplistic antiestablishment platitudes about control and its inherent evils. This is not the sort of philosophy that will set people on the “still developing” side of the emotional intelligence spectrum on a course for success. Indeed, while the authors claim to be addressing all manner of workplace hacks – both social and technological – their focus is clearly on the train wreck that is enterprise IT. The disconnects between the enterprise IT industry, employees’ needs, and even managements’ needs, are many, and the reasons are probably a lot deeper and more complicated than a facile and universal management desire for “control”.

Hacking WorkSo – meh. There’s a good idea here, but it’s spread too thin, hyped a bit too hard, not backed up by strong analysis, and by trivializing management needs with silly and simplistic assertions, probably loses some needed friends. But give it a read – YMMV.

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