Book reviews

This article from Business in Vancouver November 9-15, 2010; issue 1098

Hacking Work: Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results

By Bill Jensen and Josh Klein

Portfolio Penguin, 2010

Web strategist Klein and business consultant Jensen have published a collection of edgy, clever and actionable ideas for circumventing organizational bureaucracies. As the title suggests, the book delivers provocative and revolutionary messages.

Jensen and Klein say that hacking work doesn’t involve merely breaking into corporate IT systems. “Hacking work is the act of getting what you need to do your best by exploiting loopholes and creating workarounds.”

Many of us are already hacking our work – or have employees who are – but don’t know it. At its best, this process involves finding elegant solutions to frustrating bureaucratic procedures while increasing productivity. Using Google Docs instead of a clunkier corporate file-sharing system is an example, as is using free online tools to reinvent a cumbersome expense-report system. These are fresh and feasible ideas.

Free online tools can help you think more creatively, prove a point to your superiors or organize a team’s information more efficiently than your company’s tools permit. Free mind-mapping software at, free project -management accounts with and free blogging and wiki software are among the useful suggestions for improving productivity. Stories illustrate how such ideas have been used to solve problems in better ways.

The authors’ point is that the workplace is not organized for employee productivity; it is organized for its own convenience. Circumventing established processes would be less necessary if companies fostered employee productivity. Examples (most unattributed to named individuals or companies, however) abound of workers who hacked their organizations’ systems or procedures to improve their efficiency. The book fulfils its mandate to make you question and re-think bureaucratic routines in your workplace.

Some of the suggested hacks might be questionable, particularly those that involve individual privacy rights. For example, secretly videotaping customer complaints and posting them on YouTube to convince one’s company to be more user-focused skates on the edge of ethics and privacy issues. Writing a script file to tell you when your supervisor signs onto and off of his corporate email in order to count his working hours would likely be viewed by many as unethical. And who’s to say he wasn’t working into the night on Gmail, a hack that the authors promote?

Hacking Work is bound to be controversial – and in a good way, because it forces people to think in revolutionary terms about their work. But the impact may not be as good if it promotes hacking without an adequate understanding of related issues, reasons for policies or corporate cultures.

Chapters 10 and 11 give advice directly to employees and bosses about implementing radical change in the workplace. My suggestions for making an intriguing book even better? Revamp the bitter tone. Discard the tired theme of generation gaps between workers. Position the entire book as two things: a guide on reinventing work, and a tutorial for those entering the workforce on how to use their awesome social media and technology skills for good. •

Jan Wallace is head of the David Lam Management Research Library at UBC’s Sauder School of Business.

The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs

By Carmine Gallo

McGraw-Hill, 2010

Innovation is a business buzzword these days. In The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, Gallo shares some practical tools and principles to help you find your passion and purpose in life and work. Using seven principles, Gallo shows us how to foster an environment that will allow business to thrive. He challenges us to look at our businesses and lives and ask the question “What would Steve Jobs do?” Then he gives us the tools we need to find the answer.

The Trouble With Billionaires

By Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks

Penguin Canada, 2010

If you are not a billionaire, authors McQuaig and Brooks will make you feel good. In their book The Trouble With Billionaires they examine the question of income disparity and its effect on our economy. Smart and well-written, the book tackles the impact the super-rich have had on democracy, citizenship and the economic crashes of 1929 and 2008, and even takes a look at the business of pornography. The authors suggest a number of reforms that they believe will move Canada forward as a more equitable society. They even manage to include a quote from J.K. Rowling – and who wants to argue with Harry Potter’s mom? •

Treena Chambers is the marketing technology co-ordinator at the UBC Bookstore.

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