In their book Hacking Work, Bill Jensen and Josh Klein laid out a manifesto for employees toiling in sclerotic bureaucracies. The subtitle – Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results – said it all.
“There is an underground army of benevolent hackers out there who are saving business from itself and having fun along the way,” Jensen and Klein wrote.
Nearly a decade after the book was published, hacking remains as crucial as ever, Klein argues. He spoke to getAbstract about how the working world has evolved – or not – in recent years.
getAbstract: The economic environment has changed dramatically since Hacking Work was published in 2010. Does the overall approach to hacking change in a time of full employment and record high stock valuations?
Klein: Not the approach, no. If anything, it’s more critical than ever to substantiate the improvements you want to make as corporations are both more fearful and more numbers-driven than ever before. That said, large organizations are also increasingly desperate for innovation in all its forms, and as such should be more welcoming of improvements suggested from within – especially when they’re pitched as value-added cost savings.
getAbstract: What are some common mistakes made by organizations – missteps that present employees with little choice but to hack?
Klein: One word: Micromanagement. Companies have less control than ever, and yet most attempt to respond by increasing control. This tends to drive out the best talent and frighten existing staff into doing even less – a death spiral you can see in any number of large corporations that are now off the S&P 500.
getAbstract: Have any companies changed systems or practices as a result of your work?
Klein: I sure hope so! I can say several companies have made changes with my help, but I don’t know how broadly the message reached beyond that. The last decade has been a terrifying one for large organizations, and making expensive, risky, brave choices hasn’t exactly been standard operating procedure for most of them.
getAbstract: Which is a bigger problem – employs hacking too vigorously, or employees missing opportunities to hack?
Klein: Missed opportunities. Large companies typically evolve by expanding ways to mitigate risk. Small ones typically evolve by optimizing for it. With the power asymmetry produced (and exponentially evolving) from new technologies, the latter are eating both existing and potential markets out from under large companies in every vertical, globally.
As a result, large companies are – rightly so – desperate for innovation while saddled with corporate cultures optimized against it. Anything an employee can do to encourage and produce innovation should be uncommonly rewarded.
getAbstract: What has been the biggest surprise since Hacking Work was published?
Klein: Two main things: 1) Just how significant the potential for Hacking Work is within large organizations, and 2) How uncommon it continues to be.
getAbstract: What are you working on now?
Klein: One of the things that came out of Hacking Work was the realization that most large companies’ technology problems were actually cultural problems. The key insight was that as companies lose control over – and are increasingly beholden to – their employees and customers, their core values are more important than ever. And yet most of them only measure them with an annual 360 review – which, if you’ve never done one, is mostly an exercise in politics.
This led us to create a unique, AI-driven values measurement system in conjunction with King’s College London (www.indigometrics.com). By having your employees answer five questions about five of their peers twice a month (which takes less than five minutes), we can deliver statistically relevant tracking on what your company’s values actually are and where, who and how you should change them to achieve your goals.
About Josh Klein
Josh is a hacker who started breaking into university networks in middle school and ended up consulting to c-suite executives and government leaders alike. Along the way he’s written three books, hosted a TV Series on Nat Geo and two for Discovery, and written and participated in innumerable articles and interviews. From TED to Davos, IBM to Nike, VC funds to that startup down the street, Josh has addressed audiences of thousands and dozens. He currently lives in NYC where he advises startups and multinationals alike on how to use the cutting edge of technology to maximize innovation.