Hacking Work: Managing Guilty Secrets

Bill Jensen and Josh Klein’s new book, “Hacking Work” is about righteous rule-breaking. Here, the authors discuss breaking taboos to change the workplace, starting with telling your boss why the company is broken.

Hacking Work

We begin this installment on hacking work with a nod to both Fast Company and Ideo. In her post, “How
to Turn Social Taboos Into Innovative Products
,” Ideo designer Betsy Fields lists four core approaches:


1. Know the taboos: What topics are discussed only behind closed doors.
2. Respect embarrassment: Let people know it’s Okay to discuss taboos.
3. Reframe social stigmas: Help people engage with those taboos.
4. Allow for avoidance: Make it okay not to join taboo-breakers.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves! Thank you, Betsy.

Hacking one’s work is a major taboo. Break or bend the rules? OMG … What will my boss think of me? Will my co-workers still respect me?


Will I be shunned and outcast like a leper? Or worse…Fired?

These are very real concerns for many non-hackers. Most of us have had it drilled into us since childhood that following the rules and being a good person are the same thing. “If I hack to fix something that was broken when it was handed to me, I must somehow be a bad person doing bad things.” Seems strange when written like that, but that thinking is what pushes benevolent hacks back into the closet and labeled as a taboo.

In this TEDx
, author of Career
” Jonathan Fields talks about how to turn fear from a source of anxiety and paralysis into fuel for action and achievement.


That’s what makes his talk–filled with 9/11 tragedies and entrepreneurship and more–super-relevant to hacking. “This is my one chance…We don’t get do-overs. Do I rise above my fears and anxiety?”

The answer for Jonathan was a resounding “Yes.” Is that your answer too?

Know the taboo, we are told. But the truth is, Hacking isn’t really the taboo. What’s keeping us in our do-it-by-the-rules closets is fear. Getting beyond that fear means asking the new questions we need to ask, and seeking new answers involving:


1. Fear of Failure
2. Fear of Being Judged
3. Fear of Success.

Respect embarrassment, we are cautioned. Right now, in this economy, in this work environment, the most important hack of all is opening up the conversation. For now, the best place to start hacking your broken systems is in just talking about what’s broken. Talk about your concerns about fixing it, talk about how corporate-centered systems destroy your efficiency and effectiveness; just talk about what concerns you. Start there.

We are advised to reframe the stigma. When asked a fear-driven question, Josh’s favorite response is “If you came to your boss with a way to improve results, get things done faster, reduce costs, and meet more customers’ needs, would he say no?” Reframing means getting away from discussing the hack and into conversations about results, about improving efficiency and effectiveness.


Here’s where we all need each other. We all need to jump into the conversations happening at Ideo or Behance or Lifehacker or, dare we say, HackingWork, to change the debate about hacking one’s work. We need each other’s help to bring this taboo out into the open. These guilty secrets must be guilty no more.

Bill Jensen and Josh Klein recently released Hacking Work through Portfolio Penguin–a book on how and why to break the rules to create more success for you, your customers, and your company.