Hacking Work: What Kind of Hacker Are You?

“Hacking” seems to be popping up everywhere as an idea whose time as come. There’s hacking management, hacking education, even hacking the stock market. As we studied thousands of hacking case studies, we found four basic kinds of hackers

Hacking Work

“Hacking” seems to be popping up everywhere as an idea whose time as come. There’s hacking
, hacking
, even
hacking the stock market.


Some of these hacks are noble, necessary, and overdue; some are malicious and should be shunned. But each is a reaction to systems that simply are no longer working–structures and tools that are failing us. Each is crying out that our structures have become more bossy than our bosses, and that they’re hurting us as much as they help us.

As we studied thousands of hacking case studies for Hacking Work–focusing on the systems and tools that are failing us in our jobs–we found four basic kinds of hackers:

1. Pioneers. These hackers go solo or find a partner to help them go where no one’s gone before–and do it in a big way. Like telling one’s employer, “No, this is how you will evaluate me;” or entrepreneurs like the founders of FedEx, Apple and Amazon, or even the protester in Tiananmen Square staring down a tank. What they all have in common is daring to say “There’s got to be a better way. If not me … then who?”

2. Imagineers. These visionaries also see better ways of doing things and are willing to tackle the big problems, but rarely go solo. Most often they hack by building sizable networks or taking their ideas viral. There’s safety in numbers and wisdom in the crowd! A common hack in this area is for a team to rebuild any tool or process to be more user-centered, and to lobby for its use throughout the company. Both Pioneers and Imagineers adhere to classic hacking philosophies: Learn by taking things apart and making them better, and information is best when shared with all, completely transparently.

3. Craftsmen. This is where most work hacks occur.
These are the people who do workmanlike hacks to solve everyday problems. From redesigning tools and processes to bypassing a lousy boss or a stupid procedure, these hacks keep the wheels of business from falling off. Craftsmen may do their hacks explicitly or supportively, but their hacks address our biggest day-to-day challenges.

4. Adjusters. This group creates relatively minor hacks–tweaks and changes around the fringes of work and one-time efforts–but when you add up their combined efforts, they make a big difference in keeping businesses running and people employed.


What kind of hacker are you? Be it known that there are no non-hackers… Everybody hacks! If you have been thinking you are a non-hacker, that probably means you’re an Adjuster–playing it safe and making sure your hacks will never be noticed. The good news in that case is that your toolkit just got a whole lot more powerful – go google “how to X” where “X” is a work problem, then get to it.

Sure, there are risks – whether you’re an adjuster or a Pioneer. But to those risk-takers go the greatest rewards and, in the long-term, the greatest job security. In today’s economic climate, can any of us afford just to make minor changes around the fringes of what needs to be done, leaving our careers to nothing but hope?

Read more articles about Hacking Work.

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.