How to hack work

Today I want to talk about hacking work…

But wait, before you start conjuring images of coders breaking into the payroll database from the comfort of their bedroom… I mean hacking in the sense of hacking your life. Why would anyone want to ‘live for the weekends’ or ‘work to live’ when work takes up such a large part of our lives. Surely our lives would be vastly improved if we loved our working lives every bit as much as we loved our non working lives. What if we approached our whole lives with the joy of excited children at a birthday party? Why can’t work be fun?

In Trust Agents, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith introduce the concept of hacking in game play. The theory goes that once you know the way a game works, you can start bending the rules and using the game’s resources in ways that hadn’t previously been thought of. If you  consider life as a game, then hacking your life simply means finding a way to question the status quo. Hacking your work is about understanding the way work works, and then repurposing it a bit. What better focus could we have for a spot of creative thinking?

Another great book I am going to draw on for today is Switched On by Sahar Hashemi. In Switched On, Hashemi suggests 8 habits that will transform you from mindless automaton to fully engaged. 8 ways to look beyond the prescribed tasks and find new ways of making work work for you.

You wander from room to room hunting for the diamond necklace that is already around your neck – Rumi, 13th century poet

Know the System

In the Productive Thinking Model we have understanding ‘what’s going on’. This means taking a big picture view of how your work operates and understanding a few of the basics. Using something like the Business Model Canvas would be a great start here:

  • Where does the cash come from?
  • Who are the customers and what’s in it for them?
  • What are the businesses resources and how are they used?
  • Who else is involved, and how do the relationships work?
  • What is your part in all of this?

If you can figure this out you should ‘get’ how your job creates value. This is your basic rules and resources perspective for knowing what you can do and what you can’t do. One of the key takeaways from Trust Agents on hacking work is the concept of leverage. Once we figure out what value the business is looking for we can understand ways to maximise our outcomes. Why spend effort developing really cool process documentation if the business is going to get more out of you publishing articles in trade magazines?

Another tool that could help here is Value Innovation. Why not value innovate yourself, and your role in the organisation? Are there any new ways you could create value which haven’t been thought of yet?

Step into your Customer’s Shoes

This is such an important part of understanding the system that it needs to sit out on its own. Stepping into your customers shoes is more than just thinking about what ‘they’ might like. It’s about asking

“If I were my customer, what would I want? What would I expect? And what would I need from this transaction?”

Hashemi suggests some ways to actually step inside your customer’s shoes. Shadowing your customer, posing as a customer and actually buying your product or service, or using a healthy dose of empathy and imagination as you deep dive into your customer value proposition.

A great favourite of mine is using TERMS (Time, emotion, risk, money and situation) to systematically contemplate the customer experience.

Develop a Vision

The Productive Thinking Model calls it understanding success. Business school calls it developing a vision. Trust Agents talks about collecting case studies, blog posts, and success stories from those you find inspiring. Hashemi reminds us that energy and self belief are infectious. Alexsey Vayner said it best…success is a mental transformation.

We all know about the power of having a clear vision. Go all out when developing your own vision. I mentioned some visualisation exercises here, these work. Try them.

In part 2 tomorrow, I’ll talk through some of the different ways you can implement your work hacks as well as introducing a number of exciting examples from current thinking on workplace disruption, 


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