5 Questions with Bill Jensen, Author of Hacking Work

November 9th, 2010 by lewis

Bill Jensen is President/CEO of The Jensen Group, a consultancy whose mission is to make it easier to get stuff done. He has spent more than two decades researching how work gets done. His basic conclusion, “Woah. How about some discipline around some common sensical basics?” Bill’s areas of passion include: reinventing communication skills as well as work tools and infrastructure. Bill recently co-authored a new book called Hacking Work. I had a chance to chat with Bill about his new book.
Where’d the idea for the book come from?
Frustration. Arrrrrrrgh! For two decades I’ve been researching workplace complexity. One of the two main sources (the other being information and choice overload) has consistently been corporate infrastructure — tools, support and processes. It’s all corporate-centered: focused on meeting the company’s needs, but not necessarily each individual’s needs. For over a decade I’ve been trying to get senior execs to pay attention to this. “Uh, no thanks,” is the usual reply. Why? Because they own what needs to be fixed…They caused the problem in the first place. Very frustrating because I knew how addressing this problem would truly be a win-win for companies, their workforce and their customers. Then I met Josh at a TED conference. He suggested “If the execs won’t fix this, why don’t you show the workforce how to hack around these problems?” Lightbulb! Hacking Work was born.
What are your favorite work hacks?
Josh and I have different areas of expertise. His faves center more on the use of technology. My favorites are more about changing the balance of power in the work relationship, regardless of whether the workers are high-tech or low-tech.
Fave 1: Matt (Chap 1) rewriting his performance assessment tool
Takes control away from the company and ensures that the worker is a 50/50 partner in assessing performance.
Fave 2: Elizabeth (Chap 1) who videotaped customers in order to get her project approved
Takes control away from the execs, and puts it where it belongs, in the hands of customers.
Fave 3: Gary Koelling’s advice (Chap 5) for building one’s own hacker’s toolkit
The more people walk into work w/ their own toolkits, the more the work contract is balanced. More and more, infrastructure is becoming the source of power in the relationship.
What is your best hack idea for folks who are looking for a new job?
There are several tips within the book. Rather than answer your question w/ specific How To’s, I’ll offer three guiding principles:
Your Biggest Competition is Not Another Person…
You need to compete for the interviewer’s time and attention. Both in getting in the door and then during the interview and negotiation process (see communication tips below). Maximize value to them in the least amount of time and space.
Know Thyself As a Product
How will you market yourself competitively?
Know That You CAN and MUST Rewrite the Rules of the New Hire Process
Companies wrote and work those rules to keep themselves in charge. You need to hack those rules in order to make it a 50/50 relationship.

You’re a big fan of communication as a skill. What are you top communication tips?
Tons! Several of my past books cover all this. For detailed response, suggest going to www.simplerwork.com. In the Free Store, there are lots of free downloads that provide detailed
How To’s. But if you need something without going to downloads, I’d say make all your communication user-centered: that is, design it, think about it by working backwards from the needs of the people who are going to use that information to get their work done. The guiding principle: maximize value to them in the least amount of time and space.

Are you a Google fan? Your book suggests many workarounds using Google products.
Yes. But it’s bigger than that. I’m really an open source fan, as well as Apple and a few other products and apps. The main criteria is “How much power/control is in the hands
of the user, not just the manufacturer?”

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