Cheif Learning Officer Solutions for Enterprise Productivity

When Employees Hack Learning — And Why That’s a Good Thing

 -  8/8/12

In some instances, strategically cutting corners is how to learn in today’s work environment.

In their book, Hacking Work, Josh Klein and Bill Jensen argue that more respect ought to be paid to the practice of “hacking,” or applying a computer programmer mentality to otherwise traditional work tasks. The authors describe the many ways in which today’s take-charge workers hack, or break traditional rules and alter processes, thus attaining smarter outcomes. Facebook’s “hackathon” culture is a primary example of this practice. Companies, including learning leaders, must understand, accept and leverage this mentality.

Every day billions of emails and millions of blog posts zoom through cyberspace. Facebook’s user population is roughly 900 million and growing, and Apple boasts of more than 500,000 apps. Technology is has forced revolutionary change at work and in how workers accomplish their jobs.

Catering to the evolving group of workers — namely, Gen Y — requires revolutionary change. To engage them, fill every tech channel with learning. Gen Y relish speed and embrace technology, so enable them to leverage such weapons for efficient knowledge access and absorption. In other words, let them hack.

Consider the case of college students Jonathan Shriftman and Jake Medwell as they sought to launch their bike start-up, Sole. When they asked their friends, family and professional and academic connections for feedback on their business plan, they also used this base of support for votes in an online entrepreneurial contest, which they won.

Their company’s concept and ultimate success became an iterative process with the input of their advisors. Instead of getting the whole bike business perfect from the start — by following the formal course of a business plan and beginning with what some might call outdated marketing tactics — Shriftman and Medwell launched their business quickly and improved it steadily along the way. The company is still growing.

In essence, they hacked — albeit in a positive way. Such phenomena can also happen in a corporation. Successful people know when to leverage resources and learn beyond traditional boundaries. To some degree, most people hack their work ethically and earnestly, sometimes without even thinking of it as a “hack.”


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