The word “hack” has been abused and misused. It’s gotten to the point that instructional videos about how we’ve all been eating apples the wrong way—and how to eat one correctly—are considered life hacks. Everything can be “hacked” and everyone wants to be a hacker these days. The word is so widespread that it’s starting to lose meaning. However, it’s too valuable to ever really die off.
Despite the ubiquity of the word, there’s incredible value in adopting a hacker mentality for whatever you’re trying to accomplish. Hacking is when you adopt a super useful, but sometimes inelegant, way of doing things that defy conventions. At the very least, this makes the work a lot easier. In the best cases, the hacker mentality leads to incredible developments.
Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, who once donned a nose ring and had dyed blue hair, likens hacking to punk rock. “You don’t have to be perfect at performing. You don’t have to be perfect at an instrument,” he said in an interview with NPR. “You take a guitar and you get out there.”
“You drive more by [the] principle of what you want to see in the world and you do whatever it takes to make that happen.”
There’s wisdom in those words. Hacking isn’t a simple trick taught by a YouTube video. It’s a mindset that helps us boost productivity by coming up with creative solutions. Here’s how to make it happen for you.
Change Your Thinking
There’s a safe and traditional way of thinking that’s instilled in us from our earliest ages. As children, society tells us not to rock the boat too much. Keep your head down, get your work done, and good things will happen. That’s how it is for most people during their school years. Once we enter the workforce, we’re told the work as hard and as long as possible.
That traditional way of thinking is both outdated and prohibitive. Author Shane Snow argues in his book Smartcuts that things need to change. Instead of following the rules, we should be thinking like hackers.
What that means is that we follow the examples of people who “buck the norm and do incredible things in implausibly short amounts of time.” Forget tradition. Instead, we all need to solve problems by thinking beyond conventional means. “Smartcuts” are innovative solutions that prevent us breaking our backs from endless work hours. That old chestnut—“word smarter, not harder”—applies here.
Coming up with solutions that defy the traditional way of thinking is a lot easier said than done. That’s why you need to go beyond adopting a new way of thinking and actually dedicate time to hacking a solution.
To do that, you must experiment regularly with whatever challenges are in front of you. You might not solve the problem immediately, but the experimentation can lead to fruitful developments that help in the future. After all, the microwave oven and potato chips were accidental inventions. So were Post-It notes. Who knows what you might come up with?
To cultivate a hacker mentality, you’ll need to dedicate time to both brainstorming and tinkering.
There’s a theory called the “five-hour rule” that states some of the greatest minds spend at least one hour a day focusing on a form of personal improvement similar to the hacker mentality. That includes everything from reading relevant texts to simply thinking of solutions to experimenting. This block of time can lead to some great things as long as you don’t let day-to-day tasks overwhelm your larger goals.
Take Inventory of Your Actions
So where to start? It’s so easy to become set in a way of doing things. It’s much harder to get an unbiased look at all the tasks and processes we handle each day. To find areas that can be improved with a hacker mentality, you need to take an inventory of your day.
Take a step back from your work and think hard about how you do things. What takes most of your time? What annoys you the most? How can the things you’re working on improve?
Asking simple questions like those are a step towards finding what can be hacked.
The New Meaning of a Hacker
Hacking has come a long way as a word. The earliest modern usage of the word came from the MIT Tech Model Railroad Club back in 1955, as students were tinkering with an electrical system. Since then, the word became popularized in reference to breaking boundaries with computers. Then there were the nefarious connotations of a hacker trying to break into systems with ill intentions. Over time, however, “hacker” has once again become a positive word.
Words change over time, but the underlying meaning of a hacker is still the same. It’s someone who isn’t afraid to tinker or experiment. Failure might come time and time again, yet this mindset can lead to greatness. You don’t have to be a computer programmer to find success. You just need to adopt the hacker mentality.