A hacker, in the eyes of many, is a criminal – someone who breaks into computer systems and steals information or worse.
Real hackers, however, don’t see things that way.
They call criminals “crackers”. Hacking is something much more creative.
Too many of us are bound by the rules, the way things are done and have always been done.
This is why we spend time entering data into mind-numbing spreadsheets, making cold calls, going into a physical office every day and following processes laid down by administrators.
That’s business as usual.
A hack is simply a cool new way to do something.
It’s that shortcut we figured out, a piece of code that can take something that takes 2 weeks to do at the moment and gets it done in 2 minutes, the one change in our daily routine that saves us an hour of effort.
The main characteristics of a hack are that it is simple – almost obvious in retrospect, and masterful – something that bubbled up from all the expertise and work we had already put in.
It is also illicit – it doesn’t follow the rules set out by the system.
Just because managers have said something should be done in this way doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do something.
If we all accepted the status quo all the time, there would be no innovation, nothing would change.
One of the greatest “hackers” of all time, Richard Stallman, would never have built his free software and associated free software license that went on to transform the world of computing, creating a real alternative to the corporate giants – Microsoft and Apple.
Sometimes, to do something better, we have to ignore imposed rules – and act illicitly.
The problem, of course, is when this turns into illegal activity – and that’s what worries the general public.
The idea of hacking – the good way – is behind sites such as lifehacker, that provides tips and tricks for getting things done, or the concept of growth hacking – unconventional ways to acquire customers and rapidly grow a company.
In today’s technology dominated economy – innovation comes from looking at things differently and coming up with simple and masterful ideas that transcends conventional wisdom and conventional rules.
The hackers in the machine are the ones doing innovative things and creating value – whether it’s in software, business systems, marketing or operations.
Being a hacker, in essence, can make what we do more interesting.