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93150384_b74ff72bc6_oWhat happened the last time your organization or team had a big problem to solve?  Maybe a disruptive new competitor arrived and made your product look out of date.  Or perhaps you were losing people to turnover at an alarming rate.

What did you do?

If you are like most in corporate America, you probably ran a play from the management playbook.  Step one, call a meeting to discuss. Step two, form a committee. Step three, create a charter for said committee. Step four, start diagnosing the problem. Eventually (months later), your committee emerges with a resource and budget intensive solution that you hope will solve the problem.  Sound familiar?

Our default mode appears to be to take a problem and pile complexity on top of it. This is slow and inefficient at best.

What if we went the other direction? What if we could quickly take a problem, break it do
wn into its smaller parts and rapidly test a number of simple solutions that might solve the problem?
A process exists to do this.  It’s called hacking.

Joe and I stumbled upon an article in Wired Magazine years ago in which the author detailed his experience as part of a hackathon. We were immediately captivated by the process and began to study hacking. I’ll admit that I had a lot of misconceptions about it at first. I thought hacking was an inherently immoral or unlawful activity. I quickly learned that this is only the case when immoral or unlawful people are using hacking for evil purposes. Hacking is simply a process that creates innovation and progress.

A hacker is someone who enjoys exploring the details of a programmable system for the purpose of making the system do more than it currently does.  Hacking isn’t limited to software. It can be applied to almost any area of your business (or your life).

Here’s the short version of the process:

  1. Identify the system you need to hack.  This can be a process that isn’t working or a product that needs to be improved.  It could as simple as meeting you regularly have with your team.
  2. Decide how you want that system to be better specifically.  If you are hacking your team meeting, what would better look like?  How will you know if you’ve been successful?  Maybe you want your meetings to be 15 minutes shorter.  That’s a specific aspiration for the meeting that you can pursue.
  3. Break the system down into it’s smaller parts or components. A meeting may not seem like it has a lot of parts, but when you look closer, there are more than you think.  The location, agenda, time of day, who’s invited, who leads, ground rules, technology used, seating, the temperature of the room…I could go on.
  4. Pick one of the components and make a change to it that you think might make the overall system better in the way you defined. This is called a hack. For it to be a hack, it must be a change that you can make without needing resources, support or permission from anyone else. It is something you can take action on immediately. A meeting hack might be that you establish a ground rule that if you can’t arrive on time, you don’t attend.  Or another could be to remove the chairs and have stand-up meetings.  These are two hacks you could try.  If they work to make the meeting shorter, keep them.  If not, try another hack.

Simple. Fast. Effective. And low risk.

Hacking taps into that ingrained curiosity we all had as children. It is that curiosity that drove us to pull things apart to see what was on the inside. It compelled us to explore and experiment. To become a hacker, you need to find that curiosity again and turn it loose.

Hacking puts the power to drive change back in your hands and the hands of each employee in the organization.  If you want to speed up your organization and unleash more innovation, give hacking a try.

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