Think Like a Hacker to Solve Difficult Problems

In 2014, Pete Frates who had recently been diagnosed with ALS came up with a brilliant way to raise money for a cure. He did not hold a bake sale, stage a marathon, or create a foundation, which are some of the traditional ways of raising money to support research. Instead, Frates hacked an innovative solution known as the “Ice Bucket Challenge.”

You probably saw one of the many videos on YouTube with people pouring ice water over themselves or even made a video of yourself getting drenched. The challenge became a viral sensation, attracting more than 739,000 new donors, and raising close to 150 million dollars for ALS. This is just one of the many exciting examples in Hacking Innovation, Josh Linkner’s new book on how to innovate.

If you’re looking to find creative solutions to solve your company’s problems in the present, Josh Linkner says “think like a hacker” today. While hackers have long been associated with cybercrime, the process of hacking is just an innovative way to solve difficult problems.

Here are a sample of five hacking “exploits” Linkner suggests you can use to overcome problems in your company.

  1. Social engineering: In cybercrime, this is often referred to as “phishing,” where the human is the weakest link in the security chain. That’s when you end up with that email that seems like it came from a friend or a client, but it’s not—and you end up giving away important information. As a legit hacking method, social engineering is about building trusting relationships with people to enlist them to help your cause. Think of the Ice Bucket Challenge example above as the unique hack that used social engineering to enlist friends to donate to ALS.
  2. Borrowing: This exploit is similar to crowdsourcing, except with borrowing you look for ideas and inspiration from outside of your industry. For example, scientists looked to nature for solutions to build better wetsuits by studying the skin of beavers.
  3. Deconstruction: Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to take it apart, break it down to its separate elements, and see how it works. Robert Egger broke down the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) rules for cycling to see how the regulations worked and then challenged each rule to develop the FUCI bike.
  4. The mashup: The best solutions are sometimes a combination of different but unique ideas. Combine two or more distinct ideas to create a new one. For example: Phone + computer + music player = smartphone.
  5. Working backward: When looking at a problem, start with what you think the solution will look like and then work your way back to the beginning. When Tom Kartsotis, founder and CEO of Fossil watches, wanted to create an upscale “authentic” American made watch, he first envisioned the final product. Then he found a name (Shinola), decided where the watch would be manufactured in the U.S, and kept working backward before even designing the watch.

This is just a small sample of the exploits and examples in the book. Linkner also includes five more exploits to solve problems as well as how to adopt the hacker mindset to solve problems.

Kyle Crocco is an East Coast native and content creator for Big Speak. His career has taken him from authoring the Heroes, Inc. series, to living and teaching abroad in France and China, to completing his Ph.D. in Education at the University of California-Santa Barbara. He is also the lead singer for Duh Professors, a local Santa Barbara band.