I had just lost my six-year old dog to lymphoma. The highly active three-year old canine companion he left behind was understandably confused, moping around, and, most of all, bored. So I thought I would give her something new to do that might help her deal with her new reality.
Got her one of those dog toy balls that can be filled with small treats. As the dog plays with and rolls it around, a treat is randomly dispensed as a reward. She seemed interested enough. So I left her alone with it while I went to work in the office. It was quiet for a long time. When I went to check on her an hour or two later, she had managed to get out all the treats. No, she is not a genius dog and figured the right position at which to maneuver the ball to get at them. She had shredded the toy into dozens of little fragments to access the prize. Essentially, my dog had hacked the treat ball system.
When we think of hackers, we think of those computer criminals who use viruses, spam, and identity theft to hurt or steal from other computer users. But in their book, Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust, authors Julien Smith and Chris Brogan give the hacker label a whole new, more positive, meaning. According to Smith and Brogan, work and life have some significant parallels to video game play. Successful players look at the rules within the system and then modify–or hack–them to make the system work better, maybe even reinvent the game in some way. Unlike malicious hacking, hacking at work requires that you have your company’s best interest at heart, with a strong focus on the results and not how the job gets done.
In looking back on my career in corporate America, the times I hacked the existing system brought me more achievement than when I merely played by the rules. One such example was when I was in sales and was very frustrated with the dull boilerplate sales letters and materials we were expected to use. So I developed some very creative sales letters that were stories, poetry, parodies, and more. That venture into work hacking helped me gain some creative recognition and make the transition from sales into marketing, advertising, and public relations. Yes, I can personally attest to the authors’ work hacking strategy suggestions.
Smith and Brogan also suggest hacking your life for greater productivity and effectiveness. This could take the form of delegating tasks (whether it be to another person or a machine) at which you do not excel and that take you away from spending time applying your talents to help others.
I have just started on the life hacking path and have been able to delegate a few tasks. I now have a few extra hours to write or read, both of which are valuable to me personally and professionally. But I have a long way to go here. As the authors note, “There are rules and there are hacks. Create the game you want from life itself.” I think my dog already knows how to do that.