Why Hacking?

Ok, I’m going assume that “innovation” is pretty self explanatory here, but why this word hacking?  Why “innovation hacking?”

The word “hacker” has a number of different meanings and a number of different connotations, both good and bad.  Paul Graham does an excellent job describing this in his 2004 essay, The Word “Hacker“.  I particularly like how he connects the different meanings and connotations together.  Yes, hackers both break into computers and are the “master” programmers, they make computers do whatever they want (whether the computer wants to or not).  And yes hacks can either be ugly or imaginative, but in both cases, they break the rules.  And in this sense, these different meanings aren’t opposites but rather define a continuum.

The case I am going to be building on this blog is that most great innovations start as elegant hacks.  By studying hacks and hackers, we can start to develop a theory of where innovative ideas come from.  Paul Graham’s startup accelerator, Y Combinator, is build on this thesis.  Y Combinator’s application process is meant to find great hackers, not great business ideas.  Many teams change their business idea while going through the program and the program encourages them to do so.  The Launch Pad by Randall Stross is a fascinating inside look at Y Cominator.  I just happened to read it right around the same time as Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad course at Columbia.