One derivation of the term “hack” is to “cut with heavy blows in an irregular or random fashion.” They adapted the term at MIT in the 1950s to mean “fussing with computers,” after one scientist “hacked through” an electrical system to keep a fuse from blowing. Today, life hacks are tricks and shortcuts for all sort of things and hackers are the modern computer systems ninjas. These hackers put expert skills into creative problem-solving.
Another derivation of the term “hack” comes from Hackney, London. Hackney was where the most average of average horses were bred. The “hacks” could pull carriages or be ridden but were wholly lacking in any distinguishing character. These hacks were made for function at a reasonable cost. They were still skilled, but completely unremarkable.
Notice how both a hacker and a hack can be professionals. The label and distinction is nuanced, but really important. The difference becomes apparent when we study the value each commands from their marketplace. Remember this rule: differentiation creates scarcity and scarcity creates value. Hackers, with a reputation for creatively solving problems, can be seen as special. Each one isn’t right for everyone, but they have a chance to be perfect for someone. Hacks might be good enough for anyone, but they’ll also be perfect for no one.
Hackers create scarcity, hacks create the opposite – abundance. Abundance is great for mass production. Assembly lines, factories, and public schools thrive on abundance. If we want a product or a service to make us feel special – because that’s what we value, we’re in search of scarcity, which starts with a hacker who embraced being different.
Hackers make people take notice, hacks barely register. If we want our practices to stand out, we should start with something remarkable. If we’re not sure what could be remarkable about us, we can start with the fact that we’re all different. The next step is just one of many problems in need of a creative solution.
There’s nothing wrong with being a hack, it’s safe and relatively easy. But, it’s way more fun, way more interesting, and way more valuable to be a hacker.
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