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A Hacker’s Guide To Changing (Dysfunctional) Systems

Hacking for organizational growth

There is a difference between dysfunctional and broken.

Broken means something doesn’t work at all. Dysfunctional means it works, but not for the good of all the parties involved and definitely not sustainably.

In dysfunctional systems a pyramid typically forms until the base gets too weak to support the top and the entire pyramid collapses. The majority of the organizations in existence today falls into this category, where the focus is on maximizing profit for a handful while the majority of the workforce is being disadvantaged and even exploited to such a degree that they burn-out or walk away.

Some call this capitalism.

Capitalism or Captivity?

Capitalism, or rather true capitalism, however, cannot exist for long in such a dysfunctional system just as a farmer can not sustainably keep harvesting without also investing in the quality of the soil and keeping some of the best seeds for the next season. When all the seeds are sold, it’s like slaughtering the goose that lays the golden eggs. In the business world, the people is your golden goose.

If you’re a business owner and capitalist, it is thus in your best interest to ensure that the system that runs your business remains functional and in harmony with the environment.

Baby Boomers vs Millennials

The Baby Boomers enjoyed being managed. Being managed meant quality. Quality meant profit. Profit meant security.

Millennials, on the other hand, dislike being managed. Being managed means being controlled. Being controlled means unable to have fun and be creative. Being unable to innovate and enjoy what you do means losses and failure. It means financial losses for the company and losing yourself as a human being, trying to be what those before you were.

The currency for success in the age of the Millennial is employee happiness and innovation. The business systems focused on management and control therefore does more harm than good for both the business owner as well as the employee. Business systems who are able to let go of control a little, have a lot to gain.

It’s time for change.

Not because the systems are bad or wrong. Just because. Well. They don’t fit anymore. Just like a 5 year old needs a new, bigger outfit each year. One that fits.

Hacking for Growth

My road crossed a few criminals and hackers and I noticed how effortlessly they seem to get what they want breaking the rules while here I was being punished for being a good citizen.

Curiously, I started exploring what goes on in the mind of a hacker and how it can be used for the good. This is what I’ve learned:

Rule #1. Start with the end in mind

A hacker or criminal starts with a goal in mind. They know what they want. They might not know exactly what it looks like or when it will present itself, but they know they want a fix and will do whatever it takes to get it.

Whether you’re one person looking for change or an entire organization embarking on a change initiative, the first step is deciding where you want to go and why. What’s your end goal? What does success look like?

If your answer is to make money, ask yourself what you would do with the money. What makes you happy? How do you want to feel? What do you want more of? What do you want less of?

Read more about this in my post entitled Why The Goal Should Never Be To Make Money.

Rule #2. Define your ransom

A criminal demands their ransom and is unwilling to yield or negotiate. They know that yielding will show doubt and doubt shows weakness.

Whenever you hit a fork in the road of organizational or personal change, know your ransom. What are you willing to give up and what not with your personal values being your guide. If your most important value is trust, make sure that you make choices that will keep and build trust within and outside of the organization.

Be very clear on your personal values and what you are willing to sacrifice and at what price.

What is your ransom?

Rule #3. Be patient

A hacker or criminal doesn’t simply jump in and hack a person’s account at the first opportunity they get. They usually first spend time searching for potential victims and try to identify behavior patterns. Only once they have a high degree of certainty that the risk of being caught has been minimized do they act. Sometimes it takes hours, other times months or even years.

In organizational and personal change, first spend time to objectively observe. Get to know your players. Study the history of the company and the people. Find the patterns, the pains and the gains. Attempt to see how it could have been beneficial in the past and how this can be used as leverage or influence.

Don’t fight the system, rather, find it’s vulnerability and how to exploit it.

Rule #4. Make friends

Criminal activity is usually an inside job (in South Africa in any case).

I once lived next door to the nicest man I’ve met. He also happened to be the head of the body corporate handling the finances for the sectional title property I lived in and owned. He was always friendly, always going out of his way to help his neighbours, never got angry. Nice. Too nice. “Normal” people get annoyed and angry and have bad days. He didn’t seem to have any bad days. Ever.

It turned out he was part of a syndicate stealing from me and my neighbours. He did this so obviously, yet, no-one bothered to notice as he was just too nice for anyone to question him.

Criminals invest a lot of time in getting you to like and trust them enough for you to show your vulnerability.

An organization or team consists first and foremost of people. Without first investing in building strong relationships with these people, chances are the organizational boat will be shipwrecked when the first storm hits.

Spend time building relationships before you start breaking down the building. When the going gets tough (which it’s bound to), these strong relationships will be your lifeline.

Rule #5. Play by the rules

I’ve rarely met a ‘normal’ person who knows all the laws by heart or the banking policies and procedures of the bank they use. Usually, they don’t even know the different fees for different transactions. They rely on the goodness of the general population, knowing that when they are charged for something it is correct.

Criminals, on the other hand, know the rules by heart. They know when to break which laws and how to respond when they do. They study the laws continuously, looking for the weaknesses and how to see opportunity when it arises.

Even though many companies say they want change, when it happens they don’t like it much and will punish the change-makers. If you want organizational change, first and foremost follow the rules. To the T. Make changes where there are no rules or the rules are weak or confusing. While you follow the rules, no-one is able to touch you.

Rule #6. Don’t confuse being meek with being weak

Being weak is not the same as being meek, yet many people confuse these. Being weak is lacking strength while being meek requires great strength.

To change a dysfunctional system don’t attempt to swim upstream. Allow yourself to flow downstream and protect yourself as best you can against the bruises and bumps as you hit obstacles in the road rather than attempting to avoid it.

Say yes to everything and be submissive to authorities. Sustainable change happens inside-out, bottom-up. Remain meek, be humble and always present yourself as the least important person in the room (which is also a Buddhist teaching on how to achieve happiness).

By remaining meek, you gain the trust of authorities who will eventually, given enough patience, hand you what you want on a golden platter.

Influence is built by trust.

First build trust before you start changing the system.

Rule #7. Don’t cry wolf

When you have a faulty alarm that keeps going off, a thief will capitalize on this and use it as an opportunity to break in. Even when the alarm does go off, chances are no-one will react as they assume it to be yet another false alarm.

When you constantly complain or have an opinion about everything, people tend to ignore you. When, however, you keep to yourself, the times you do voice your opinion, they will respect you and hear what you have to say.

Timing is everything. It’s not what you say, but when you say it.

Only raise a controversial issue once you’ve built enough trust and respect to know that people will hear you when you have something to say. Saying the same thing prematurely will result in resistance. Waiting for the perfect time results in change.

Rule #8. Allow yourself to be imperfect

No-one likes to hear how wrong or mean or imperfect they are. From a young age we’re taught that successful people don’t make mistakes. A good manager is (was) one who knows all the answers, the one who never makes a mistake, the one who always remains calm, even under pressure.

A successful leader on the other hand is someone who is willing to make mistakes, knowing that mistakes is a better teacher than always being right.

It’s better to apologize than to be right.

In my experience, apologizing after being unreasonable or wrong has opened up more opportunities and gained me more respect than being proud or arrogant and refusing to admit my part in a mistake.

Everyone makes mistakes. That’s what makes you human. It’s what you do after you’ve made a mistake that is an indication of your character and how much people will respect you.

For cultural change to happen, sometimes it’s necessary to model mistakes and failures and how to deal with it rather than trying to show them how to be perfect.

Rule #9. Never look back

The opportunity for theft presents itself unannounced to the criminal who is always on the lookout. They seize the moment and act fast. Once the crime was committed, they get themselves out of the way and never look back. They know that looking back will only make them vulnerable to being arrested.

Act fast. Move fast.

Real-time change beats planned change initiatives by far. When an opportunity for change presents itself to you, don’t wait. Act. Don’t overthink it, don’t over analyze. Just do it. Without any remorse. What’s done is done and can not be undone. Hold your head up high and stick to your guns, however hard it might be. And refer back to rule #8.

You’ll teach integrity when you do and people will follow suit and that’s how change happens. One change-opportunity at a time.

Rule #10. Celebrate success

In most of the organizational change programs I’ve been involved in, the project starts off with a lot of celebration and focus and as the project starts running, less and less focus is put. It fizzles out until the change initiative is only a memory with people returning to their old habits and ways of working.

For change to stick, it’s important to celebrate when something goes right as a result of the change. Keep the fire of change burning by constantly breathing new energy in the form of celebration. Help people see how the change is to their benefit.

Disclaimer. I’m not a hacker and have no criminal record. What I’ve learned about hacking and how the criminal mind works came from spending time with drug addicts and ex-convicts while working with a non-profit organization.

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Kate Dames

Kate Dames

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A cup of fresh ideas for old problems. Integrating technology, agile, gamification & lean to make workplaces more human, productive & fun. www.funficient.com