Hack. (verb) to make a clever solution to a tricky problem.

Hacker. (noun) someone who makes things work beyond perceived limits in a clever way.

Two weeks ago, my friend Gadge approached me and asked me to do a dynamic (animated) presentation for the Auditor General office of South Africa. My first answer was “Hell No”. I don’t know flash, the last time I did anything animated was 3 years ago and it was with Swish Max a program far simpler than Flash. Then he told me how much I was going to get for it… …I said “fine” and began working. The next 6 days were grueling, frustrating and sleepless but I learnt to use a difficult and intimidating software well enough to create a 6 minute animated presentation for the client…and they liked it.

I hacked it.

Everybody has an idea of their ‘limits’. Everybody has a reason for why they cannot do stuff…it is too hard, I don’t know how to do it, I didn’t go to school for it, I’m not good enough, I don’t have the contacts, I don’t have the time, I don’t have the talent, and so on. Those are valid reasons…they are also bullshit. We can always stretch ourselves further than we think, the fundamental block to getting there is belief.

I like the word ‘Hack’, I like it so much, I put it right up there with one of my favorite words…‘Create’. When I think about WHAT I want to do with my life, the word ‘create’ immediately comes to mind. I want to make cool things, inspiring things, meaningful things. That’s what I want to do…create. When I think about HOW I want to do all those things, I think about the word ‘hack’.

To hack means approaching a subject you know little about, breaking it down quickly, and making connections with things you already know until it becomes familiar, until you become proficient. Condensing a large and complex skill into its simplest piece, digesting it and leveraging this basic essence to achieve your objectives. This is a general working knowledge, to gain mastery, you must of course study deeper.

Hacking is not only useful when learning a skill (subject) initially. But, even when you are diving deeply into a subject, you can hack it even further, removing redundancies and making it more streamlined, more efficient.

It’s a life philosophy really, the idea of being a hacker, or lifehacker (there is incidentally a site by this very name with a lot of material on living better in the digital age). One can approach life with the attitude and mentality of a hacker. You can hack your career, hack your education, hack your relationships, hack your finances, hack your spirituality, hack your creativity, hack your potential. You can break any subject down, understand it and gain proficiency.

Hacking is a quick way to gain knowledge, and the first step in truly learning. Learning will almost always be hard work, but hacking will make things easier, and more effective. To become a successful hacker, these are some of the attitudes you must adopt

 1. Anything can be learned/hacked

When I was approached to do the job, my intial reaction was no. I did not think I had enough time, plus I am not as good with flash as I am with photoshop and illustrator. But I suspended all doubt and thought to myself, ‘what the heck…I can learn flash too).

 2. Connect new information to old information

One of the reasons I was actually able to pull it off was the similarity between Swish Max and Flash. Swish Max is a lot easier and straight forward to use, but they have common features and having used Swish max years ago helped me to know what to expect from Flash.

 3. Learn from an expert

The easiest way to hack is to get pointers from someone who knows what you are trying to learn. Instead of reading a ton of books on flash and spending time on trial and error, I got a general feel for the software and asked a friend to show me how to do certain things in flash.

4. Be ruthlessly efficient

All I needed to do was create a presentation where things moved and words appeared in sync with the voice over recordings. I had no time to learn fancy techniques. I learnt how to do simple transitions and animations and with that limited skillset I created the entire presentation.

Now go hack something

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