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Why Managers Should Think More Like Hackers

Examining this management philosophy

Once, while procrastinating at work, I stumbled upon the story of a computer hacker and cybercriminal, Albert Gonzalez. At 14, he was the ringleader of a group of mischievous computer geeks who hacked into NASA, drawing the attention of the FBI. Almost 13 years later, and after very little additional formal training, Gonzalez was prosecuted in one of the world’s largest and most complex identity theft cases — he and his colleagues had stolen more than 40 million credit card and ATM numbers.

What struck me the most about the story was a relatively small detail: Gonzalez was not a gifted programmer. According to his friends and accomplices, he could barely write simple code. What distinguished him from others was his ability to "understand systems and fillet them with singular grace."

The knowledge and ingenuity of hackers like Gonzalez have been long ignored or purposefully dismissed. Over the past seven years, I researched hacking – I joined online communities, interviewed hackers and cybersecurity experts, and analyzed documents on hacking on media, blogs, books and online platforms. I found that hackers are systems thinkers; they have an attitude that allows them to identify opportunities to make outsized impacts creatively, quickly and resourcefully, even in systems that were designed to keep them out. I also learned that hacking isn't always malicious and isn't limited to the world of computing. As Paul Buchheit, creator and lead developer of Gmail, once wrote, "Wherever there are systems, there is the potential for hacking, and there are systems everywhere."

Please select this link to read the complete article from Harvard Business Review.

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