The Many Meanings of "to hack"

  1. MacGuyvering
  2. Digital Breaking and Entering
  3. Anonymous
  4. Testing Systems
  5. Void your warranty
  6. Off-label drug prescription?
  7. IKEA hacks

Recall vertical and horizontal axis in semiotics/syntagmatics. What are other things in the category of which hacking is a case? What other things go with hacking in sequence?

problem solving
figuring out


Exercise: walk this space.

Participants walk around in an enclose area and identify things that could be improved on, things it could be used for, etc.

The Arena of Hacking

One can hack objects, texts, spaces, machines, processes, stories, etc. This exercise would try to get participants to experience the hacking of things that they might not naturally gravitate towards. We want the code hacker to try her hand at architectural hacking, the recipe hacker to try out hacking a machine. Etc.

Workshop: Taking Things Apart
How to Understand the Mindset, the Urge to hack, innovate, etc.

Not just creativity. Being bothered by unexplored possibility. Try to tap into one's inner "bother" and bring it to the surface as a "I could maybe what about…."

The Mindset

Back to (7) IDEO basics. Empathy. Creative confidence. Failure. Embracing ambiguity (which I might expand/amend with tensional thinking, both/and, exploiting cognitive dissonance). Iteration. Plus optimism and "make it."

The Methods (we'll have a class/exercise on each)
  1. The course begins by presenting students with a few well constructed design challenges. We won't ask them to do tooooo much with these, just toss them around a bit. And we will give them some less well constructed design challenges (without telling them that they are that). We will work to figure out what the differences are. We will be empirical about it - do they even notice the difference? Is there a way to track the conversation that follows to look at the actual effects rather than just how they feel about the challenges?
    • What is a good design challenge?
      • A good design challenge lets a team get right to work and helps create an atmosphere of problem in search of solutions and resist the tendency toward solutions in search of a problem.
      • It lets the team understand the desired IMPACT. In logic model terms, it means seeing OUTCOMES and not being distracted by outputs.
      • It identifies and contextualizes the constraints under which we are operating.
      • "The primary purpose of design challenge is to set the stage for empathy." d school
    • How to do it?
  2. Building a team.
  3. Being a team.
  4. Interviews (why? whom? how to? how to process? users, groups, experts)
  5. For whom? Users. Stakeholders. Extreme-types and main-types. Modals and tails.
  6. Analogical transfer. What is this like? What is this a case of?
  7. Structured interview techniques (free list, card sort, triads)
  8. Reflective/interactive data collection techniques (have users study users and explain, collages and explain, etc.)
  9. Grand tour questions or literal guided tour
  10. Sankey diagrams (resource flows, etc.)
  11. Downloading learning - how to creatively listen. Notes on stories.
  12. Methods for prioritizing. Top five. Vote with points. Clustering. Themes.
  13. Identifying insights.
  14. Having and following hunches.
  15. Redefining and refining into "how might we…" building on insights
  16. Maps and Frameworks
    1. 2x2
    2. XxY (thought experiment MDS, factor analysis)
    3. journey map
    4. network of relations
  17. How to brainstorm
  18. Visualizing
  19. "Mashups" (or forced hybrids? compelling comparisons? compelling juxtapositions? - point is you force people to ask what the X version of Y is)
  20. Articulating design principles (can we put these on a map/diagram that shows how they are a refinement or derivative of).
  21. Conceptualization
  22. Narrative Tools
    1. Storyboard
    2. Role playing
  23. Prototyping (can we/should we group this with role playing - a form of dynamic 3D prototyping? Think more on this).
  1. Business model canvas
  2. Feedback
  3. Iteration
  4. Implementation
Topics to Visit in Innovation Survey

"Invention" of Fire
How did early metalurgy actually happen.
Scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Material from Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. on transition to agriculture?
Zoom forward to pre-socratics, Plato, etc.
Something from Josh Ober on Green democracy and institutions?
navigation - south pacific first, then later, Europeans and longitude.
that would connect us with time - find a path that takes us from that to the long now clock
paper and writing and the transmissibility of information (does Gleick have a chapter we could use?)

Real Problems and Worthwhile Targets

What should you work on? How to cultivate in students an appreciation for real problems? Part of the challenge is simply expanding their realm of experience - maybe we could hack the idea of "global" in connection with education and make it less about appreciating exotic places and more about changing the scalebar on one's consciousness. When one thinks about the world part of world view, what does one inch on the map equal? What's the range here: from zero for the narcissist to infinite for the ultimate humanist (the interplanetary imagination).

Produce a numbers video that situates me. Run across orders of magnitude of time and space and what phenomena in general lie at each (for example, families are on the order of tens of years (107 - 108 seconds) and maybe 10**6 meters) and then somehow locate problems and challenges on this scale?

See also, Theil's 0 and 1. New new vs. new. What's really new and what's socially valuable. Concept of social welfare. "How to recognize an important problem."

Crazy Idea for Accounting Module

Start with a very simple introduction to double entry bookkeeping and basic accounting. Make ones way to invention of double entry bookkeeping. Protestant reformation. Protestant ethic. Diffusion of ideas and dynamics of isomorphism. Evolution and the natural selection of institutions.

What is the opposite of hacking? What are its synonyms?

Following instructions? Following rules?
a tinkerer, a techie, a builder, a hacker, a fabricator, a decontructionist, a DIY enthusiast

Testing Oneself

Although I would want to steer away from the idea of a hacker personality as an inherent trait, we can promote self examination and self monitoring and self-training as a part of the mix. Use as an opportunity to teach about reification, multidimensional scaling, fundamental attribution error, etc.

Meyers Briggs.
An adult version of the marshmallow deferred gratification test.


Jakobson's seven functions. referential; aesthetic/poetic; emotive; conative; phatic; metalingual

"Brand" as Hack of Culture

We take for granted today the idea of a brand. But where did it come from? Bill Backer, Who Taught the World (and Don Draper) to Sing, Dies at 89
Vance Packard The Hidden Persuaders. Walter Lippman Public Opinion. McLuhan. Something from Neil Postman?
Classic of political propaganda?


Newton as hacking the medieval worldview? Einstein - game changer (recall and Kuhn and paradigm shifts?). Opens gateway to new epistemologies. And nuclear bombs. Changes war and peace. Planetary consciousness. Nuclear energy. Nuclear waste. A problem worth solving. "Out of Sight, Out of Our Minds," by Kai Erikson, New York Times Magazine, March 6, 1994.

Hacking and Politics

Libertarianism. Elitism. Anarchism.
Saul Alinsky. MalcomX. Kevin Phillips and Nixon's "southern strategy."
Locke and Hume. Federalist papers.

Weird Ideas

Hacking recipes
Life hacking - what is the theme behind this?
Is a Rube Goldberg machine a hack?
Zeroing in on a definition.

Music Examples

The Beatles as hackers of R&B. But needed organizational and artistic input from Epstein and Martin. (also can bridge to Gladwell's 10,000 hour storyline)

Dave Clark? Brian Wilson?


Cage and Cunningham? Something from Black Mountain.
DaVinci (is he too easy an example?) Rembrandt? Modernism? Futurism.

Jazz as hacking

Hacking a melody. Any good videos out there on how a jazz composer thinks? Recall Josh Breakstone lecture from spring 1991 on hacking beats. Also, David Sudnow on learning all the scales at once as a disruption of normal piano teaching. See also his Ways of the Hand as possible source material for how to teach what appear to be magical skills (related: The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance (1997 W. Timothy Gallwey and Zach Kleiman).

The Academy's Course

"Hacker Imagination is designed to examine the imaginative mindset of people throughout history who have reimagined ideas and concepts leading to breakthroughs in society, technology, and history. Unlike our popular understanding of innovation and invention, which tells stories the birth of new ideas and individual genius, the story of the hacker imagination is something quite different. Hackers create by envisioning new possibilities in the context of old ideas. For the purposes of this class, the hacker imagination is the transformation of a specific domain that constructs a new way of seeing the world. In order to explore that notion in more depth, students will examine a collection of hacks by asking four questions:

1. "What is the role of imagination in creating a new way of seeing, thinking or doing?
2. "What is the context in which those transformations took place?
3. "What is the subject of the hack?
4. "What was changed, transformed, or altered as a result?"

DJR: How to talk about "mindset" or "imagination" without slipping into "individual genius"? Is it only a matter of saying it's a mindset rather than an extraordinary talent?

DJR: Use idea of mundanity of excellence. Mundanity of imagination? What are the ordinary everyday practices of imaginative people?

DJR: how to focus on "way of seeing"? Is it just that? Or is there a necessary component of doing?

Exercise "Juxtapositions" or "Analogical Transfer" - find a set of crazy ideas you can put side by side - maybe even a random generator?? (do I have enough faith in the method?).

Exercise Using incremental innovation to learn how to hack. Christensen and others distinguish between incremental and disruptive innovation. Our usual angle on this is don't just do A, strive for B. But how to train this. In this exercise we will focus on incremental so as to get a real handle on what it is and to attempt to cultivate an urge to break out of it. The lab will involve identifying and implementing incremental improvements. Maybe in a sort of "game of telephone" mode? Or something that picks up the logic of a word chain game or a Gray code. Perhaps make it into a writing exercise where we try to improve a piece of writing without major changes? Recall the image in old Pascal programing book - demolition of Pruitt Igoe housing complex, "Sometimes it's best to start over." Goal is to develop some gut feel for difference between tweaking (not to downplay this - continuous quality improvement very important (and partial secret to, say, German economic success)) and radical departures into new ways of doing things.

TOPIC Hacks with small things. We will start with a slide show of crazy everyday hacks. Then we will have a hands-on touching zoo. Find something you do that you could share as a life hack. Then a lab with a pile of stuff and you have to come up with some use. Then the week's assignment is to come up with something from everyday life.


Instructional Project Collect a small pile of way out hack/innovation stories and present them in a lightning talk sort of way that leaves the viewer overwhelmed with a whole series of out-of-the-box experiences as a sort of tenderizing the creative consciousness. Follow this with some deliberate and disciplined exercises.
Content: T. Selig's envelope kids. Black and Decker you make holes not drills. Indiana Jones pulling out his pistol during sword duel. Someone who tore up prepared speech. More:

TOPIC Finding Important Problems
See, perhaps, Peter Theil, "Zero to One."

TOPIC Voiding Warranties.
How does that thing work? Taking things apart.

Exercise Take an everyday object and make it a little more useful.

Exercise Give each student a standard composition book. Assignment is to make something useful from it. Alternatives: make something funny or dangerous or …

Project Live narration of hacking? Like live narration of problem solving (where we ask people to "think out loud" as they solve a problem) we would try to capture stream of consciousness as we try out crazy ideas and come up with something cool.


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