2013: Year of The Hack

The term “hack” has suddenly taken on new meaning—and it has nothing to do with computers

 

You can become a “thought leader” (consider that a buzz-term) by coming up with your own buzzwords. Some may last, others may not, but it’s worth throwing a few against the wall to see what sticks. If any do, you can consider yourself an expert when describing what they mean—and lead in their adoption.

One of the most foolproof, time-tested paths to becoming a thought leader is to create new terminology or give new meaning to existing terms to explain what may or may not be new ways of doing things. They may start off as buzzwords, and they’ll either get incorporated into our daily word fare or not.

I’m not so much referring to terms used to describe cultural trends, like the New Yorker’s word of the year “selfie,” short for a “self portrait” taken with a smartphone. New terms to describe “screen living,” or the activities related to social networking, are popping up every day.

I’m specifically referring to the word “hack,” particularly in relation to its remarkable elevation in status from a description of criminal activity to a depiction of highly desirable and valued behavior that gets the red out, lifts and separates, makes you wonder where the yellow went, and builds strong bodies 12 ways.
It’s difficult to pin down exactly when this extreme makeover happened—certainly not prior to 2010 and only slowly until this year—but “hacking” has now become such an everyday, common term that I wouldn’t be surprised if President Obama started talking about “hacking” the Mideast peace process.

It’s so prevalent that it can be attached to virtually any activity to create, as in the case of “growth hacking,” a digital overhaul to an ancient industry. Growth hacking is, at its base level, nothing more than an approach to online marketing that relies on analytics as the primary measure of success. Every marketing professional under 40 has probably been exposed to the term, and “growth hacker” has become a common job title on the career boards to describe a new, hybrid role in marketing that incorporates technical, analytical and creative skills.

A subset of growth hacking is “distribution hacking,” which refers to another word that used to be bad but, in online marketing, has become very positive: viral. A virus is still a bad thing, but if you can hack your way into getting your message, video, picture or whatever to go viral, spreading across the Internet like an acute case of poison ivy, you’ve reached growth-hacking nirvana.