Value hacking for dummies

November 20, 2019 | Matthew Carswell

The Hacker Aesthetic

We all know the appeal of the hacker. They’ve been glorified in media and mythicized in computer science lore for years. When we hear about a really big “hack”, even an illegal one, there is a small piece inside us that thinks about what type of genius it must have taken to execute it. The delight you experience when you admire a great hack, is due to the hacker aesthetic. It’s not a hack if it doesn’t generate delight, wonder and admiration.

Pop culture uses the word hacker all too often in the context of “breaking in and stealing information”. This is unfortunate because the real meaning is something special and intimately human.

Some of the all time greatest hackers embody what we perceive as pure genius. Take Alan Turing and his team that built the machine that cracked the Enigma code. He did this because he was attracted to the difficulty of the problem and had a deep seeded need to solve it elegantly. We humans love coming up with ways to use our tools to inspire wonder. That’s the hacker aesthetic. In a nutshell we are saying, “Look how good I am at using tools! Isn’t this amazing?”

Growth Hacking vs. Value Hacking

There is a trend in marketing called “growth hacking”. It’s a cool trend that has created its own cottage industry. The whole premise is “increase revenue through any means possible, growth is king, nothing else matters”. I will say that it is a fair use of the term “hack” because some of the techniques that have been innovated through growth hacking are extremely creative and tend to inspire wonder. 10x and 100x growth is impressive, no matter how you spin it. Especially on a shoestring budget.

There is only one tiny problem. We all know that growth by itself isn’t king. Long term growth is. And long term growth my friends, only comes from offering value. Over time, there is no way to get around that. If you don’t offer enough value in business, eventually people will stop coming to you.

One of my favorite lessons from the all time classic Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is the idea of the “character ethic” and the “personality ethic”. Covey says that after World War II people started focusing on shortcuts, techniques and methods to being great. He labelled this the Personality Ethic. The Character Ethic in contrast is more focused on changing the core of who you are. The goal is to improve your character to actually be great, not just convince others that you are great or try to appear great. Words to live by if you ask me.

Growth hacking is the business version of the Personality Ethic. Shortcuts to growth are great if the value exists. But don’t put the cart before the horse. It makes the world a crappy place. Just like the personality ethic.

Marrying Value and Hacking

Value is simply stated as the benefit of something compared to its cost. As a value hacker, you should celebrate the wonder and joy you generate when creating something incredibly valuable. The light bulb costs only a dollar but it allows you to see your beautiful family after dark without lighting a candle and potentially burning down the house. Do you think Thomas Edison was admired for this? I think so. “Wizard” isn’t a nickname that people throw around lightly.

If you focus on using your tools to generate amazing benefit at little cost, you’ll end up making something really special! Don’t waste your brain power on growing something if it’s not valuable. It’s true that our tools have gotten way more advanced…. all that means is that the possibilities are vast! Put your feet on the shoulders of giants, and use your tools to make people delight in your creation. Listen to that whispering voice telling you “if you build it, they will come.” It’s actually a noble cause with outcomes that will truly last.

I hear you, you are thinking “ok yeah I’m all about it. I’d love to value hack, but how do I get started?” Well, my friend – you’ve got the tools, go create the wonder. In your business, what is the greatest pain? What is the most elegant solution for those pains? How can you solve this pain for the lowest resource cost. How can you test that your solution is valuable, while spending almost nothing? Get creative!

You can make a prototype for 99% of solutions these days, for actual pennies.

If you need help with this process I have my own value hacks which I am happy to share so reach out to me if you’d like or you can also read my past and future posts.


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