Stop Hacking Your Success — Start Building

chain saw cutting a tree branch

The word “hack” has a colorful history. Not so long ago, if someone had suggested you had hacked your way to the top, you probably would have given them a sideways glance. The word described someone who performed mediocre work — not someone to emulate.

Now, “hack” has a different meaning — to take a shortcut around an otherwise far-reaching goal. For founders of startups and emerging companies, the idea of a quick hack can be intriguing. Who would not want to pursue a potential workaround to help gain traction fast?

Yes, some companies have used “growth hacks” to their advantage. But every company and situation are unique. A hack that works well for one may be detrimental for another — maybe even yours.

I believe that hacking will always be about aimless rough cuts that sometimes work, but more often miss the mark. 

But there is an even bigger issue — hacking often comes at the expense of building. Just as you cannot build a strong house out of an odd stack of firewood, you cannot build a strong business through hacks alone.

Too many people think they can leapfrog over the hard work of building and land right on success through a few swift chops. They do not realize that creating something solid and lasting — not something precarious and quickly cobbled together — takes work.

To build a successful career and company, you must have:

Purpose
It may be easy to picture your success at the end, but not as easy to visualize the steps to get there. Begin with a strong sense of purpose — knowing the goal you want to accomplish and developing a clear strategy to reach it. Starting with strategy is a strong foundation from which to grow. But there is no quick hack for that kind of hard work.

Focus
Everyone loves a good tale, but stories of startups hacking their way to success are a distraction. Do not allow yourself to be wooed by seductive shortcuts. If you want to build something that endures, tune out the noise and hyper-focus on the fundamentals — not quick-fix hackery that may be here today, gone tomorrow.

Precision
You can try out hacks that wind up being a monumental waste of your time and effort — and a major detour from your goals. Remember that every decision must tie into your long-term vision. Do your best to plan to minimize mistakes and avoid wasting time. Otherwise, you may lose any momentum that you worked hard to gain.

Execution
Achievement takes serious effort  — and the sobering realization that the stakes are high. What appears to be a timesaver today may put the successful realization of your plan in jeopardy. All of that effort is meaningless if you choose the quickest route and fail to execute on your plan.

Today, hacks are seen as a good thing. But tomorrow, who knows? I do know that if you start with a goal and concentrate on building you will stand a better chance of outlasting the hacks.

When others tell the story of your success, you hope they will remember the effort you poured into building something solid and enduring. Not how you nearly made your mark with some fantastic gimmicks before fizzling out altogether.

Have you benefited from hacking or building?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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