How to Think Like a Hacker to Boost Your Brain
More secrets to stay ahead of the Robotic Curve
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.”
— Steve Jobs
Your brain is a whole entity that needs to be exercised.
Overplaying to your strengths can be dangerous. That’s when you keep applying a particular type of thinking — defaulting to your usual way of thinking keeps your brain in the comfort zone.
This post will help learn how to think like a Hacker, a Navy or an Anthropologist. It’s a follow-up to this post where I explained how Detectives, Journalists, and Philosophers think among others.
Keep training your whole brain, not just the usual parts.
Metaskills — 5 Talents for the Robotic Age
There are many models to help you maximize your brain’s full potential. On my previous related post, I covered The Whole Brain Business by Ed Herrmann and Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono.
Not using your whole brain will make fall behind the Robot Curve, according to Marty Neumeier, author of Metaskills.
The Robot Curve is a constant waterfall of obsolescence and opportunity fed by competition and innovation. His solution? Stay on top of by developing the five metaskills — feeling, seeing, dreaming, making, and learning.
“The future of work looks good — much more creative and fun — if you have these METASKILLS.” — Marty Neumeier
The five ‘metaskills’ allow you to ‘skill’ yourself and to learn new skills:
- Feeling: Empathy & intuition.
- Seeing: Seeing how the parts fit the whole picture (a.k.a. systems thinking).
- Dreaming: Applied imagination, to think of something new.
- Making: Design, testing and proving the value of your designs.
- Learning: Learning how to learn.
You can take the quiz to see how you skilled you are. But, first, learn how Hackers, Anthropologists, and Navy SEALs think.
Hackers Use Trial and Error to Find Weak Spots
“Hackers have a compulsion to analyze, to explore and to be curious to the point of obsession.” — Kalle Lyytinen
Trial and error is a fundamental method of problem-solving. It is characterized by repeated, varied attempts which are continued until success, or until the agent stops trying.
Hackers use their mental models — internal representations of the external world — to perform just-in-time learning and generate testable predictions. They adapt to environments full of ambiguity
“Footprinting” is the first move that hackers make — a pre-attack activity to perform reconnaissance on the intended target. The purpose is to learn as much as possible about the system they want to hack.
The second step is “Scanning” — probing for information about the target. Hackers are looking for weak spots or “Open Doors” they could use to penetrate a system or network. The scanning helps identify the most vulnerable parts and where to focus their attack.
Then hackers will continue to learn from the system until they perpetrate the actual “hack.” Once they succeeded, work is not finished. Hackers must clean their tracks so no one can notice they were there. Last but not least, they plant a back door to facilitate access in the future.
Thinking like a hacker requires using a trial and error approach to solve problems. You can use in attack or defense mode.
Attack mode: What’s your competitor’s vulnerability? Do some reconnaissance, “penetrate” the minds of their leaders, find their blind spots (the “open door”), test small attacks and see how they react before you scale your move.
Defense mode: If another company were to disrupt you, where would it attack? List your vulnerable spots, uncover new ones, anticipate how and where you could be attacked. Prepare your business before a competitor attempts to “penetrate your system.”
Learn to view every problem as an opportunity. Stay curious, figure out how “the system” works before you can “hack it.”
Master hackers understand that no software is immune to attacks. Keep that in mind, we all have weak spots.
Think like a hacker:
- Be creative, persistent, and resourceful.
- Apply a trial and error approach to problem-solving.
- Perform reconnaissance and scan your target before you attack.
- Analyze problems both from a defensive and offensive perspective.
- Remember that we all have vulnerable spots.
Navy SEALs Train Their Minds
“The story in your head is always the answer to perseverance.” — Eric Barker
SEALs develop their mental fitness to intensify their resilience.
Discipline and good habits are critical to tame your mind. SEALs start off by making their bed every morning. Your context defines your performance. A tidy environment keeps your head focused.
Eric Barker, the author of Barking Up the Wrong Tree, explains how SEALs benefit from the power of what psychologists call “cognitive reappraisal” — changing the trajectory of an emotional response by reinterpreting the meaning of the emotional stimulus. Simply put, it’s the regulation of your emotions by telling yourself a different story about what’s happening.
SEALs don’t have room for panic. They reframe their stories by talking positively to themselves. “Bad things are temporary.” “It’s not their fault.” “Bad things have a specific cause.” Their mind controls the story and not the other way around.
A goal without a plan is a fantasy. Small tasks add up. SEALs focus on making progress and move from one stage to the next one. That’s how they build resilience. They also turn obstacles into a challenge — overcoming obstacles is a game, not a torture.
Mark Divine, co-author of The Way of the SEAL, says. “Make tiny goals, so you build momentum and confidence. This sets yourself on an upward spiral of success.”
SEALs visualize how they will do it. They picture themselves succeeding — they imagine the goal, and see themselves accomplishing every step of the way before they jump into action.
Think like a Navy Seal:
- Talk positively to yourself.
- Tidy up your environment to clean your mind.
- Set progressive goals.
- Gamify the challenge.
- Visualize how you’ll do it.
Anthropologists and the Power of Unbiased Observation
“Poverty is a social status. As such, is the invention of population.” — Marshall Sahlins
Anthropologists study culture as is, not as they expect it to be.
We take our lifestyle for granted. We believe that the way we live is how everyone else should too. Cultural bias —judging other phenomena based on our individual cultural preferences — drives misunderstanding and prejudice. It limits your ability to learn from people who live differently.
Cultural bias prevents us from seeing other people’s humanity.
Ethnocentrism is the idea that a person’s own culture and experiences are the norm. Seeing one’s group as the center of things is empirically correlated with a belief in superiority. For example, religion-centric constructs claiming a divine association like “God’s Chosen People” or “God’s Promised Land.”
A cultural anthropologist goes and lives with people in a different culture, learns all about that culture from the inside. Ethnographic research is a qualitative method focused on observing and interacting people in their real-life environment. Anthropologists need not only keen observational skills but also the ability to detach themselves emotionally.
Rather than thinking about a solution, focus on understanding others.
Anthropologists strive to build rapport and trust with individuals in the community to carry out research more authentically. They observe how people behave and interact without contaminating the scene.
Thinking like an anthropologist will help you challenge your taken-for-granted assumptions — it will help you understand others through their lens, not yours.
Think like an anthropologist:
- Observe without applying your bias.
- Get involved in culture; follow other people’s lead — go with the flow.
- Capture what you see before jumping to conclusions.
- Focus on finding the uniqueness, not just commonalities.
- Accept others lifestyles as valid.
If you want to boost your brain with additional ways of thinking, check out this post. Learn to think like a detective, a philosopher, a poet or a journalist.
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