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GREAT IDEAS: Hacking Innovation by Josh Linkner

Highlights from interview with Josh Linkner

What can a hacker teach a business leader?

New York Times bestselling author and tech entrepreneur Josh Linkner thinks a hacking mindset is a valuable tool for business innovation and creativity. Here are highlights from our interview with Josh on his latest book Hacking Innovation. 

I was a hacker. When I was 13 I was hacking to change grades, and I loved the problem solving. I’m not condoning illegal behaviour, but we can learn from hackers to find new ways to solve complex problems. Hacking is just a tool.

Thomas Edison was a hacker. As I overlaid hacking principles over Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, I saw a similar mindset that every barrier can be penetrated. They didn’t see an obstacle and say “Oh, too tough for me, I’m going to go home now.”

Hackers try flipping things. They ask what happens if we put this upside down, there’s a disdain for authority and previous approaches, and a willingness to try something new.  

They don’t stay static. A hacker wouldn’t say “Well, I tried six years ago and it probably won’t work now.” Just like Gandhi wouldn’t have said “Well it was like this in the past, it will always stay that way.”

Hackers use compasses over maps. They just go firmly in the desired direction and course correct as they go. They don’t know how they are going to get there.

Hackers (and great leaders) fall in love with the problem, not the solution. They say “I’m going to get into the bank in some way, and it may be a way I haven't even  thought about yet.”  

Could a hacker make a great CEO? Imagine if the most successful hacker in the world took over as CEO of a corporation (to do good, not evil). How would they run the business? What type of culture would they develop? How would take on new products and services? How would they recruit?

Hacking tip: Borrow from other industries.  A bank in Poland did just this. They realised their customers couldn’t easily get to ATMs. So they looked to (business models) Uber and Lyft, and installed an ATM machine in a car. Customers can order an ATM to come to them, using an app.

Hackers "mash up" - fusing together two things. A non-hacker example is Reece’s peanut butter cups which mash up chocolate and peanut butter. Take two opposing things and mash them together. What would happen if your business stuck two things together?


  1. Recommended book?  I’m an avid reader. Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win by William C. Taylor and Polly G. LaBarre; Linchpin by Seth Godin, and The Monk that sold his Ferrari by Robin Sharma.
  2. Lowest moment and how did you overcome it?  I’ve had loads but I think you either win or you learn. I started a company and sold it at a loss and I learned a tonne from it.
  3. Person you most admire? Charlie Parker pioneered a new way of playing jazz. He was a hacker. He broke the mould. I also like people with a lot of humility and kindness.
  4. Significant event in your past that has shaped you? I was married early and young, and divorced. Yet I gained and learned a lot by that experience. I’ve had many business setbacks and failures. I saw tens of millions of dollars in stocks disappear in the dot com bust, but I learned to do better next time.
  5. Anything in your upbringing that makes you who you are?  I don’t blame them, but my parents got divorced and they were doing they own thing, and I kind of got lost in the shuffle. I got self-reliant, grit, and determination at a very young age.
  6. Do you meditate? I don’t meditate, I reflect. I ask What’s working, what’s not, what are the distractions I need to avoid?
  7. How far ahead to you plan your goals? I’ve always looked 40 years ahead.
  8. How do you want to be remembered? I want to be remembered as someone who gave it their all, and left their biggest impact on their world. I think everyone has another 5% creativity they can bring to the world. If I can help them, that’s my gift to the world.


Josh Linkner - who started his career as a jazz guitarist - personifies creativity, entrepreneurship and disruptive innovation. He has been the founder and CEO of five tech companies, which sold for a combined value of over $200 million.

Josh is the author of four books, two New York Times Bestsellers: Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity, and The Road to Reinvention: How to Drive Disruption and Accelerate Transformation, as well as his latest book, Hacking Innovation. He is also the Founding Partner of Detroit Venture Partners, investing in and mentoring over 100 startups.

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