"Hacking" isn't a new word, but it's arguably never been more popular. Drawn from the world of computing, where hacks are typically unauthorized interventions or work-arounds, "hacking" has come to mean any shortcut to success.

Trendy health interventions are now called "biohacks," and "growth hacking" is presented as a quick and easy business strategy. Such hacks are an easy sell to people who want instant gratification, but you shouldn't believe the hype.

The truth is, achieving anything worthwhile takes hard work, and people who push hacks often undersell the degree to which success requires perseverance and a consistent excellent. This is a bad lesson to be teaching and an even worse one to follow for an entrepreneur.

I recently read a smart post on hacking by Collaborative Fund partner Morgan Housel. He described a workshop he attended where a social media guru described "hacks" attendees could use to build followings. Housel observed that for all the tips the session offered, the consultant didn't explain how to create great content in the first place.

Why? Because writing great content is hard. There's no hack for great writing; it takes focus, creativity and meticulous revision. If you want to be a great writer, then write every day and study successful writers--don't waste time searching for a way to skip all the practice.

The same principle holds true in business. Rather than looking for hacks to catapult your team to the next level, follow these three tried-and-true paths to success.

1. Remember the 80/20 rule.

A common mistake people make is to set too many goals at once. The 80/20 rule tells us that 20 percent of our efforts yield 80 percent of our results. Thus, most people spend a lot of time on things that aren't that important in the long run.

Partners in Leadership, a leadership training and management consulting firm, reports that companies that set too many goals ultimately don't achieve them. Instead, Partners in Leadership recommends setting two to five specific, measurable organizational goals each year--a small number of important objectives that the whole team can understand and work toward.

While some people think setting many goals is the key to high achievement, it is better to accomplish a few important things than to pursue several goals and achieve none. So, instead of looking for a life-hack for quick success, focus your passion on whatever endeavor is most important to you. Achievement will follow.

2. Understand that achievement takes time--and consistency.

Life and business hacks are popular because they promise results in a short time. It can be intimidating to set an audacious goal, and people are often drawn to hacking because they don't know how to begin to make progress toward grand ambitions. They look at others who have made great strides and think success is something like winning the lottery. In fact, overnight success is almost entirely a myth; often people just don't realize how much work predated the publicity. The best way to achieve goals is--and always has been--to put in consistent effort over time.

When people write books, run marathons or save enough money for retirement, they don't do it in one miraculous moment. They set that goal and dedicate themselves to achieving it little by little each day. Companies likewise take time to hit major goals. They grow and expand by building value each quarter until their efforts compound into achievement.

3. Focus on excellence.

Famous acting coach Konstantin Stanislavski said, "There are no small parts, only small actors." Whatever you are doing, no matter how small, you should commit to being excellent at it. Not only will this show others that you are invested in doing your best, but it will set a standard of excellence for yourself that you will apply to bigger things as well.

My favorite example of this is Ann Miura-Ko, co-founder of Floodgate, who rose to become a respected venture capitalist after starting her career as an assistant for Yale's Dean of Engineering. Though Miura-Ko's first job was filing and making photocopies, she took those tasks seriously and resolved to do them perfectly, making her copies indiscernible from the original documents.

Miura-Ko's commitment paid off. When Hewlett-Packard CEO Lewis Platt visited Yale, Miura-Ko was asked to give Platt a tour. Platt was so impressed by Miura-Ko that he became a vital professional development contact as Miura-Ko's career developed.

Forget the trendy headlines; you can't hack your way to success. And, looking for shortcuts just wastes time and energy. Instead, follow Miura-Ko's example and dedicate yourself to being excellent at even the smallest things. Set clear goals and dedicate time to accomplishing them. If you do even a little work each day, giving your goals consistent effort and attention, that will take you further than any hack could.

Published on: Mar 19, 2019
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