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How hackers can teach us to innovate

Entrepreneur Josh Linkner shares lessons from his latest book

Josh Linkner, entrepreneur and New York Times bestselling author, has partnered with Chase for Business to provide practical advice on how to accelerate the growth of your business.

When author and entrepreneur Josh Linkner began to write about business innovation for his latest book, he turned to an unusual source for inspiration: hackers and cybercriminals. "When I thought about who were some of the most creative people on the planet, hackers came to mind," Linkner says. "I started looking at hacking as a methodology for innovation and complex problem solving."

Linkner recently spoke with Chase about his new book, "Hacking Innovation," and shared key insights on what small businesses can do to grow. Here are some excerpts from the conversation, edited and condensed for clarity:

Q: | How do innovative businesses think like hackers?

Hackers work together in a very democratic way. With more innovative companies, it's a meritocracy--the best idea wins, not necessarily the person with the most tenure.

Q: | You point to hackers' "bottom-up" thinking, compared to the traditional corporate "top-down" mentality. What can business owners do to foster that "bottom-up" approach?

Make it clear that innovation is everyone's job—not just the responsibility of the CEO or someone wearing a lab coat. There's no reason why a customer service rep can't be innovative.

Then, it's important to remove fear. Fear is the biggest blocker of creative thought. So, create a culture that celebrates fresh ideas, rather than punishes them.

Q: | What do you say to business owners who feel their companies are in a strong position and don't need to change?

Stagnation is not a long-term recipe for success. No organization has sustained growth over time by just running the same playbook. You can acknowledge that what you're doing today is great, and a foundation from which to build, but if you don't change, you risk your future.

Q: | In your earlier book, "The Road to Reinvention," you advised readers to put themselves out of business. What did you mean by that?

Innovative companies share a persistent concern that someday a company is going to come along and put them out of business—so they may as well do it themselves. That requires being willing to let go of the past, which I've said is a great teacher, but a horrible master.

The most successful organizations are the ones that look tradition squarely in the eye and think, "All right, how can I disrupt it before it really needs disrupting?"

Q: | You also advise companies to "think small." How can relatively small businesses turn their size into an advantage?

Small businesses are not necessarily protecting a big market, so they have more flexibility. They tend to be faster and more nimble, and can make quick decisions.

It's also easier for them to run tests and try things out. I like the notion of running lots of little experiments all the time, and then letting the results direct what to do going forward.

Finally, small businesses have an advantage in building relationships with their customers that transcend factors like pricing. We all have that local dry cleaner who's a bit more expensive than the next guy, but they know you by name, they do a great job, and they've got your back if there's a problem. Small businesses can really foster creativity in their relationships with their customers.

Q: | What is today's business landscape like for small companies?

Certainly for a small business it's more complex, it's more competitive, and the market moves at a dizzying speed. At the same time, the opportunity is profound.

With the advances of technology, and the broader access to markets that brings, it's a wonderful time to be a small business owner. Despite the challenges, taking this kind of disruptive approach to problems can really be liberating. I think this is a great time to be a business leader.

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