The Symbiotic Relationship between Hacking and ADHD

The more I talk about ADHD, the more I come to realize I’m not all that interested in ADHD at all. At least, not in the disorder-definition we associate with that four-letter acronym. I know it’s considered a disorder, but like I’ve argued many times – “disorder” is contextual.

I am, however, fascinated by ADHD as a brain-wiring, sovereign from malfunction when we consider that it can have many utilities. Hacking is one of them. Not computer hacking per se, but life hacking. Work hacking. School hacking. Just-about-anything-hacking.

What do I mean by hacking? In case you weren’t already aware, a hack is “any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life” (thanks to Wikipedia for that succinct explanation).

Tanya Snook expounds the origins of hacking and the “hacker mindset” over at The Impact Blog (The London School of Economics and Political Science). If you don’t have time to read it, I’ll pour you a shot-glass version:

  • A hacker accepts challenges and repurposes the barriers within those challenges as sources for creative inspiration.
  • A hacker looks for creative, unexpected, and divergent ways to improve almost everything in life.
  • A hacker collaborates with diverse people and perspectives – not just mainstream “experts”- seeking unique solutions to commonplace problems.
  • A hacker shares what he or she learns freely, with abandon.
  • A hacker teaches other people to hack.

My apologies – that was actually 5 shots. Guess I’m a bit of a pusher. But if you’re not to dizzy or nauseous, I’ll carry on with my point.

Which is – we ADDers could be freaking amazing at hacking, if we let our brains play the way they weren’t meant to play.

This post has two jobs. One, is to explain why hacking is a good thing, and why it’s particularly good for us ADDers. Two, is to prove to you that the ADD brain is made for hacking. It’s a symbiotic relationship – ADHD is good at hacking, and hacking is good for ADHD.


1. Hacking is Awesome for ADHD

Admittedly, to fully comprehend what is meant by the term “hacking” isn’t easy, as sources ascribe a variety of meanings to it. What could computer hacking and life hacking possibly have in common? The commonality seems to lie in the mindset of the hackers. This mindset is best described by 13-year-old Logan LaPlante in the TEDx video “Hackschooling Makes Me Happy”.

“Hackers are innovators. Hackers are people who challenge and change the systems to make them work differently, to make them work better. It’s just how they think, it’s a mindset… Everything is up for being hacked, even skiing, even education…having the hacker mindset can change the world.”

In essence, hackers aren’t afraid to try unconventional tactics. They view everyday phenomena in a novel way and find solutions to problems through associative processes. They understand, implicitly, that conventional methodologies aren’t better simply because of tradition. They take shortcuts and apply rudimentary fixes to problems, caring not if they appear less sophisticated in doing so, because they hold to the ideology that what is truly important is to make life (and the world) better than it was before.

Hackers create, innovate, improve, repurpose.

Hacking is the way we ADDers should approach life’s challenges. For example, conventional wisdom says to manage time with devices that itemize and measure it – watches, calendars and schedules. ADDers baulk at this advice. Those devices may work, but we know we won’t use them, no matter how well they work for other people.

So what do we do when the strategies the rest of the world uses effectively simply don’t work for us? We have to hack the challenge to find a better solution. For some, it may mean changing jobs to better fit your natural rhythm. It may mean having a family member remind you or setting alarms on your phone to keep you oriented to the passing of time. It may mean hiring someone to help you, or giving up certain duties to free up time. The hack will vary from person to person, but the essence of hacking remains the same:

Don’t do things the logical way. Do things the way that works.

Despite the unconventional ethos of hacking, as an approach to life’s challenge it is actually becoming rather popular, as evidenced by the hugely popular blogs lifehacker.com and lifehack.org. To be sure, Pinterest would be dull if it weren’t for its collection of interesting lifestyle and design hacks. It seems the world is waking up to efficacy of unorthodoxy.

Don’t get me wrong – not all hacks are pretty. Certainly, they almost always have more elaborate and sophisticated counterparts that are worthy endeavours in their own rights. If you want to become a master at something, then perhaps you do need to take the long and winding road to success sometimes. But often, mastery is not always as important as just getting the job done. Though, perhaps, it may even be possible to hack mastery, if Tim Ferriss is any sort of example.

I would love to get more into the details of ADHD hacking, but that’s a whole other post. Watch this space though – that post is coming.


2. ADDers are Awesome at Hacking

If it’s not already evident, I will state the obvious:

The ADD brain is built to hack. We’ve been indoctrinated to believe that because we struggle with conventional approaches, it’s us who are flawed rather than the approach. Understandably. If 9 out of 10 people are able to apply those approaches successfully, then something must be wrong with the tenth guy.

But we ADDers see life in a novel way. We notice things other people don’t notice, mainly because we are distracted and insatiably curious. We see shortcuts. When we don’t take them it’s usually because, too often, we’ve been scolded for taking “the easy way out”. Modern philosophy contraindicates the theory that hard work is the only work that pays off. Creativity is no longer an indulgence but a necessary skill to move ahead in life.

We are associative thinkers. We see connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena. We seek out novel experiences and are highly attuned to unexpected outcomes. We are divergent. We recognize flaws in the status quo and we sense that there are almost always better ways to do things, even when we’re not quite sure what those ways are.

If we allow ourselves to express our divergence, we will find those solutions. If we force ourselves to conform to convention, we will keep on chasing our tails.

ADDers are great at hacking because, as Logan LaPointe so aptly puts it, “it’s how we think”. Hacking is reciprocally great for ADDers, because it’s how we do things best. Can you think of a better partnership than that?