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Principles Over Hacks: Why Short Cuts Often Lead to Failure

Jul 28, 2017
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I love a good growth hack. Exploring, testing, measuring and iterating to find the most efficient way to produce results just seems like the smart thing to do. But growth hacking is often seen as a short cut, not a disciplined, scientific and creative approach to solving problems with non-obvious solutions. Without a solid foundation built on principle, growth hacking won’t work. If your foundation is weak, you’ll never yield the results you’re looking for.

I read the Daily Stoic every day. It’s a great way to get my mind centered and ready for the work I need to pursue that day. One recent email reminded me of myself a few years ago. When I was searching the web for that magical quick fix to growth. Here is the excerpt that struck me.

"There’s a great exchange between Epictetus and a student that encapsulates the true path to lasting, perennial success in any field. “Tell me what to do!” the student says. Epictetus corrects him, “It would be better to say, ‘Make my mind adaptable to any circumstances.’”

As marketers and business owners we often feel like we are grabbing water. We’re unsure if what we are doing is the right thing. Like the student in the quote above, we are shouting “TELL ME WHAT TO DO!” But doing what we are told has never lead to a breakthrough. All of the great inventions, discoveries and successes are typically the results of not doing what everyone else is doing.

We often look at these successes and breakthroughs and try to devalue them. “They got lucky,” we say, or “They’re smarter than me,” we think. But both of these excuses are just our way of feeling better about our own complacency. Sure Einstein was a “stellar” student as defined by popular culture, but he didn’t just come up with the theory of relativity on accident. He studied, did the work and laid a foundation that lead to a result in the long run. Behind every great success is a foundation of principles.

In the same Daily Stoic email they write, "It is true for your chosen field, just as it is for life. Principles are better than instructions and 'hacks.' We can figure out the specifics later—but only if we learn the right way to approach them.”

As a marketer in the digital space, I am surrounded by those in search of “hacks” in order to improve their vanity metrics. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for getting results. That’s what people pay me to do. But I believe strongly in quality over quantity, principles over hacks. Just because there is a “short cut” doesn’t always mean you should take it. Marketing has gotten a bad wrap over the years for this very reason. We’ve traded our principles for quick results and ended up destroying trust. What’s worse, others have seen these so called “quick results” and copied the same strategy.

In order to build a company, brand or organization that lasts we must first focus on principles. It's the difference between building your house on rock versus sand. I think the Bible does a great job of explaining it.

Matthew 7:24-27 English Standard Version (ESV) “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

To paraphrase, it doesn’t matter how nice the house is, if the foundation is not sound the house will fall. I coach business owners, marketers and agencies all the time and their first question is, “how do I get faster results.” We live in a culture where we want and “need” everything now. This is why so many have fallen into the trap of savvy salesmen who promise amazing results with little work.

Want to succeed? Here is what I have learned:

  • Ignore those who claim to have the “secret sauce.” They are lying.
  • Stop chasing other people’s success. It if was meant for you, you would have it.
  • Take time to build the foundation. Everything rests on it.
  • After all that, then look for ways to optimize the process.

Growth hacking only works after you have a solid foundation. Don’t compromise your principles for cheap success. Do the work and be flexible. Having the ability to adapt is way more profitable than any quick fix. If fact, that’s the genius behind true growth hacking. It’s about testing ideas, reviewing the results, and being flexible to make the necessary changes in order to see success. Those who are flexible and open to trying new things, learning from experiences, and doing the work will always beat those with cheap hacks.

In case you don’t believe me, read this story again.

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Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works has also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing solutions.

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