From Hacker Innovation: Redefinition and Examination of Outlaw Sources of Generativity for Future Product Development Strategies (2014) by Mike Pinder
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Hacking activities can (and in some cases do) involve deviant criminal behaviours, but can also involve legitimate, legal and positive-generative sources of innovation in contrast to our popular cultural conceptions in which the term is predominantly used. Continued heterogeneous usage of the term hacker has created semantic confusion across culture through the use of phrases: a hacker, hacking, a hack and to hack. These terms are frequently used in opposing and sometimes extreme-meaning contexts. In one instance to report on negative, illegal personal data theft whilst on another, lauded by large multinational organisations promoting an upcoming hackathon, hack-night, hack-fest or hack- idol event, in a positive, generative systematic and methodological process to drive creation[1]. Clearly vast meaning confusion resonates across culture and there is a subsequent need to decompose term usages to reveal the spectrum of actual hacker activities taking place.

It is the purpose of this paper to uncover the true foundations of hacking and hackers; their ethics, morals, wider purpose in society and to discuss the activities as potentially useful innovation sources. I will give a brief typology of currently defined forms of hacking with the aim of explicitly and succinctly mapping common hacker traits and differences as well as to understand contravening popular perceptions and why they exist in the first place. I will present an overall picture of the hacking landscape in order to locate areas of potential legal and generative sources of innovation for both firms and end-users alike. Once a clear definition of hacking has been established I will delve into particular form of hacking. One that explores the circumvention of barriers to innovation in order to enable the unlocking of hidden design module configurations held within the architecture and structure of technological artefacts.

Resultant technological hacks that optimise design module configurations are usually made freely available to all stakeholders via networked digital technologies. This is especially fruitful for potential re-absorption and appropriation by firms to in order generate further complimentary sources of value, more inline with wider consumer needs across the adopter categories. I will discuss the impact of hacker activities upon innovation and design processes within organisation and on wider policy making as well as highlight future research directions for this unconventional domain of interest.


  • To promote a wider understanding of hacking activities and to encourage a semantic re-conceptualisation, clearly distinguished from acts of security cracking.
  • To broaden our perception of hacking activities along an illegal-to-legal dimension and to isolate the point at which hacking becomes positively generative and potentially valuable to firm innovation efforts.
  • To isolate the circumstances and environments under which instances of hacking may be useful, generative and important sources of innovation and value to firms.
  • To explore ways in which hacker communities and firms can co-exist complimentarily and reciprocally, given legal restrictions of IP regimes in light of hacking’s circumvention of current IP frameworks.
  • To open-up future academic research enquiries within hacker innovation studies.

NEXT: Chapter 1.1 - Traditional Conceptions of Hacking

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  1. The annual Pwn2Own hackathon event by CanSecWest, Vancouver, Canada: (; IDEO Labs, Bay Area Hack Night (