Trailblazers: Lital Marom on the hacker mindset

Kate Inglis
Article by: Kate Inglis
Trailblazers: Lital Marom on the hacker mindset

In our ‘Trailblazers’ series, we bring you perspectives on creative leadership, social innovation, and positive change from THNK’s worldwide participant community. Today, writer and strategist Kate Inglis speaks to Lital Marom, Founder and CEO of Beyond.


You’re an entrepreneur who's got an eye on the intersection of education, youth, and technology. In that context, what do you think the world needs more of?

Imagination and guts. Even though we know this will be essential, we don’t foster enough of either in kids. We’re still very entrenched in an outdated, mass approach to education and an old-school mentality that’s invested in protecting the status quo. If we don’t open up the system, tomorrow’s adults won’t grow up with the cultural propensity and ability to innovate.

Tell me how that manifests for individuals. 

Kids these days grow up with an over-simplified expectation of how life and learning should unfold: I have to go to university to get a job, and put my time in so that I can earn my way to do what I really want. Or worse yet: A job is a job. I just have to pick one so that I can be successful. It’s tragic. There’s so much more out there, and bigger ways of thinking about security, achievement, and contribution. We have to break free of the incredibly rigid thinking that education is achieved through university, and influence is achieved through years invested in a job.

All education is self-education. Period. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting in a college classroom or a coffee shop. We don’t learn anything we don’t want to learn. Take a look at any widely acclaimed scholar, entrepreneur or historical figure you can think of. Formal education or not, you’ll find that he or she is a product of continuous self-education. Those people who are curious and take the time and initiative to pursue knowledge on their own are earning a real education in this world. 

So success is not a linear matter of A + B = C?

Any sort of presumed formula like that is an incredibly limiting mindset. We need more hackers, not more sheep. We need more people who will question the status quo—much of which doesn’t serve us anymore—and who have innate curiosity. We need them to question and reinvent the world around them. We need to disrupt markets and industries if we’re going to make them better. If you look at the education system that millions of children are born into, it’s very old school.

All education is self-education. Click To Tweet

In considering what might be ‘new school’, I’m thinking of so many apparent contradictions. Can we individualize the mass delivery of an institutional system, for instance? Can we put process around imagination, which feels like the straight lines and corners of swing music forced onto experimental jazz? 

Not everything has to be a process. Everyone has their own way of learning something new, and experiencing, and experimenting. That has not been incorporated in the education system. Just look at the way we learn. We memorize, we standardize. Without change, we are making a pretty uninspired herd. 

What do you wish education could do, compared to what education is right now?

We need to let kids self-direct more of their own educational experiences. In my work with Beyond, I’ve spoken to so many kids… they soak up our definition of an acceptable path, an acceptable life. I wish we could break out of the linear mindset, bring real-life context to the education system, and let students shape and direct their own experiences. I wish we could make kids not only believe they can change the world, but give them the means to do so. And we can’t do that if we’re locked into A + B = C.

Attitude shapes more than degrees. We need kids with more grit. We need to demand more of our kids than A+ grades. We need to empower a new generation of teachers and parents who are also hungry for change. We need them to own a brighter future, together.

What’s the opposite of a sheep?

Successful organizations need to embrace a diversity of all skills, culture and capacity. But to build for the dynamic forces that business has to deal with, we need more people who are adept at designing ideas and solutions. Ultimately, the opposite of a sheep is a Lego kid. One who makes the kit, perhaps, but then pulls it all apart and starts riffing.

What can we do to make sure that Lego kids take that spirit into adulthood?

There’s an epiphany moment that every innovative person has—it’s when you’re a young adult, and you decide you want more than a lifetime spent protecting established beige cube farms. That kind of discontent is a precious and holy moment. We need to hold it up as the transformative pivot that it is. The first step is to scale the imaginative leaders so that discontented imaginative kids can see ahead and chase that carrot of what’s possible. They need models.

Lital Marom
Lital Marom
THNK School of Creative Leadership, Rockstart Accelerator, Unfold Media Group
"We have to give young people access to others who have reinvented themselves and their lives, environments, problems, teams, ideas."

So we give them access. What else do kids need to develop into hackers?

If we can help coach kids to keep moving forward despite fear, we’ll give them confidence. Fear is the root of what holds everyone back. Not enough money, too much rejection, the great unknown. This is part of the journey! You’ll always be afraid. The only way to wind up doing interesting, amazing work is to allow yourself to be confronted. 

What are the key characteristics of a hacker?

It’s about how you approach a problem. First, tinker with it. You assess the situation. How could you reframe it? How could you look at that problem differently? Hackers learn by doing, and they’ve got an innate curiosity and willingness to try and fail and try again. They’re prolific prototypers. Finally, hackers just have straight-up grit. They understand that a good idea won’t come to fruition easily. It will take many iterations and tweaks. And that’s what hacking is. To the right person, it’s instinct. It’s play.

Hackers learn by doing. To the right person, it's instinct. It's play. Click To Tweet

How does Beyond help populate the world with more kids like this? Can technology drive creative aptitude?

Well, I think of creative aptitude as beginning with a tolerance for the kind of conditions that allow creativity to flourish. That’s what we’re doing with the alternate-reality inspired game (ARG) that we’re developing at Beyond. It has a technology centre, but incorporates offline triggers, challenges, and collaborations. We’re collaborating with leading game designers from MIT Media Lab, and in partnership with Joan Ganz Cooney Center. Our launching partners include schools and young leaders’ organizations across Canada and the USA, as well as popular social media platforms. They’re as excited as we are. 

Our goal is to encourage kids to call on the three elements of hacking: curiosity, tinkering, and grit. We want them to immerse themselves in the game and learn to cultivate the ‘hacker’ mindset through self-organized learning and play. Our design process adopts the same model as that of our learning experiences. We hack as we go!

We believe that collaborative, lean methodologies are effective and efficient ways of achieving better results. Our process is grounded in the ideals of agile development and the humanity of design thinking—the belief that prototyping isn’t an intermittent exercise. It’s a continuous process from paper to code, and that process continues in the hands of kids and parents from week one to launch. We make, test, learn, and repeat.

That sounds quite a bit like the THNK approach, as well.

Absolutely. As a participant, one of the most shocking aspects of a THNK experience is walking through those doors and entering an ecosystem with a lot of like-minded people. Creative entrepreneurs are sort of wild and lonely wolves, you know? I’ve felt like an outcast in the corporate world. At THNK I felt that I could talk about everything that excites me and it wouldn’t be too big, too nerdy, too conceptual. Adults need this kind of imaginative embracing and play just as much as kids do. It’s a very ripe environment, and the exchange that happens in that circle is life-changing.

Lital Marom is a digital visionary, entrepreneur and strategist who is passionate about new approach to learning and social change. A THNK participant (Amsterdam, 2012), Lital has developed innovative products and services within the digital media and mobile industries. Her latest endeavor, Beyond, is an innovation and design studio that creates digital and real-life learning experiences rooted in game design, self-organized play and design thinking.

To discover how the THNK Executive Leadership Program can help you channel your inner child and stimulate your creativity, visit the program page.