How to think like an Exponential Growth Hacker

thomas Blog

During the original goldrush, not everyone knew there was a goldrush.

Those people who did know had connected two important dots: 

  • They perceived opportunity – wealth was possible by mining gold
  • They had  a method for tapping that opportunity.

Their method could be broken down into a couple of parts – for example:

  1. They could stake a claim to own some unexplored area of land
  2. Via prospecting, they could test territories for value to identify in which area of land they should focus their efforts 
  3. By leading labourers equipped with simple tools, they could extract rock in a search for gold
  4. When successful, they could re-invest their profits to iteratively expand their empire, by repeating steps 1 to 3

Compared to the complexities of modern business, the above strategy is simple.  In particular, using gold as a metric makes it easy to measure value creation.

However, given the common intelligence level at that time in history, anyone who actually did this was applying best in class thinking that only a fortunate few understood.

In that day, unlike the gold mine owners, the labourers couldn’t see the opportunity because they suffered from a kind of perceptual disadvantage such that it made more sense to them to work for someone else.  Maybe they simply couldn’t imagine that wealth was possible for them through mining gold directly? Perhaps they didn’t have enough clarity in a method they could execute with confidence?  Essentially, those labourers didn’t think about the world (i.e. have mental-models of the World) in ways that included how to get the gold directly, so that their best choice seemed to be to work for someone else.

A lot of people keep talking about the economy and recession dynamics.  Their heads are in the sand.  They don’t realise that we now live in a new goldrush operating according to different rules.  

Do you see the opportunity?
Do your perceptions make you a labourer or a gold miner?  

With this is mind, here are some dots you ought to connect: 

1) We live in an age of EXPONENTIAL TOOLS:

Tools amplify and extend our capabilities and in certain circumstances can make us millions of times more productive than our ancestors.  All around us we have:

  1. Increasingly powerful tools – where the definition of a tool is it makes performing any given action easier, quicker, simpler and cheaper.For example, using Mailchimp I can send instantly send 1 million emails with less than a minute of effort, which makes me a million times more productive as a communicator than if I had to arrange to put 1 million messages through peoples letterboxes, at a minute per message.
  2. Tools that create better tools – Mankind is actively using our existing tools to create even more powerful ones. This is accelerating the frontiers of possibility. For example, the fastest computers we have today enable us to design even faster computers for the future.
  3. Tools interact with and multiply the power of other tools – Where standards are established, we can route the output of one tool into the input of another, and chain such a sequence to increase power and productivity. For example, sensor data from 10,000 locations can be collected across the USA, transmitted electronically to a research center in New York, analysed in real time using complex calculations, then routed to a weather-app database which displays weather warnings on people’s phones.

Knowing we live in an age of tools isn’t enough: 

2) Harnessing tools requires PERCEPTION OF POSSIBILITY:

Once upon a time as a 9 year old child (in the 1980s), I did something bold in school.  As a punishment my teacher told me I had to write out 200 lines.  I cheekily asked  “Can I do this on the school computer?”   My teacher, being less tech-literate than I, presumed this would involve typing out 200 lines which to her seemed to be as much effort as actual writing.  So I wrote 5 line program in BBC Basic to print 1 line and repeat this process 200 times.

My teacher, who didn’t understand programming, had no idea this was possible.

I see that teachers ignorance is a microcosm of what I witness from senior executives who know less about technology than their children, and politicians who would struggle to backup their smartphone yet think it normal to make decisions about technology policies that affect whole nations, that they barely understand.

Managing ignorance:  As more and more tools become available that increase our power and productivity, extending the frontiers of possibility, making sense of what is possible becomes a challenge.

  1. Smart people will choose to identify themselves like that teacher so they can strategically manage their ignorance and keep learning as a high priority.
  2. Foolish people will act like that teacher without realising and over estimate the sufficiency of what they know.

The psychology of ignorance:  All around us people have their heads in the sand.  Their mental models preclude them from perceiving possibility and from appraising risk.  This gets amplified when the fear of change drives people to live in denial as a coping mechanism for stress.  Ignorance gets compounded when people burrow in the familiar as a source of comfort – i.e. retreat what they’ve always done and how they’ve always thought.  Such denial and “familiarity coping mechanisms” are very dangerous,  for the hardest enemies to fight are those who steathily operate outside your awareness such that you can’t perceive them.  Avoiding awareness of possibility is like pulling the wool over your own eyes or giving your competitors an invisibility cloak while so drunk, you won’t be able to remember you did.

3) To compete as a growth hacker, you must find SWEET SPOTS of SKILL + APPLICATION:

Understanding that tools make things easier and amplify your power, to better perceive what is possible, is a good start.  This makes you a labourer who dreams of a gold mine…. but to create and capture value you need something more.  You need SKILL.

Every new tool extends possibility yet brings with it the requirement for a new set of behaviours, skills and mental models to transform that notion of possibility into actionable clarity.

Perception of possibility and awareness of applications grows with competence but first you have to invest time and effort in learning to build better mental models and connected skills.  This usually involves learning, practice, playing and comparing your awarenesses with accomplished others to own that elegant sweet spot of maximum value creation to effort applied.

For example:

  1. Facebook Advertising:  Knowing that Facebook makes it possible to run highly targetted advertisements is an awareness of possibility, but you don’t have actionable clarity or skill until you have a method to do this profitably.
  2. Marketing Automation:  Knowing that marketing automation tools make it possible to send emails triggered by when website visitors visit a certain page is an awareness of possibility, but you don’t have actionable clarity until you have a method to do this profitably.

If you combine both of these together, you get a multiplier effect and that is where the exponential power emerges.


Once you achieve that sweet spot, you need a high value application for whatever you can use several tools for, and then you gain a window of opportunity where you have a competitive advantage relative to more ignorant competitors.

You need to conduct those tools like an orchestra to iteratively create and capture value, so you generate some kind of resource you can re-invest and/or find high growth cycle that an investor can sponsor and amplify with money, data or partnership.


The big picture is that the savvy application of certain tools to create and capture value is eroding the systems of society, disrupting existing empires and building new structures that literally hack the homeostasis (resistance to change) of the systems of society.

Thus, the application of tools by savvy others is changing our World incredibly quickly.  This keeps renewing possibility, yet shortening the half-life of advantage from whatever skill you have.   The trick is to make it easy for you to add and capture value, then work super hard to mine that opportunity for as long as it exists.


Where the original goldrush involved simple tools and physical space, the new gold rush involves five converging factors, within a world changing quickly:

  • Accelerating change – our World is changing quickly, and the more you can perceive it now, the more advantage you have.
  • Tools – Central to this advantage is understanding how modern tools extend capabilities and multiply productivity
  • Perception of possibility – You need to understand how tools can be used to create and capture value
  • Sweet spots of skill – You need to be able to use tools more efficiently than who you’re competing against to create and capture that value
  • Orchestral application – The whole model needs to work, so you create value and capture value

Mastering these principles as a growth hacker is about mindset first.  If you view the World through this lens, you’ll find many opportunities for growth and accruing competitive advantage.