Hacking these days, despite the official definitions, is used to define any action of finding an innovative solution to a problem.
Hacking commonly refers to leveraging the weaknesses of a system to achieve something that wasn’t meant to be done with that system.
Hacking can be used to describe some growth actions, like leveraging the Facebook Social graph to grow your user base, or when Airbnb built a system to automatically email people who posted their property on Craigslist and recommend them to try the site (as described here).
Those examples are actually hard to come by. And there are as many examples of companies who burned themselves going too far, either with a backlash from PR (Glide) or because they haven’t focused enough on keeping their users (see the Branchout example here).
When it comes to building your Growth team, don’t hire a Growth Hacker, hire a Growth Hustler. Because that is what you really need: A Hustler. Someone who will look into every corner, turn every stone, and figure out creative ways to grow your company. The Growth Hustler needs to have method, be consistent and persistent. He will hack when the occasion arises, but he/she will primarily build a system and processes to systematically prioritize and optimize everything that could have an impact the user growth.
Hustling is something you do long term. Something the investors can see consistently and recognize. It doesn’t have to be part of your brand, but it must be part of your DNA.