Some day, someone may come up with a way to get more than 24 hours out of a day. Until then, we have the next best way to squeeze the most innovation out of a day – Hackathons!
A hackathon (or, more recently known as an “App Jam”) is simply a period of time during which a group of employees, or all of your employees, brainstorm new ideas and projects for your company to focus on over the next quarter, year, etc.
It isn’t just brainstorming though – it’s harnessing risk-tasking, idea-making, status-quo breaking energy. And if your business hasn’t had one, you really need to start planning one soon. Here’s why:
Why companies use hackathons
Remember in grade school when your teacher would suddenly move all the desks around and you’d be sitting in a new seat in a new part of the room? And it made things more fun for a little while? Or when your company moved offices or maybe you relocated – and for weeks, if not longer, everything seemed new and exciting again? Shaking up the status quo gets people’s juices flowing, releasing blocks they didn’t even know were there. And that’s exactly what a hackathon does. It flings open the doors of the imagination, flooding it with fresh air and possibilities. What company wouldn’t want to invite that energy?
Why hackathons are so successful
Why do so many companies have game rooms in their offices these days? Because the best ideas – the best work, oftentimes – comes when people aren’t focused on work.How many times have you tried to force a memory, for example, only to find it coming to you when you weren’t trying to remember it? When people are pulled out of their routines, structure and stress, magic happens. Hackathons provide that outlet.
Regular work is put on hold during a hackathon, so it feels like you’re playing “hooky”, and for however long the hackathon lasts, all employees participating have carte blanche to create and explore and offer up whatever ideas come to them. They get to feel part of something bigger than the narrow confines their day-to-day position might allow, take risks, and collaborate with people they might never otherwise work with.
It’s crowdsourcing at its best – especially when you combine forces across departments and functions – and you can even involve customers or clients. Throwing in a competitive aspect and prize for the best idea doesn’t hurt either.
Why they’re crucial to innovation
If it isn’t already obvious, hackathons are all ABOUT innovation. Even when you already have an innovation program in place and you’re checking in regularly with key players, sourcing and testing ideas, it can be easy for all of that to become part of the routine too. Or to be blown off in favor of more pressing projects. Because hackathons are a limited-time event, they can easily fill the requirement of any innovation activity pushed to the back burner, and the excitement built around them means that everyone will be pumped and ready to give their very best for the duration.
When you put a group of talented, excited people together they can’t help but come up with something great, so take advantage of your workforce, schedule a hackathon, and look forward to creating that next big thing – or a reinvigorating set of ideas that will (at the least) put your team on the right path.
Have you held a hackathon before or are you planning one? Share your successes and challenges with us in the comments. And check out our new presentation on SlideShare “Why Organize A Hackathon”.