Ron Jaworskic is the founder and CEO of Trinity Audio, AI-powered solutions for smart audio experiences for publishers and content creators.
If your first (and only) association with hackathons is strictly technology-related, I’ve got some good news: these kinds of events are no longer the preserve of programmers and those with a tech background.
Outside of the tech world, organizations have slowly begun to use these intense brainstorming events for a wide variety of scenarios, from increasing employee engagement to conveying corporate culture and everything in between.
As a tech CEO, I have to admit that there are inherent technology-centric benefits that startups can enjoy from a hackathon. But there’s more to the veneer as it offers a holistic view of your leadership. At its best, a productive hackathon can be a powerful tool in your arsenal, especially for these three benefits:
1. An Organic Way to Scale Creative Thinking
The way I see it, a hackathon is – or should be – about exploration that is somehow beneficial to both your customers and your business.
An often underappreciated aspect of this fast-paced incubator is that the end result doesn’t always have to be something big and PR worthy. Most leaders set a groundbreaking or market-ready product/service as their end goal, which I think is counterproductive. In fact, it’s quite a recipe for failure as you’re setting the team up for a goal they probably won’t be able to achieve. Innovation takes time, discipline and patience to iron out all problems.
A hackathon is a crockpot for out-of-the-box thinking because it fosters creativity in several directions, including expanding the reach of existing solutions. People see different problems or see the same problem from different angles, collectively pooling their roles and skills to come up with different approaches and solutions.
Sometimes it’s something small, like moving a few lines of code or approaching supply chain management from a different perspective that benefits the customer. Other times, it’s something completely new, such as a new feature or product that could directly impact your bottom line.
With structured idea development as a focal point, you can extract tangible ideas for new solutions and processes that can lead to a better customer experience and growth.
2. A path to a more inclusive workplace
Hackathons are a great way to ensure that every team member is engaged or invited to participate, especially if you’re looking to build a more inclusive company culture.
The reality is that some members of different departments don’t spend much time together on a daily or weekly basis. Then there are some who just want to be more connected than they currently are.
Being inventive together is an opportunity to form and strengthen the bonds within the team, especially as it happens in a different and challenging environment. It can be a little intimidating at first, but once ideas come together, there is a sense of belonging. Suddenly everyone feels more established and part of the culture.
For me that was always the main takeaway; Rather than emphasizing a marketable project or something like that, a hackathon is a way for peers to develop relationships on a deeper level while having fun. Everything else is a bonus.
3. A hands-on learning opportunity
Another advantage that I highly value is that a hackathon is a safe environment where one can fail without consequences.
It pushes everyone involved out of their comfort zone, leaving more room to try out alternative approaches and tools. Since there are no limits, I find that people tend to be more passionate about their input when they get their hands dirty, so to speak, and try something completely new.
If creativity is more important to you than making a mistake, I believe things will fall into place cosmically and something positive will happen.
Such conditions are very valuable lessons and a step towards an agile mindset because there are no barriers. The way I see it, failing quickly means there’s a platform to succeed next time. More importantly, you can show your team that while innovation is welcome, it is also expected to some extent, encouraging them to think openly and courageously.
Even if there isn’t a tangible product or service to showcase, there will always be something to absorb in terms of creative skills or team building. So it’s a win no matter how you look at it.
Everything can happen
John D. Rockefeller is often attributed as: proverb, “I’d rather earn 1% of 100 people’s efforts than 100% of my own.” If we set aside the inevitable capitalist connotation and look at it from a leadership standpoint, his claim makes a lot of sense. What each individual can achieve, even at the highest level of achievement, is no match for a group effort that combines all unique strengths and abilities.
That is what hackathon literally and figuratively brings to the table: an enriching process of ideation, experimentation and development that generates involvement and a sense of pride from all involved.
There is no shortage of opportunities and clues as to where it could go. I highly recommend you give it a try as there are plenty of long term rewards out there. And if you do it right, it’s a lot of fun too.