Keen to get brew some fresh thinking in your organisation? Are you looking to delight your customers with even better products and services and wanting to develop a culture of innovation? Are you sometimes left wondering how you may kick off a process like this? An Innovation Hackathon may be part of the answer.

Innovation is a complicated beast. We want everything to be linear and simple, but innovation just doesn’t fit into this model. There isn’t a one size fits all approach. When people are operating at the edge of what’s been done before, there may not be best practice to follow. It can feel like a long old slog full of risk, failure, ups and downs yet potentially huge rewards.

An Innovation Bootcamp or Hackathon can be part of this solution. Be clear, it’s not the solution to deliver a culture of innovation. It can however be an important piece of the puzzle and put some turbo charged energy into you’re your innovation efforts.

Why do I like Innovation Hackathons?

Everyone in your organisation is sitting on a hot bed of ideas. Everyone brings their own experiences, insight and outlook that will be different to their colleagues. For me, the beauty of an Innovation Hackathon is that it can give everyone the time and space for them to think and share their unique insights. That unique perspective that everyone has can be the starting point of brilliance.

If you want to run an Innovation Hackathon or Innovation Bootcamp, there are some key things you should consider making your event successful and get the best results in a short amount of time.

Pre-event communication

Previously, I wouldn’t have had this on my list however we ran an event with an IT company recently and their pre-event communication was first class. Everything was brilliant. Here is what I liked:

a. The event and pre-event communications had a great branding and design. It looked and felt innovative.

b. The timing was well planned. It started about three weeks before the event timing and then happened every few days after that. As such, it created a sense of excitement and expectation before the event. Importantly, it wasn’t cheesy and it met people where they were at.

c. As it wasn’t sprung on them the day before, the timing allowed everyone to research and do pre-work as required.

d. The result was that everyone turned up in a great head space as the organisation had made it clear they were excited about the event and the possibilities that could be produced.

Create a good energy

In my experience, great ideas when people are in a great state. They have a buzz on and their stress is reduced which allows for a better free flow of information between the different parts of the brain. will rub off and bring your event prisoners across the line. Here is some ways to make that happen:

a. Kick the event off on a high.

b. Ensure that someone within your company speaks and provides context for the day. (Make sure they are feeling energised as well)

c. Use some music in the background

d. Keep everyone moving. Movement = Energy

e. Have regular breaks with healthy food

f. Ensure everyone is comfortable with being uncomfortable. Great things happen at the edge.

g. Don’t forget to have a sense of humour.

With any event, there will always be people who have event fatigue and would rather be being dropped down an erupting volcano than be in a room full of happy clappy idea makers! Just like bad energy, a great energy is contagious. I would rather have hopefully some of that good energy rub off instead of the bad stuff.

Be clear on what success looks like and the challenges you are looking to solve:

“Ok everyone, let’s innovate. I want to get your best thinking, your winning ideas. Off you go!” Winning ideas on what exactly? A session that kicks off like this starts a process that is like trying to hear wild cats whilst your running around barefoot over Lego pieces: Full of activity, grimaces and noise but most likely fruitless. Are you:

a. Looking for new business opportunities in a new market?

b. Wanting to solve a specific client problem?

c. Looking for a way to improve internal processes?

d. Needing the development of a minimum viable product to test in the market?

e. Seeking immediate, actionable ideas or ideas that will be developed over the next few years?

f. Clear on the assessment criteria for ideas?

Be clear on what you are trying to solve and the business case for having your day. Don’t be afraid of applying constrains. Constraints are a powerful way to shift thinking and force people to look at their world in a different way.

Allow for multiple forms of expression and idea generation:

People are all different. Despite what personality profiles may tell you, not one of us is the same as the other people we work and connect with. As such, the way that people express themselves, communicate, think and explore ideas are different. Someone needs music and headphones by themselves where other are completely tactile and need to construct. Some people may not love post-it notes (Oohh, it can’t be true). Have multiple types of media that people can use to stimulate their thinking and build prototypes. I am massive fan of using drawing to reflect ideas to teams, gain clarity and explore complex processes. It will be different for everyone but ensure that there are multiple forms and teams can move beyond one person writing notes and everyone else sitting around a table nodding.

Have teams pitch their ideas:

This is where ideas become real. Until they get pitched, they are just ideas. It provides a great way to raise everyone’s energy at the end of the experience and make everyone have some skin in the game.

Don’t go straight to the solution:

It’s really important to build on others ideas. Great ideas happen when opposing ideas slap up against each other. It’s ok to disagree! The more disagreement the better. When you go straight to the solution, there is little chance to build and improve each other’s ideas and the true gem of information is often in the middle of opposing ideas. Exhaust all the reasons why an idea can work, before you look at all the ideas why something can’t work.

Have a clear way that ideas will be fed through your system and reported back:

This is where I often see everything start to break down. Innovation requires real bravery.As such, if ideas are pitched then nothing happens post event, it’s very easy for everyone to become discouraged about fresh thinking and innovation just becomes the next buzzword on the same ignored pile of next big thing buzz words. Have a clear path forward to develop ideas and a communication plan ready about how that process will work and move forward.

The ideas that didn’t make the cut are just as important as the ones that did.Not all ideas are perfect the first time around. Be clear on what wasn’t working and create a collaborative online space where those ideas can be built upon. There is every chance that with more feedback and iterations, the ideas that didn’t work out first time may well be winners in the future.

As I said at the start of the article, Innovation and its sidekicks of design, creativity and imagination aren’t linear. The path to creating brilliant products and services that delight your customers is not a simple step by step process (Wouldn’t it be nice if it was?). It’s a continual process where you are constantly having to hit the repeat button. The hunt for great ideas SHOULD be never ending.

Done well, an Innovation Boot Camp, Innovation Day or Innovation Hackathon can be a valuable piece of your Innovation Puzzle. They are a great way to hear from the brilliant minds in your company and can provide a springboard for curiosity, energy, creativity and collaboration.

Once these behaviours start to take hold in your organisation, you are developing some building blocks to build a culture of Innovation. A culture that drives market leading thinking, big ideas, products and results.

Last Word

What are your thoughts? What do you think are the benefits of Innovation Hackathons (or similar days?). Are they an important part of the Innovation Puzzle? I would love to hear your thoughts on Innovation Hackathon.

Read it.

Simon Banks

About the Author

Simon Banks is an Author. International Keynote speaker and Podcaster on creativity and innovation and recovering Artist. He’s delivered over 1400+ events across the globe and is known for running innovation workshops, conferences and design sprints to brew fresh thinking and solve wicked problems. His book A Thousand Little Lightbulbs: How to kickstart a culture of Innovation in your Organisation is out now.

Get in touch here

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