It came to me in a flash: A way to solve the miserable traffic problems in Atlanta that plague everyone who lives here! The answer involved opt-in location tracking, smart GPS navigational systems, and big data. Alas, to make it come alive, I needed either millions of dollars or a room full of coders to build a prototype. With no programmers in sight, the answer was gone as fast as it came.
I wonder how many good ideas flounder, not by lack of technology to create them, but by lack of technical expertise and know-how to test them out and see how they might work? By getting a group of programmers in a room for 24 hours, nothing is outside the realm of possibility in our platform-driven world. With more standards-based software platforms than ever, we stand on the shoulders of giants. Much of the basic work we need to innovate and create already exists in the form of modules that can make almost any idea come to life–especially in the world of mobile communications and applications.
Enter the Hackathon
Discreet events developed to bring big ideas to life, known as hackathons, are nothing new in the tech world. High-tech companies have been putting them on since the beginning of the new millennium, but because of the increase in standards and the subsequent rate of innovation, these events are now finally reaching Main Street offering a huge opportunity for businesses of all sizes to take advantage of them.
1. Leverage the creativeness in each of us
Your business has a lot of smart people at work. Use what they know and their creativity to innovate. Canon cameras is in the second year of a project using the creative photographic skills of their consumers, big name celebrities, and a well-known Hollywood director’s talents. With this sort of crowd-source at work, the results promise to be tantalizing. New ideas for any industry can be game-changing in the market. In fact, did you know the ‘Like’ button on Facebook was the result of a hackathon focused on improving the overall Facebook product?
2. Leverage diverse points of view
Consider bringing strategic vendors and key business or consumer customers into the hackathon with your team to help grease innovative thinking. The more angles on current challenges or the more needs that can be expressed, the better the chance for true innovation.
3. Keep it fun
Hackathons, like a lot of crowd-sourcing activities, are light-hearted affairs featuring lack of sleep and Doritos coupled with very serious intentions such as transforming a business process or our world itself. My colleague Dan Schmidt Director of Strategy for AT&T, suggested assembling hackathons with customers in their own territory to address big innovation inside of a vertical market. For our airline customers, he and others have proposed doing a hackathon in the sky. Perhaps an around-the-world venue taking advantage of in-flight WiFi will draw interest from the transportation vertical to create some innovative new apps?