Hackathons, or Now I’m Standing on the Overpass and Screaming at the Cars, “Hey, I Wanna Get Better!”
I think we should take four months off next Fall to run the hackathon circuit.
We all have experience with product design, but our experience has been with sustaining innovation. We’ve been given existing products and told to maintain or improve them. We’ve gotten really good at prototyping features. We’ve gotten really good at building, testing, and iterating to optimize them. Sustaining innovation is incredibly important, but also kind of boring. After all, who wants to be remembered as the person that made an existing thing marginally better? I want to be remembered as the person that created something new.
This type of innovation is called disruptive innovation. It involves reformulating existing paradigms to craft products that outperform the competition by competing on a different level. It involves thinking in a space that has yet to be explored. It involves taking chances by building on ideas that don’t exist yet. It’s new, and dangerous, and exciting.
How do we practice Disruptive Innovation? (or, “What do Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Amy Poehler, Amy Sedaris, and Steve Carell have in common?”) #
In Chicago there’s a comedy group called The Second City that specializes in improv comedy. In improv comedy, the performers make up their performance on the spot, without any prior planning. The Second City puts on one show a night, and each show includes multiple different sketches, so performers at The Second City create literally dozens of performances a week. They become experts at coming up with ideas on the spot, at working together to build on these, and at finalizing these ideas into concrete performances. Performers at The Second City practice Disruptive Innovation on daily basis, and the experience pays off. The Second City is renowned as a training ground for future stars, including (and certainly not limited to): Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Amy Poehler, Amy Sedaris, and Steve Carell.
Running the hackathon circuit is our The Second City. It would let us practice the art of brainstorming, prototyping, and pitching on new ideas. It would give us concentrated experience in Disruptive Innovation.
But is it logistically feasible? #
Major League Hacking is an group that organizes university hackathons. Based on their schedule from Fall 2014, we should be able to rely on at least 14 university hackathons in Fall 2015 (or a hackathon every weekend starting the last week of August and ending the first week of December). Prizes at these hackathons run from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars per team member. Granted, these prizes aren’t financially spectacular (or guaranteed), but considering the cheap cost of living on the road they should be enough. Furthermore, other organizations (companies, governments, non-profits) also offer hackathon, or hackathon-like, challenges with prizes that can be much more lucrative.
Furthermore, these hackathons are located all around the country, and are attended by some of the most promising and interesting people. Ever wanted to travel? Network? This sundae has multiple cherries on top.
Borrowing a phrase from Malcolm Gladwell, let’s go get our 10,000 hours.
(Also, yes, the title is from a song by Bleachers.)