Month: February 2015

Driving Collaborative Innovation: Hackathons

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Tom againThe dust has settled on my first Future of Work Masterclass, a fascinating insight into the innovation, ecosystem and architecture of collaboration, and now is the time to reflect. I enjoyed a number of discussions concerning new means of collaborative innovation and the best way to foster a dynamic collaborative space. One subject that cropped up a number of times was that of a ‘hackathon’.

A hackathon is defined by Google as an event of typically a few days, where a range of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming – usually to identify process improvements, or provide immediate solutions to weaknesses within systems. Yet hackathons are no longer the preserve of the tech community. Outside the realms of engineering or software, hackathons are being used as a new way to engage employees, transforming the use of time and opening opportunities for innovation. Indeed hackathons are a variant of our existing Fowlab jam platform, where ideas are crowdsourced to determine actionable solutions.

The hackathon’s wide appeal alludes to a growing awareness of underutilised creativity, talent and resources within organisations, and offers an unconventional means of developing innovative ideas and new products. The efficiency of the teams, expected to move from concept to prototype in a few days, encourages proactive engagement. Hackathons have even been adapted, through companies such as ‘StaffUp’, for use as recruiting and networking tools.

From the interactive sessions within last week’s Masterclass, it was clear that some Consortium members are already using hackathons to rejuvenate systems. One recent example contained within a wider FoW case study is that of Dutch food and agriculture bank Rabobank, who successfully launched a hackathon to find practical solutions to food waste. We also heard comments from Randstad and Shell highlighting their use of hackathons in the innovation process.

Looking outside of the Consortium, RJMetrics – a business intelligence company – has put the concept to internal use, aligning the dynamism of the event to their company culture. Having noticed that employees often struggled to find time for innovation, they decided to introduce a 24-hour period for working on experimental projects. These hackathons provided the biggest disruptive force on the product development line and formed new strategic ambitions for the company.

At the Hot Spots Movement, we have noted a similar trend towards the use of our jam platform. Managers are increasingly aware of the need to address complex challenges, provide clear communication channels and instil a collaborative drive towards engagement. Over a more sustained period our jam platform has been used to: identify issues, formulate provocations, strategically communicate and crowdsource solutions over a 72 hour period of real-time collaboration.

The widespread adoption of innovative collaborative techniques such as hackathons and jams alludes to the changing nature of how employees invest their time – an interesting topic that will receive further insight as a future FoW theme.

We are interested to see how these events develop and would be delighted to hear from any of our members if they are using hackathons within their organisation. Please feel free to get in touch here.

Beyond Our Nature – Insights from Davos 2015

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Lynda - Hot Spots Movement - Portrait by LK - web size 72dpi

The global challenges facing the world – such as rising poverty, youth unemployment and climate change – are not themes that are new to Davos. What is new for Davos 2015, is a growing realisation that to address these challenges we have to go beyond human nature. Let me explain. Underlying all these global challenges are many stakeholders each of whom have their own approach and way of looking at the world. Take youth unemployment as an example. When young people are able to get jobs it is because many stakeholders work together: companies create jobs for youngsters; governments shape fiscal and regulatory environments that encourage job creation; educators focus on skills that are important to the job market and the young people themselves are motivated and able to look for work. When it works it is because within this complex system, multiple stakeholders are able to understand each other, and to act on this understanding.

And here is the rub. As the neuroscientists at Davos reminded us, we humans are evolutionarily exquisite at working with small groups of people who are very similar to us – and particularly so if they are related. In fact, as Dunbar has shown, anything above 150 people and natural groups break up. We are pre-disposed to like people who are like us, we imitate people we admire, and across our networks our behaviours and attitudes are contagious.

So whilst we are exquisitely evolved to work in tribal groups, little in our evolution prepares us for the sorts of challenges we are now facing. Challenges that can only be solved if we are able to work in huge groups, containing many different types of people, negotiating across complex alliances.

Of course technology (which is accelerating some of these global challenges) is also providing an array of solutions. When thousands of people are able to work together in virtual communities and when their insights are augmented by artificial intelligence, then complex problems are more likely to be understood.

But is understanding sufficient to get them solved? One of the sessions I attended at Davos this year looked more deeply at alliances. What became clear was that the alliances that are capable of addressing these global challenges – indeed of addressing the challenges of innovation and resilience – are extraordinarily complex. They require people who are very different from each other to have some empathy for each others’ position; they require a process to build trust when many of the stakeholders are virtual strangers and don’t spend much time with each other; and they require a process of commitment making that is more complex than much we have seen before.

All of this is indeed possible, but it goes beyond our human nature. So the question I think we face is whether we will be constrained forever by our evolutionary behaviours and attitudes, or whether we are able in a sense to leap beyond them. How we do this then remains the key issue. When human nature changes (for example our attitudes to slavery or women’s rights) it is because across society the narrative and stories change, owing to courageous role models. The societal discourse itself then begins to evolve.

Addressing many of the world’s challenges requires us to move beyond our human nature. Now is the time for stories to be told about how it could be, and for role models to courageously act out collaboration and alliance building beyond the tribe.