Hacking creativity in your own business

Think your business is too small for a hackathon? Think again.

The big tech companies started hackathons back in 1999, but now all sorts of organisations have adopted them to unleash internal creativity.

Our research tells us that many businesses find challenges around meeting customer needs, helping cash flow or fixing flawed systems.

A hackathon is where people get together to solve a problem or make something new. As MYOB Chief Technical Advisor Simon Raik-Allen explained, what makes a hackathon different to a simple brainstorming session is the focus on a product – something to actually put into practice and trial – at the end of it.

You could totally manage that, right?

Who should hack?

Let’s say there are 10 people who work in your business.

Ten people could form up to five groups and potentially hack solutions to five pain points in your business, whether they are around meeting customer needs, helping cash flow or fixing flawed systems.

Do you fly solo in your business? Is there a network of potential collaborators in your industry? Perhaps you get together periodically with some likeminded business owners?

In one case that I know of, a hairdresser, a chiropractor, an audiologist and a freelance writer get together periodically to lay their business problems on the table and ‘hack’ solutions together.

While they have very diverse perspectives, they’re trying to solve the same problem. Every time they meet, each goes home with a solution to trial.

Hackathon basics

The first thing you need to do is set aside some time for the hack – usually a day.

While you may have fears over losing a whole day of business, hacks can help produce the next great leap forward and more than make up for the lost productivity.

  • Let people know in advance so they can get thinking about it immediately – this can save time during the hack
  • Prepare a hack space – a focused environment people can use to examine the problem without distraction
  • Provide the tools people need – everything from butchers’ paper and coloured card all the way through to machines hackers can run code on
  • Define what success looks like, but more importantly, foster a spirit of communication and fun

“In our day jobs we have plans and our bosses telling us what to do, and it’s all very by the book,” said Raik-Allen.

“But in a hackathon you can do what you want – and that creates culture and excitement and typically people come out having learned a bunch of new things.

“There’s lots of actual fun and engagement in a hackathon, and I think that’s why it’s taken off.”