Hacking Company Culture
I love hackathons. That’s why for 7 years I organized nearly 40 hackathons at Facebook. At first, I simply did it because I loved the energy of all the people and the freedom to explore ideas outside the scope of my day job. Over time though, those hackathons transformed from small 20 person extracurricular events to a major part of the Facebook culture. Scaling our hackathons to keep up with Facebook’s growth was tough, we constantly had to think through and experiment with the format to make sure that they kept up with the company. At the same time, it was through trying to capture, reinforce, and amplify the very magic that made those original hackathons so special that I came to realize that the hackathons themselves were strengthening and protecting our culture as we grew.
Time Pressure Feeds Innovation
Most ideas die in the early stages because the person/people that hatch the idea become discouraged when they realize the enormous number of steps necessary to actually make their idea a reality. It makes sense right? A great idea unbound by strict time constraints often becomes something we can “table for later.” Of course, as we all know, later seldom actually comes. That’s the beauty and driving force behind a hackathon–there is no later. The fact that there is so little time from the start of a hackathon to the prototype forum forces you to start from the opposite mindset. Instead of promising yourself that you’ll work on that idea later when you have time to perfect it, you’re forced to work with your team on building the bare minimum product that can either prove its viability or not. Only having a few hours to do something is a great clarifier. Is this thing going to work or not?
That simple mental check is incredibly powerful because it forces you to make hard tradeoffs and often times encourages you to get really creative with how to make things work. Constraints are a remarkable force multiplier for innovation.