Hacking Your Way to Innovation Success  

As a team we always mixed feelings about ‘hacks’. You know those events where you put a bunch of people in a room, give them a problem and ask them to solve it in 8-24 hours? Somehow they have always felt like they were starting at the wrong point.   

Even the urban dictionary is undecided about the merits of a ‘hack’.  The first definition tells it is “someone who does a crap*y job at a task” and the second defines a hack as “a clever solution to a tricky problem”. 

Get it wrong and a hack day is where good ideas go to die. Get it right and your hack day has the power to break down organisational silos, bring fresh thinking to an old challenge, and stimulate some serious innovation in your organisation.

So when we recently accepted the challenge to design and host an ideas hack day for a client of ours, we knew which type of hack we wanted.  The sort that would make urban dictionary add a third definition – an expertly crafted experience that brings fresh thinking and serious solutions to some of your biggest challenges, bought to you by Naked Ambition.

So what are the magic ingredients we think go into the mix to design a successful ideas hack? On top of always taking a collaborative approach, being clear about what can be achieved in a hack day and designing the day like you would any experience here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

1.    Forget the theatre – make sure your event is linked to a wider initiative. Any hack day should be one part of a wider program – never a one off.  You should have a view of what this bigger program of work might look like before you start planning the day, this will enable you to be clear about the goals of the day and provide the participants with a view of next steps.  People want to know that something tangible will happen.  You will have built up a lot of motivation over the course of the day and you want to make sure you can harness it. Don’t forget sponsorship for a program of work is key, great to have a plan but it is important to have sponsorship to execute otherwise you might run the risk of setting out a plan that you are not sure you can deliver on

2.    Don’t ignore the research!  Explore what research is available in your organisation and start your day with a download of what is known.  By doing this the rest of your day (on ongoing projects) will have a chance of being grounded in reality and focused on solving real problems.  As a part of your research download spend 5-10 minutes getting the team to brainstorm the things they know and don’t know, this helps highlight gaps in knowledge and areas for further research.  

3.    Bring your key stakeholders into the room.  We know this can be difficult to navigate but buy-in from the senior exec early on is critical to the success of any innovation initiative. Ask the most senior person you can get access to (our client asked their CEO) kick off the day with their view of the future or similar. Having your stakeholders in the room will reinforce to the team the importance of the program as well as help you ensure long term sponsorship.

4.    Build something. It’s too easy to arm your group with sharpies and post-it notes – expecting a flourish of ideas you can get started on straight away. You want to them to think about the idea, its practical application, how your customer might use it. In other words – a basic prototype. Taking this approach forces people to think of solutions not just ideas, it gives them something to test with stakeholders and customers and a great storytelling artefact you can use to demonstrate progress. 

Taking this guidance on board our clients hack day was a huge success we are now coaching them through the full design thinking framework - conducting customer research to validate and iterate their hack day ideas.  The mindset change has been inspiring, moving from ‘we cannot speak to customers’ to the teams having now conducted three weeks of customer research, speaking with over 20 customers face-to-face.  With the concepts deep in development this deep is well on their way to building a culture of real action and innovation.