Busting through the clay layer: A developer's-eye view

Reinvent Business

Busting through the clay layer: A developer's-eye view

Editor's note: As part of GreenBiz’s focus on covering the space where technology and business meet to create the next generation of sustainability innovations, we are publishing a series of postcards from the Reinvent Business hackathon held on June 9-10 in San Francisco. The event, supported by the World Economic Forum, brought together an eclectic group from the design, tech, academic and business worlds. Their task: to develop tools with potential to “transform business from within.” This postcard comes from Dan Riegel, a developer who works at EnergyHub in New York City. Read the first hackathon postcard submitted by BSR's Ted Howes, who wrote from a judge's perspective.

These days, it seems you can’t throw a netbook without hitting a hackathon in progress. I spent the last weekend (which had some of the warmest, sunniest weather ever seen in San Francisco) at the Reinvent Business Hackathon exploring solutions to business challenges.

Day 0 – June 8

The event kicked off with drinks at a co-working space in SoMa, where I got to chat with a few of my co-hackers, many of whom were there for networking or job seeking. People were very enthusiastic about the goal of the hackathon. It was a bit of an adjustment for me -- a New Yorker -- where cynicism is added to the public water supply. But it was also really refreshing.

I passed out that same day at 10:30 PM, exhausted, having flown from New York that same day.

Day 1 – June 9

The event began at 8:00 on Saturday.  Breakfast was served as the CEO and Founder of LRN gave a rousing speech about the importance of solving business problems. Then the hackers were led through a brainstorming exercise in which we called out problems in modern business settings. I was impressed when the frog design team took the thousands of Post-its we produced and grouped them into about 20 broad topics in 20 minutes.

Next stage: Find a team. I joined a group of seven who were sold on a very “meta” topic from teammate-to-be James Dilworth: How about running hackathons within a company to “open up” employees? Hack in a box. We began to refine it.

Photo from Reinventing Business hackathon courtesy of Ted Howes

In the late afternoon, we hit a hitch: the judges seemed unimpressed. Their favorite twist was to change the sponsor. What if it wasn’t the corporation who sponsored a hackathon, but shareholders looking to shake things up instead?

We were disappointed that they didn’t halt the event and give us the prize at that moment, but we regrouped. We took a retreat (see how meta?) to South Park, just a couple of blocks from the frog office to decide where to go next.  After some soul searching, we settled on a new idea: busting through the “clay layer” of middle management to let employees develop ideas without the support of bosses. It evolved into a glassdoor.com sort of website only focused on making improvements rather than griping.

With a glimmer of hope, we retired to the happy hour at Thirsty Bear.

Day 2 – June 10

The last day was mostly slide engineering. We came up with an amusing story featuring a frustrated sales guy with great ideas. With no idea what to expect, the presentations began. Each team had three minutes to present.

It turns out that two other teams developed a product similar to ours, and another two or three did related idea collection and refinement engines. I was very impressed with the team that incorporated an SNL-like song (complete with guitar) into their presentation. Gotta remember to brainstorm more creative ways to present.

In short: Great event, great people. Thanks to frog and LRN for organizing.