Watching the clock: A judge'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 Ted Howes, a hackathon judge who is a sustainability strategist at BSR, a San Francisco-based consultancy. Read the second postcard submitted by EnergyHub's Dan Riegel, who wrote from a developer's perspective.  

More than 100 hackers were given a necessary, daunting, and possibly pyrrhic challenge last weekend. Over the course of 30 hours, create technology-based solutions with the potential to reinvent business. 

Sounds like fun, I thought. Sign me up.

I spent the weekend with @frog, an innovation and design firm, as one of the hackathon's judges surrounded by 150 makers, doers, jammers, geeks, freaks, and designers buzzing and building on the task. My role was to bounce between teams giving formal feedback during judges’ office hours as well as working directly with teams to help guide, refine and distill their ideas.

It was a great setup from @DovSeidman, CEO of LRN. His company was one of the primary sponsors of the event along with frog. The frame was simple: Culture, values, trust and transparency have a material effect on business.

How might technology solutions inspire, foster and spread those elements into how people work and how organizations function?

The hackathon was centered around a good direction, as more trust ≈ more collaboration and more collaboration ≈ more innovation. More innovation ≈ more and better solutions to solve bigger and tougher challenges.

I was struck that the framing didn’t include taking on sustainability issues (population, climate, water, food and energy insecurity, etc.). But if the output is people living their values at work, then taking on broader sustainability issues would be a logical next step.

The energy of the event was infectious. It’s of no surprise that everyone present was excited to invest a weekend teaming up with strangers to build something new. Multidisciplinary teams formed spontaneously around opportunity areas that were co-created with the frogs, which resulted in twenty teams competing for the $5000 grand prize. LRN and frog also pledged support for the winning team.

I spent the most time with team ROC (Return on Culture) who built Culture Spotting. Culture Spotting is a tool designed to seamlessly surface and capture the acts, moments, norms that constitute the cultural components of an organization -- as well as the means for organizations to act on their cultural intent to build a stronger organization.

To me, ROC represented the best of the hackathon -- strangers quickly banding together to build something transformative. Teams bounced in and out of project spaces and readily shared ideas and resources with their competition. This to me was more than a reflection of the ethos of #reinventbiz. It was directed action manifested from the intent of addressing culture and values in business.

The fidelity of concepts that teams created was remarkable. I particularly enjoyed catching a prototype of the winning team’s presentation early on in day two.

The worst part of the weekend was the judging. It was almost impossible to incorporate and assess all the merits of all the teams’ work in a three-minute demo/presentation. Each entry contained nuggets which had potency that would have been accelerated infinitely with just another day, but the clock was relentless. Combining forces with adjacent teams and efforts would have also moved the idea forward as well.

And there had to be a winner at the end of the weekend, of course. Team Decision Icon created #skillcloud, a forward-looking app to help people to share and show off their skills (both professional and personal) within their organization.

Did the hackathon #reinventbiz? 

No. Reinventing requires implementation and having an impact over time, as well as establishing internal cultural currency in organizations. It started here, though, with a unique and potent shared experience. Everyone came away exhausted, but energized.

What’s next? Hack sustainability. More on that this week @bsr.

The number of attendees was updated from 120 to 150 at 10:09 a.m. on June 12 to reflect new information issued by frog and LRN.