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Reinvent Business

Audacity and hope over digital apps: An arbiter’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 Liz Maw, the CEO of Net Impact. Read the first hackathon postcard submitted by BSR's Ted Howes, who wrote from a judge's perspective. The second postcard was sent in by Dan Riegel, a developer who works at EnergyHub in New York City.

Can a weekend hackathon reinvent business?

Absolutely -- and not so much.

Allow me to explain. 

When the judges for the Reinvent Business hackathon -- myself among them -- convened to review the 20 different projects produced by code geeks, designers, gamers, academics and business people in just two days, we quickly coalesced around three that would eventually be declared the winners.

Based on our judging rubric, we chose ideas that seemed most likely to take off and shake things up, and we gave credit to teams who put their ideas together with a compelling story and presentation.

The winners offered impressive presentations of feasible ideas. The judges commented behind closed doors, though, that there are versions of these ideas that already exist -- although adoption has been mediocre. Each of these teams added their own unique and creative spins to employee engagement, customer feedback and employee satisfaction.  

There were a few other projects that jumped out with potential to be developed into a “reinventory” (if I may invent a term). If our judging criteria had been based purely on originality, one of these might have won.

Photo of Reinvent Business hackathon team Return on Culture courtesy of Ted Howes

One example: a group proposed adding a candidate’s future potential and passion to the resume and hiring process. Another group came up with a happiness index for companies. And another thought corporate culture could be revolutionized from a crowdsourced Twitter-like platform for employees.  

While these ideas may have been more creative, they weren’t presented in ways that we judges could fully understand the business model, believe in its adoption, or connect the dots between the concept and the result.

Innovation for innovation’s sake won’t get us to real-world answers that change business. We need products and services that will make sense to the market. I hope these teams keep it up, though, because there were sparks in the presentations that have the potential to be truly revolutionary if lit by the right match.

I left the event inspired and optimistic that the hackathon did reinvent business, at least for the participants. The attendees started the weekend passionate about creating change, and the hackathon gave them new tools, connections, and ideas for how to do that.

Whether these revolutionary business hackers do indeed quit their day job (as several of the winners exclaimed), or take a new perspective toward their daily work, they now have a taste for hands-on innovation and collaborative problem-solving.

More importantly, they've engaged in the practice of reinventing business -- making it all the more likely they will continue to do so. What we need to reinvent business is not a new digital app, but more audacity and hope. Kudos to the hackathon for delivering a high dose of both.

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