What This Year’s Company Hackathon Taught Me

“Nothing wilts faster than laurels that have been rested upon.” – Percy Bysshe Shelley

We are running invisible races every day. The pressure to be bigger, better, and faster has organizations scrambling to motivate their people. Money, perks, benefits, and a slew of other intangibles are brandished on company websites trying to attract talent. Once aboard, more effort is exerted to keep good people there. It’s really hard to accomplish this.

So, what’s keeping me happy where I’m at?

We recently held our fourth annual Rocket Science at Bottle Rocket, where we shut the entire company down for a day and see what we can accomplish in 24 hours. After last year’s event (my first), I vowed to give every ounce of energy I could to the event and see what I was capable of. While I am not sure I fully understand how to give 100% of myself, I feel I got darn close this year.

Even at 3 AM, I found myself fueled by creative juices (in addition to large amounts of caffeine). The two main projects I focused on were the sequel to a movie I made last year, and a better diabetes app. The first was good for some laughs during the presentation, and the second I hope to actually make this year. The rest of the my free time I walked the halls and asked how I could help. As I laid my head down Friday afternoon to crash, I felt a sense of accomplishment.

I made some cool stuff, and got paid to do it.

Nothing we made generated revenue for the company. A few things (like the diabetes care app I designed), might see the light of day someday down the road, but for the most part we just exercised our creative juices for our own benefit. Those dividends are what help shape a culture. Not just for one day, but for my entire career. Here are a few of those.

“I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning… Every day I find something creative to do with my life.” — Miles Davis

Much of my daily work doesn’t really involve creating something new. I mean, I know in the long run I’m working to help create empowered teams that communicate well during the process of shipping amazing apps. There’s just not a steady stream of physical evidence of that every day. I can’t pick it up and show someone like I can a You Tube clip.

I needed that.

That shot in the arm reminded me of what I have to offer the world. Yes, my daily work is valuable to my organization; otherwise they wouldn’t keep paying me to do it. To stretch my creative juices in new ways, though, encouraged me to ask what else there is out there I can make.

Folks everywhere need to be reminded of that. So often, we get bogged down with our quarterly deliverables and financial goals that we forget the value of shipping your own creativity. And if being creative is already your daily focus, are there other avenues you haven’t explored yet? Last year’s Rocket Science taught me to challenge myself. This year, I learned I’m capable of so much more.

“Science never solves a problem without creating ten more.” – George Bernard Shaw

The event ends with a presentation of all our work, with each team getting three minutes apiece. It’s just enough to get a taste of all we created. Of course, after staying up all night we all head home to crash, but the next Monday we all come in wanting to talk about each other’s ideas. Some have questions on “real world” applications of the creations, and others pass on the, “man it would be cool if it could…” type of feedback.

Either way, each and every one of our passion projects opened up a Pandora’s box for further exploration.

Shaw’s quote here points to the result of learning. We encourage constantly growing in knowledge at Bottle Rocket, which create ten times more questions that need to be answered with every hypothesis. Is this product something of interest to our clients? Can we integrate this service into this app? Do we need a You Tube channel of all our video creations?

Each answer creates more questions. We work to answer what’s worth answering and keep iterating. That’s how companies innovate today.

“My art is not limited to the songs I create but also to the reaction it creates.” – Marilyn Manson

While staying up all night to create as much as you possibly can in 24 hours sounds enticing, but is a lot harder than you would think. Everyone hits a wall where the idea doesn’t quite pan out, or the technical implementation doesn’t quite fit. Several projects could only manage a prototype, or a fancy research spike because there are just some hurdles you can’t get over at midnight.

Reaching that wall helps you learn what physical, mental, and emotional limits you have. Beyond that, imagine the benefits of pushing past them to reach for the stars.

Conversations after Rocket Science lead to common interests being found. The number of co-workers that struggle, or know someone who struggles with diabetes was surprising. It was also beneficial to get feedback on their care and how I can integrate those learnings. I was also able to generate new ideas for health related apps that might the app store someday.

All this from an agile coach who wanted to try something new for 24 hours. Imagine what you can do when you test your limits.


2 thoughts on “What This Year’s Company Hackathon Taught Me

  1. wow Chris! I really liked your latest post about your hackathon efforts. Really awesome! Great adding the Miles Davis quote 🙂


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