What a hackathon can teach your company about agility

Trying to stay relevant in 2014 can feel pretty impossible. If you’re a frequent viewer of and, the pace at which things happen is staggering.

Luckily, the secret behind this agility isn’t locked inside some gamut for the Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones types. It’s literally under your nose…at your closest hackathon.

If you’re in Toronto, there are plenty of opportunities, including UofTHacks, StartupNorth, #DevTOSpaceApps, Get Your Bot On! and Hackernest. I was recently at Hackernest’s Construct event, which was the city’s largest hardware hackathon. Over 100-plus of the best and brightest came from the GTA, Ottawa, and Waterloo alike.  I can attest that the 17 groups who survived came out with impressive sci-fi worthy gadgets, the likes of which I’ve never seen before.

You can learn a lot from these up-and-comers in the industry. These aren’t necessarily the people coming straight out of college and university, but the special kind that find themselves at every major Hackathon. While you’re out a day or night a week networking, they’re spending their entire weekend at a Hackathon. They’re educated, connected and eager.

What happens when you lock these educated, technologically savvy and eager people into a room for 2 days?  Strangers meet and epic ideas get turned into real life things.

Here’s how to restructure your thinking to match the new pace of business – the hacker mentality:

1) Innovate often. 

Have an idea? Bring it up to a few trusted members of your team, advisers and/or friends to see if it has any legs at all. Then ask yourself, will it change the world? Will it create an impact? Is it worth investing in? If the answer is yes, take action:

  • Brainstorm its conception (not a business plan, just the five W’s)

  • Build a no-frills version

  • Formulate an executable plan for the end-product


2) Operate Lean.

A project only needs as many staff members as it takes to get the job done. Nothing more. Big companies aren’t so good at this. They often put together teams based on organizational structure, as opposed to what’s needed for that particular project.

The simple way to do it is:

  1.  Scope out the project
  2. Identify required staff
  3. Fill holes along the way


3) Take action quickly.

Do you know how long it took to create the first Google Glass prototype? I can hear you guessing – six months, three months, two weeks? It was actually one day. This is the new innovation model. Act swiftly or someone else will.

Part of this has to do with your mindset.  Which call to action makes you want to take action?

  1. Build a new gadget that will help our bottom line.
  2. Build a new gadget without any considerations about business viability.

If you want to be a long term success, you need to find ways to innovate faster. If you want a glimpse of just how fast this is, I suggest you sign up for the next Hackathon (link goes to Hackernest as a recommendation from me. I don’t have any affiliation with them, but I’d love to).

If the idea of a hackathon scares you, tweeter and social media geek Brent (@SecretWeaponMda) of Hackernest recommends attending a tech social as a “fear-free place to started.”

Ashley Huffman
Ashley Huffman
Startup, technology and girls in tech evangelist. Can be found behind the scenes at Nano Magnetics Ltd getting things done. Professional @Nanodots builder and Guinness World Record holder. Fan of life hacks, Scrum and WOW, in no particular order. Self proclaimed Twitter addict.

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