I just flew back from NYC, spending the day yesterday in the Stack Overflow offices participating in StrategyHack, a hackathon for startups and strategists. It was an amazing experience, and I’m go grateful to the organizers for selecting me and providing me an awesome, awesome opportunity. In true hackathon fashion, we met, drank coffee, brainstormed, strategized, and shipped, all in less than a day.
It had all happened pretty fast. I had applied to participate in StrategyHack around the end of October. I was quickly notified that I was accepted, and began making plans to fly up for the day. It’s a NYC advertising/marketing/startup/technology community focused effort, so everyone else was just getting up early on Saturday and heading into the offices, but the team at StratHack reassured me that I’d be fine flying in, and the only thing I’d miss would be the mixer event last Thursday. That did kinda bum me out because teams were announced, and it would’ve been a great chance to meet the startup I’d be working with and spending some time with my new teammates. But I’d be alright, so I flew in Friday afternoon and flew back Sunday morning, giving me the entire Saturday to participate. Begrudgingly I tried to get a good night’s sleep even though I was staying down in Chelsea, which I think we can both agree, is a great place to be stuck on a Friday night.
I was fortunate enough to draw both a great team and a great startup. The Startup I was paired with was CreativeWorx, makers of the Time management/tracking software “TimeTracker”. I had attended Adobe Max earlier this year, in May, and they were an attendee whose tool piqued my interest because of its integration into CreativeCloud. As a CreativeCloud “Power User”, I was intrigued. The actual person that we were partnered with was Mark Hirsch, CEO of CreativeWorx. He’s an amazingly smart guy with a passion and an idea that you can’t help but get caught up by. He could talk to you about the idea, the business, the competitive landscape, the challenges, the successes… he wasn’t afraid to try new ideas and was completely engaged in the whole process and brought so much to the table.
Joining me in a tight, smart, enthusiastic three-person team to tackle his challenge was Cindi Rosner and Hiroki Murakami. Two terrific teammates who jumped in with both feet and really hit the ground running. By lunchtime we were beginning to understand the challenges that Mark faced, and were starting to gel around a central “theme” or idea. That was right around the time the StrategyHack final presentation requirements went out and we realized we had only a couple of more hours before we had to have a C-suite level presentation ready to go and present to a tough room that wouldn’t hesitate to challenge your assumptions and make sure you were on your toes. It’s time like this that you see first hand that pressure can crush things mercilessly, but also produces diamonds.
As we were walking off after presenting our comprehensive strategic vision concisely eloquently in the supplied six minutes (it goes by fast!) and successfully fielding a few astute questions, I was able to gain further insight into what I picked up from my WALTER experience at SXSW. The “hackathon” process of high pressure, forced focus, with real deadlines and real deliverables, is an entirely appropriate framework for quickly gaining traction among multiple discipline projects. The ability to come together, focus on a problem, engage teams of thought leaders to think outside of comfort zones can really result in great things. As we’re tasked more and more with providing solutions, and those solutions are taking the form of complex ecosystems, the need to explore various iterations of tightly integrated teams becomes more and more important. It’s not enough just to have them in the building. You have to throw them together in ever-increasingly complex combinations. This ensures that you’re actively seeking to find the right combination of spark, timing, insight, inspiration, and enthusiasm. You’ve got the brains and the talent, now cook them in different soups and see what works in pleasantly surprising ways.