Do a Hackathon they said…

Hello fellow Hackers,

A little more than 6 months ago I was approached by a handful of digital lone wolves with the idea of initiating Germany’s first Hackathon entirely dedicated to what we see as the future of communication: Chatbots.

Hej Bothack.Berlin!

Yes, exactly: chatbots, something everybody seems to have an opinion on today. Instead of following the same day in, day out philosophizing routine — the exact infinite grind that holds most companies from innovating today — we wanted to shape the future ourselves, first-hand.

We invited Berlin’s digital creme de la creme along with the leading experts on chatbots and a few brave and forward-thinking corporates including Telefónica, ING-DiBa, Microsoft, IBM, Amazon (adding up to some twenty partners involved) to help us on our quest, a task no smaller than “Hacking the Future of Communication”.

To be honest, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into and neither did anyone else: endless weekends and night shifts at our office, all of which now seem insignificant looking at the benchmark we set:

  • 48 hour hack
  • 24 hours of coding
  • 100+ participants
  • 20+ partners
  • 20+ teams
  • 17 bold ideas

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Why are chatbots the future of communication and why will nothing ever be the same again — again?

A lot has been written on chatbots and I don’t want to repeat too much here. Conversational interfaces such as messaging and voice will unarguably change the way we interact with computers and consequently reshape the way we communicate with companies, brands etc. — paired with today’s battle for the single most important customer interface. Uber’s Chris Messina wrote a great piece on why they are a revolution.

The underlying technology besides NLP (Natural Language Processing) is Artificial Intelligence or — at least as we see it in most environments today — some gradation of AI. AI is what enables truly personalized communication — something esp. agencies & brands have been hunting like a unicorn for the last decade. It will allow us to facilitate 1:1 dialog with users, not only in the context of NLP but across any interaction that we have in the digital sphere. Also check Jan Rezab’s article on LinkedIn.

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What do Hackathons have to do with Corporate Innovation and why should you care?

Whenever we face new challenges there’s that notion of falling into a state of shock. People rather try to defend the existing than explore the emerging. We see it all around us, everyday. And this is exactly the behavior that prevents corporates from succeeding in the digital age. Unable to act on emerging trends, slow to embrace change, held back by what has helped them become, they are outrun by digital pioneers that will be dictating tomorrow’s economic gameplay.

Cancel your Silicon Valley safaris — Hackathons can teach you everything important about organization & leadership in the 21st century:

Organizations are our only hope. They’re also completely broken. Let’s not settle for boring, ineffective, inhumane working lives. Right? Right. The Organization is Broken. – Clay Parker Jones

Interdisciplinarity:

Gone are the days where fixed corporate structures and dogmatic silos helped achieve anything. Gone. Instead we build fluid teams across hierarchies & functions to fulfill their mission as independent entities.

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At Hackathons team sizes are limited: 2–5 members, not more! As spots are limited you really don’t want to have anyone on your team that doesn’t contribute an incremental value to the product. Designers, developers, strategists form small, effective teams; these roles are fluid, too: every team-member works on the end he’s needed most, not the one he signed up for.

Collaboration:

Death to all meetings! Meetings, as widely practiced today, are one of the reasons for today’s corporate lethargy. The idea of placing a group of people in a room to talk about “what should be done” never leads to solutions that fulfill the purpose. It merely makes for consensual mediocrity.

At IDEO we dislike these kinds of meetings too. So we found a simple but elegant solution, captured by my colleague Dennis Boyle, in a saying I call Boyle’s Law: “Never attend a meeting without a prototype”

At Hackathons there are no meetings (in a traditional sense). Why? They’re unnecessary: Teams collaboratively develop ideas and immediately implement and refine them. Decisions are made based on results, not assumptions. Our belief:

Teams are understood as living entities in a constant exchange with their environment. Especially in a hackathon-like setting your success is highly dependent on outside knowledge and expertise.

Self-Organization:

Surprisingly teams are driven by a shared purpose that they’re all willing to commit to, not top-down command. When confronted with a challenge teams develop independently and follow their own dynamic based on their immediate purpose. No need to interfere!

At Bothack.Berlin we had some twenty teams that all spontaneously evolved around the challenges set, their individual motivation and the necessary roles. These teams developed more than twenty ideas in less than 48 hours. Next time you try to be a boss: think again!

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Infrastructure:

Create an infrastructure that supports the purpose, not uniformity: innovation needs a platform that’s defined by transparency, availability of information and the immediate access to needed resources.

It is astonishing to see what happens when you put some 20 teams in a feels-like-home environment and set them up with all the above: teams autonomously progress in a constant exchange with their environment.

Even in a self-organized, decentralized, collaborative, and high-trust future (in fact, especially in that future), people will need to navigate their organization. Data will need to flow transparently and fluidly across the network. Roles and projects will need to be created, filled, and disbanded with increasing frequency. – The Org Chart Is Dead, Clay Parker Jones

And finally: don’t take yourself too seriously!

Fear of failure is what keeps people from making bold moves — although this is exactly what we need today. So instead of creating a culture trimmed to perfection we need to create an environment that encourages experimentation, not perfection. Our belief: 

Get the best people together, confront them with a problem and give them the freedom and autonomy and the infrastructure needed to develop the best solution possible. It’s as simple as that.

Today’s organizations need to be understood as platforms anyone engaged in can create value upon: The Platform Organization.

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To everyone involved: We’re still speechless! You’re simply amazing! Without you none of this would have been possible!

Two words: Thank you!

Yours,
 Bothack Berlin Team