Not to brag but we’ve been hacking for some years now. Here we’ve updated and expanded on our 2015 blog post to let you know why we still love hacks (and why you should too).
A hack is a time-restricted, issue-exploring, and idea-generating event, where participants come together to create a series of potential solutions to a problem and quickly test them in the real world. The ideas themselves might be realistic or impossible, obvious or completely wild. In any case, the strength of a hack lies in the insight you can gain into why a problem occurs and in the transformation from thinking about what the solution must be to understanding the many solutions there could be. Hacks are never the end of a journey, but they are often the first step on the road to real change led by a group of enthused team members who can own the process and transform an organisation. Also, there is coffee and, quite often, cake.
20 reasons to hack – and love it
1. Tackle a wicked problem
“That’s just something we can’t change”, “this same thing comes up again and again”, “we’re in a vicious circle”. Hacks are a great place to address your ‘wicked problems’; things which seem too big, too complicated, or too impossible to solve. You might not uncover the perfect solution right away, but it’s a chance to bring all actors, stakeholders, and knowledge together to move things forward and start addressing these ‘impossible’ issues.
2. Research against the clock
Time is precious, especially when it’s comes to a hack. You can’t research the whole world, but if you use your time wisely you could find a golden solution. Hacks are a great way to help you recognise your limitations, prioritise, and know when to stop.
3. Test your skills in the real world
It’s always healthy to get away from your desk and experience the world outside the office. Go on, step outside, see the problem in the real world and get to work on it.
4. Work with people with different expertise
The best hacks bring together experts with different backgrounds from across society. Remember, we’re all experts in something and all have knowledge to contribute in a hack. Work alongside and learn from people working at every level of an organisation, with end-users, with people who work with your end-users, and with partner organisations. Have your mind and your network expanded.
5. Learn to use open data
Data and datasets can be scary words if you don’t deal with them every day, and even scarier when you are trying to consider how to make use of this data in a meaningful way. Use a hack as a chance to rummage around in the depths of your organisation’s data and discover what it can teach you about your users or how it can help to make an experience better for them.
6. Experiment with service design
It’s a brave new world out there, and service design is part of the ever-growing landscape. Believe it or not, ‘doing design’ is very simple. It’s really just problem-solving in a way that puts the needs of the people involved first. At a hack you can have a go at using the tools that help designers solve problems. Paper templates, programmes, and methods will help you to understand and communicate a problem quickly and work through it with confidence. Tools aren’t mandatory and they certainly aren’t homework; but they can be a great way to kick off your thinking and create solutions to everyday issues.
7. Develop your business skills
It’s one thing to have a good idea that fills a need but it’s another to turn it into a viable business. Polish up your skills in a friendly, fast-paced environment by iterating your ideas, developing your pitching skills, and meeting possible future collaborators or customers.
8. Brainstorm like never before
There’s nothing like a good brainstorm to generate creative, radical solutions. It’s all about quantity over quality in a hack. You only have a few hours or days so don’t fret about landing on the perfect idea straight away. Have lots of ideas, have them often, and test them straight away.
9. Meet your future employers or employees
Looking for your next big break or employment opportunity? Hacks can be a great space to seek out opportunities and identify exciting individuals for your next business adventure. They’re also a great place to meet other talented individuals and be inspired by how they work. Maybe they’ll be the next addition to your organisation?
10. Prototype at the speed of light
Make it fast and make it now. Rather than having endless discussions on what exactly the right thing might be and what it might look like, hacks are the place to make it first and ask questions later. It will all get a little bit Blue Peter, but by building things, by bringing them to life, we can quickly understand how they might exist and work in the wild (…or how they won’t!). You’ll be amazed how quickly you can pull together a rough draft and how much you can learn from even your earliest prototypes.
11. Test ideas with real people
When we try to solve problems, it can be very easy to make assumptions about what other people will respond to. The key is testing our assumptions and then adjusting them according to our findings. Until you’ve tested your prototype with ‘real people’, it’s just a model. It’s natural to want to ask people ‘what they think’ of your idea, but at a hack you’ll be persuaded to actually let them experience it, to observe how they interact with it, and to iterate based on what you learn.
12. Learn to pitch ideas
Hacks are the perfect place to pick up and practise those all-important pitching skills. Practice makes perfect, and believe us, you’ll be pitching endless amounts of ideas throughout a hack; to your team, to ‘real people’, and to all the hackers.
13. Get inspired!
Meeting new people, thinking on your feet, and discovering new ideas and solutions in a fast-paced environment is a great way to get the inspiration flowing.
14. Experiment with new technologies
Whether you are computer shy or tech mad, hacks are the perfect setting to get to grips with new technologies and see where they could take you. Remember, you’re working against the clock; it will be messy, you will break things, but then you might just put them back together again.
15. Make friends
Meet people who think and operate similarly or differently to you, learn from each other and you might just end up building friendships that last longer than the end of the day.
16. Develop leadership skills
In such a team-based working style, which increasingly mirrors our working lives, you’ll all need to play leader at some point. A hack is a great place to experience and try out different leadership styles, and see how people respond to them. Which styles work for you? For your team? Is it better to lead from the front, behind, or in the midst? A hack lets you figure it out, creating a sturdy basis for the next time you’re in charge.
17. Give public speaking a go (if you want!)
Hacks are spaces where failing is encouraged and celebrated. You’re all working towards the same goal, so your audience is always behind you. If you’re a nervous public speaker, it’s a great place to swallow that fear with the support of your teammates, fellow hackers, and facilitators, as well as learn from others.
18. Turn great ideas into start-ups
Most hacks operate under the ‘creative commons’ concept; the ideas generated there exist in the public realm, available to all. However, don’t worry about ‘keeping your idea to yourself’. An idea is nothing without an audience and a movement around it, and particularly without an enthusiastic and varied team. Use hacks to explore your ideas with others and bring them to life.
19. Brush up on your team skills
There’s no I in team, and there isn’t in hack either… The great thing about a hack is that in such a short timeframe you’ll quickly find yourselves divvying up the tasks, finding new ways to bring everyone’s ideas together. By the end of the event you’ll have no clue which idea was whose and you’ll be one slick, problem-busting team-machine.
20. Most importantly, have fun
What better way to figure out problems than having fun while doing it? There will be rubber chickens, there will be moments of spontaneous hilarity, there will be the silliest of ideas. Creativity comes best to us when we are enjoying ourselves. We’re curious creatures and exploring problems and ideas with others really sparks our imagination. Even when things get tough, your facilitators will be there to help you step away from yourselves for a while and to reset your mood. You’ll laugh long and hard at a hack, even if you don’t think you find rubber chickens particularly funny.
“The experience of Snook guiding without intrusion and providing the right environment where all comments and ideas are potentially valid is one that could be mistaken for chaos, but is probably closer to genius.”