The big business of hack-a-thons

June 18, 2017

The “hack-a-thon” is a way to break through organizational inertia and instill more innovation-driven cultures. For large organizations hackathons can help accelerate the process of (digital) transformation.   Not only can they design new products, but they are also about challenging legacy process and ways of working.  When you have to go fast you sometimes get to unleash the shackles of the past.  

 

At their best, hackathons create a structure and process around idea development 

I have participated in a few and  I see many benefits:  hacking as an interesting tool to foster change; a way to  become more customer focused; a way to manage "folk law" (the way things have always been done...more more see this )  Personally I have found my participation at hack a thong both a learning and leadership opportunity.

 

But recently I have started to consider the ethics involved:

I was invited to a large "thon" by a massive company with a huge ask, 48 hours, and a tiny prize....great prestige comes from the access of meeting senior leaders at a hackathon and if you win,  industry and peer recognition.    But  who benefits from the intellectual property (IP) rights to the resulting projects? Participants are the inventors, designers and coders, so you might think that all the rights are theirs.But hackathons’ conditions of participation may include alternative arrangements, such as exclusive rights, first-look rights, or shared IP rights. What’s more, the finalists and winners are generally given prizes or sums of money – essentially in exchange for the participants’ ideas.  Great detailed article on some areas of consideration can be found here.

 

On the agency side I would rage at the standard ask for spec work....free work given at pitches, IP owned by clients;  that no one really challenged because how could you?  Saying no to spec work meant you didn't participate in the pitch and given the hotly contested competitive market (in media) on one said no.  So we gave away our IP, our rates, our ideas.   And look at the results...in Canada seems like media agencies are playing at the bottom on the marketing services funnel.

 

In the tech work hack-a-thons are meant primarily developers and the tech community.  The idea of solving a problem, networking, meeting with friends, bragging rights about both participating and potentially winning are huge.   A quid pro quo?  Yes if the value exchange is equitable.  

 

 

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