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Is innovation is the key to a successful business? It is, but it cannot be a one-time thing.
The key to a successful business is sustained innovation.
The key lies in sustaining the culture of innovation that you started off with when you began operating out of your dorm room/garage, even after growing out of it.
However, it is easier said than done. Companies employ different strategies to foster innovation like Google’s famous ‘20% time’ policy. Some spend millions, some outsource it to their R&D departments, and then there is Facebook.
Facebook uses hackathons—a simple and cost-effective tool for sustained innovation.
Hackathons are a big tradition at Facebook. They are deeply embedded in the DNA of the company and woven intricately into its culture. It is the breeding ground for creativity and innovation.
In the words of a Facebook employee, Pedram Keyani,
“Every couple of months, a few hundred of our engineers unleash their talents in epic, all-night coding sessions and often end up with products that hit the internal and external versions of the site within weeks. These are Facebook hackathons.”
The first official company-wide hackathon took place in 2007. Since then Facebook has conducted a total of 50 major hackathons, almost one each quarter.
Apart from their internal hackathons, Facebook has also hosted over 80 hackathons and workshops in universities and cities across the globe.
What makes Facebook hackathons effective?
It is well known that a number of innovative products and features are the result of Facebook’s internal hackathons. Prototypes of ideas that are shortlisted are often developed overnight!
But there is more to these events that meet the eye.
It is okay to fail
Failure is usually treated as something negative. While it feels awful to fail at anything, It is important to use that same failure as a stepping stone to improve and succeed. At Facebook hackathons, not all ideas transform into products but that doesn’t stop employees from participating every single time and coming up with awesome ideas—in some cases products.
Code wins argument
There is a saying at Facebook, “Code wins arguments”. Rather than arguing over whether an idea will work, the hackers go ahead and build it. If the idea gets a lot of upvotes, then they present their ideas to the engineering team. If the idea manages to win over enough people, it is pushed into production and in the next couple of weeks, it reaches over a billion people. Internal hackathon at Facebook is a seamless innovation process that produces great products time and again.
Doing what you love
There is only one rule for Facebook hackathons—you cannot work on your everyday task. Often, you get caught up in everyday tasks and forget to pause, take a step back, and think about the long term.
Now, imagine that once in a while, you have the opportunity to break out of your routine and work on anything that you like. In such cases, you are more likely to work on something that you are passionate about rather than something that is assigned to you. Your will pour your heart and soul into the project trying to make it a success. The best results are achieved when people work on what they passionately believe in. This is exactly what happens at Facebook hackathons. And there is no better feeling than seeing the product you helped to build being used by millions of people.
Good ideas can come from anywhere
One of the prominent mobile features of Facebook that allows businesses to buy promoted posts was developed by Peter Cottle while he was interning at Facebook. Facebook hackathons are inclusive and a good idea is valued irrespective of where it comes from. Anyone can call for a hackathon and everyone can participate irrespective of the rank and file.
Anyone who has attempted to make their product, marketing, and sales teams work together know how daunting it is to achieve cross-functional collaboration. Nevertheless, it is vital for a business to be successful. At Facebook hackathons, employees post their ideas on an event wall and anyone who shares an interest can jump in. They can team up with anyone from the company irrespective of their department, role, and function.
Make it fun
Facebook seems to have cracked the code to engaging employees. It’s simple—engage with the employees in a way that they deem fun. While the idea of fun varies from person-to-person, developers who love hacking are always up for hackathons. It is the ultimate fun.
Creating a culture of sustained innovation
A hackathon is a simple innovation strategy, which when implemented correctly, can truly create an innovative culture that is sustainable.
It is a best practice that every company must borrow from Facebook and the companies that bet on innovation seldom lose.
**What are your tips for conducting successful internal hackathons?**
Also published on Medium.