I’m a life-long hacker, but only recently started to embrace this gift.
My consulting practice is focused on event marketing and experience design for conferences and trade shows. It’s a fascinating industry, but it’s also an industry that’s encountering plenty of disruption.
Learning and networking are two big reasons why people choose to attend professional events. But as digital channels multiply, expectations for live events are escalating.
Some event organizers have stepped up their event experience design game and they’re delivering sound value on both counts — many are seeing attendance increases. Others who fail to align with these higher expectations are struggling, as they watch attendance dip.
Hackathons are now catching more attention in event circles, because a well-designed hackathon can unleash richer and more meaningful peer-to-peer collaboration. Even better, those who participate in hackathons tend to be more vocal in sharing their experiences with others, which in turn, sparks an attendance uptick the following year.
Happily, I’ve been graced with nearly a dozen opportunities to design or facilitate a hackathon. With each iteration, I’m honing my skills and yes, I can attest that this model is outstanding.
Hacking: What Is It?
For some, the word “hack” stirs up fear and trepidation. It might conjure up visions of evil coders breaking through firewalls and stealing confidential data. This would fall into the black-hat category. But at the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find the white-hat hackers. The honorable types who are hacking for solutions to complex problems.
In his book, Hacking Innovation: A New Growth Model from the Sinister World of Hackers, Josh Linkner shines a light on the do-good hackers, sharing more about how companies, large and small, are tapping this model to foster creative thinking and find their next breakthrough idea.
Linkner also tees up the best definition I’ve seen for positive hacking:
Hackathons often span a day or two, with teams feverishly working on new solutions and competing for prizes. Startups are particularly fond of hackathons, as they often spark funding from investors.
For the Cleveland Medical Hackathon, the focus is on people, medicine, and technology. For TechCrunch’s Disrupt Hackathon, hackers solve a myriad of challenges through the creative production and application of technology. At the MIT Energy Hackathon, beyond generating ideas to solve real-world problems, energy companies get a glimpse of students (future talent) action. That’s far more revealing than traditional interviews.
So Where’s the Hook for Retirepreneurs?
Wouldn’t it be great to spend a day or two surrounded by forward-thinkers in your industry? The learning and networking that happens at these events is off the charts. Why sit in a theater watching a presentation, when you can roll up your sleeves, engage with other creative thinkers, and make a difference?
Keep your eyes open for hackathons addressing challenges for your industry and go participate. Invite a few colleagues to join you.
Pay close attention to the companies who are sponsoring these events. With unemployment at record lows, hackathons are now becoming fertile ground for recruiting. Most sponsors are there for that reason.
If a Retirepreneur gig is something you’re seeking, invest in business cards, because you might meet someone looking to hire someone like you. But remember, no dealing out cards – this isn’t a poker game. Be curious, ask questions and learn more about those you encounter.
I’ll wrap up this post with a two-minute video — a brief recap of a recent hackathon I facilitated with Jamie Murdock at the HIMSS Innovation Center in downtown Cleveland. Talk about the perfect venue for hacking – this was it.
Event strategists gathered for a day and a half to hack ideas to improve their events. In the final hour, five teams pitched their solutions to a panel of judges. While every idea pitched was impressive, one team was crowned champs and each member of that team walked away with a $500 prize.
Wait, learning, networking, and a chance for a cash prize, too? Yep, that’s the magic of hackathons and the sponsor was thrilled to engage with these extra-mile thinkers.
PS: We’re planning to host at least one “Hacking Retirement” event in 2019, likely somewhere in Ohio. Interested in joining us as a participant or sponsor? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org