Hackathons are yesterday’s solution to scoping out talent and exposing employees to new tech. Most hackathon participants are awesome. They are trying to learn, bouncing ideas and meeting people but, even though hackathons can be fun, they usually turn out to be meaningless and very rarely spark real, lasting innovation.
First of all, hackathons don’t involve any hacking. They are based on the premise that you can hack your way around innovation. That’s absolutely not real. You won’t be innovative just because you pay a $50 ticket or because you spend 2 working days doing something different. As we’ve said before: Innovation is a process. And processes involve *time*.
Hackathons may give organizers social media content, photos of people working hard, Instagram stories, tags on posts and so on and maybe even some press releases. But more often than not they are just an activity for the Innovation Department of a company to build a report on and send it to leadership. Or maybe a way of recruiting participants.
Without a real plan to integrate the technology, or willingness to pay the winning team to build a product that you can implement, you aren’t going to get that much utility out of the experience. Hackathons by definition are 2 days long. Innovation is by definition difficult and time-consuming.
Solving a problem in a vacuum is not possible. Hackathon participants usually don’t have the right contextual knowledge or enough technical expertise and these flaws tend to go unrecognized in the limited time that the events take place.
Innovation requires multi-disciplines and an innovation culture. If you are not interested in that, you can build another app that no one uses and solve no real problems.
Hackathons give the participants the illusion of knowledge and the illusion that problems are easy to solve if you are creative enough. Well, creativity doesn’t actually matter. Hackathons are a quick way of making people feel that they’ve created something groundbreaking but nobody’s really working on detecting real problems to solve or how to optimize processes.
There are better ways to reach universities, engage fintechs and train your staff. Instead of a hackathon, try offering university students internships, pay a fintech for a POC, and run constantly focused innovation training for employees.
Hackathons trigger blips of great energy and every team project could benefit from a well-placed injection of energy. But open-ended exploration doesn't help. Not even in the ideation phase. You need to have meaningful, structured discussions that question ideas if you want to create real impact.
Innovation is a journey of discovery AND failure. It’s an iterative process that requires patience and discipline. Not fast prizes or awards. Hackathons, with their feverish pace, scant parameters, and winner-take-all culture, don’t just sidestep this process, they discourage it. And while that’s a reason for their appeal, there’s very little evidence of hackathons that lead directly to major market successes.