This is about
23 Nov 2023
This is about
23 Nov 2023
The hidden business value of Hack Days
Free creative time is often considered a gift for employees, and it is. Companies make it happen to ensure their employees' well-being, to thrive and keep up with the industry, but rarely for the actual impact it can have on their Business.
Here’s the deal: It can be a boon for business. Today, after years of “hacking", we can quantify its impact on our company. Our side projects have attracted numerous new business inquiries, resulting in some of our biggest projects.
Take, for example, our collaboration with Google Interland. This partnership became a reality years ago, thanks to a simple WebGL hack. Clients like Pluto VR and Yat found us through this blog postSee alsoProgressive Enhancement with WebGL and ReactJournal and the Blobmixer experiment. Hack Fridays has evolved into a robust marketing and innovation initiative at 14islands. However, for it to be successful, it requires equal commitment from both company owners and our team.
The power of unrestricted ideas
Many companies organize hackathons or workshops to stimulate fresh ideas or brainstorm about their products. While these are fantastic initiatives, they can sometimes limit participants' creativity by confining them to predefined topics. We realized that trusting passionate individuals with complete creative freedom can lead to wild ideas and a stronger sense of ownership. Ultimately, this approach can pave the way for innovations within product companies that might not have emerged through structured brainstorming sessions or workshops.
Quantum Wallet started as an April’s fool joke in March. Our team wanted to create something that didn’t (yet) exist. Out came a quantum computing-inspired hardware wallet for cryptocurrencies — Who could have imagined such a brief?
Most “Hacks” are brief one-day learning experiments. Every Friday, we gather internally to discuss what’s cool about this new tool and the secret sauce behind that new shader technique.
However, a simple idea occasionally creates excitement among more team members and evolves into a concrete project or product concept. After a few weeks of discussion, we assess its potential and sometimes elevate these ideas into bigger projects.
Recently, one developer wanted to explore AI technology behind chatbots and created a grumpy version that engaged the entire team, sparking reactions and laughter. People jumped in with new ideas and motivation to take grumpy bot to the next level. The future will tell us what happens after.
Equal commitment matters
This is the heart of the matter. Employees must love what they do, and companies must work hard to keep the momentum.
To make free creative time work and benefit the business, both the team and management must invest equally.
We made a game called “Barb-O-Zah!” a few years back. We all loved and implemented parts of it but dropped it. We just got too carried away with big ideas. Even though it was shaping up nicely, we couldn't quite nail down that missing piece to make it feel finished. Secretly, we’re still hoping to see the game someday.
Keeping hack days alive hasn't always been easy. We get busy with project deadlines, and sometimes we lack inspiration. We often have to skip them to deliver great client work, and that’s okay. Our hack days could have vanished years back if we hadn’t decided to create a process around it. We started developing rules around saving “hack time”, created a time tracker, and scheduled meetings for weekly check-ins. You can read about that process hereSee alsoWhy Fridays are Hack Days at 14islandsJournal.
Today, we no longer track hack time, but the team gathers every Friday to chat and inspire each other. We use a Kanban board to monitor ongoing experiments and ideas. If an idea has the potential to become a successful side project, management treats it like a client project, forms a team, sets deadlines, and invests that time and money to make it happen.
We're always learning and improving. We don't share our small experiments as much as we'd like on social media. We also stopped updating experiments on our old website's Lab page. So we decided to remove the page from our new website. Instead, we're looking into easier and more regular sharing methods, including a newsletter.
In conclusion, free creative time isn't just about employee personal growth. When embraced by company leaders, it can drive innovation, attract new business, and improve company culture. We’re proud that Hack days are still a core part of our company culture. We continue to find ways to improve the process, ensuring they remain a valuable asset for our team and our business.
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