It Doesn't Have to Be an App

I had a great opportunity to participate as mentor at the Future City hackathon (23-25th October) initiated by Tallinn Ülemiste City at TalTech Innovation and Business Center MEKTORY. I would like to share a thread of thought that occurred to me there on creativity and designing in teams.

Ülemiste City was looking for solutions to real-life future city challenges and there was another task to solve and develop solutions for TalTech - Tallinn University of Technology and neighbouring science park Tehnopol. Fifteen teams took on the challenges, bringing inspiring strongly creative energy to the event.

Why did majority of the teams present apps as ideas?

When sitting in the mentor panel and listening to mid-hackathon team presentations I got a feeling that something had happened to the truly crazy ideas. Virtually every team presented some kind of an application as an idea. I have nothing against apps, but it seemed too obvious and too safe. I speculated in my mind that participants, even though they were still mostly undergraduate students, felt insecure about bringing their creativity forth. Maybe it is the essence of hackathon, where winning solutions should be “doable” by sponsors or maybe it is the team dynamics or just difficulty letting oneself go.

Is the design workshop (sprint and its other incarnations) method enough for unleashing creativity?

I have firm belief in the design thinking mindset and trust the method. Especially because I have witnessed good results of human centred design process (no matter how it is called) first-hand. But could working in a team (although ideation is done individually before sharing) and applying democracy (by voting to select ideas that will be worked on) be counterproductive to creativity. What if true genius remains unrecognised?

Most likely there is no perfect set-up suitable for all to foster creativity, but whenever applying a design method, it should be critically analysed first. We need more than new apps, we need to figure out the best ways to bring out all the amazing ideas from people who want to create, from those who are investing time into hackathons and those who aren’t. Surely the companies who make the effort of bringing their challenges to public like this deserve it.




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