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Hackathon Pilot Update #2: Research notes and a hack zone prototype

by Chris Grams on March 21, 2011


chris-grams's picture

Hackathon Pilot Update #2: Research notes and a hack zone prototype

Since I suspect many of you won’t have a whole day to spare reading almost 100 Human Capital M-Prize entries, I’ve put together something of a highlight reel for you. My hope is that this will save you some time while also uncovering some possible hack zones for further study during the Hackathon Pilot.

My process? Basically, I tagged all of the entries as I read them with key thoughts and ideas, and when finished, I tried to synthesize these thoughts and ideas into some overarching themes. If you have the time and would like to read the entries yourself to see if you notice similar themes or discover your own, I’d encourage you to test my analysis and share the results with the pilot team.

But if your time is limited, consider starting with the ten M-Prize semi-finalist entries, which Polly wrote a nice summary of here. These are all fantastic, and are only a taste of the great ideas contributed during the contest. I’ve highlighted many of my additional favorites in the five possible hack zone categories I'm proposing for consideration below:

Possible Hack Zone #1: Shared mission, values, and meaning

In a post late last year, I talked about how shared mission and common values were two characteristics common to many of the best communities I’ve personally encountered. In reading over the M-Prize entries, I was overwhelmed by the number of people who had stories and hacks to share around this idea of creating shared meaning. In fact, probably the majority of the entries in the contest at least touched on the idea of alignment around a common mission or sense of meaning as critical to enabling communities of passion.

Some entries, like To engage and impassion employees we must learn to manage mental energy by Mark Clare addressed the psychological underpinnings of human passion. In his entry, Mark proposes a methodology for systematically creating and capturing “mental energy” by addressing the psychological needs of employees.

Mark Webster, in his hack entitled Communication strategy to reality: change with a twist, suggests that the key to alignment is creating clear stories and telling them within the community over and over. I couldn’t agree more: there are great stories and legends at the heart of every passionate community I’ve ever encountered.

One entry by Michael Lewkowitz even suggested that core purpose could be treated as a platform. Michael is putting his time where his mouth is by building an application called that might help organizations align their efforts around a core mission or purpose.

I’d suggest that those interested in this hack zone also look at the hacks and stories surrounding the closely-aligned Focus the Work of Management on a Higher Purpose moonshot.

Possible Hack Zone #2: Autonomy, freedom, and personal accountability

Many of the M-Prize entries were either hacks or stories that would help create more autonomy for employees by increasing their freedom to control their own destiny. Most of these hacks and stories showed how, by giving people more freedom, organizations can often receive more personal accountability in return.

I had read many of the M-Prize entries when they originally came in, but one that slipped under the radar for me was a great story by pilot participant Peter Hunter of how he helped the crew of a Venezuelan oil rig reduce the time it took to “skid a rig” (I’m still not sure what that is, but it sounds important) from eight hours down to 55 minutes. Peter’s story, entitled How to get people to do what you want without telling them what to do, is a great case study of how to generate an atmosphere of autonomy and personal accountability within a community by eliminating command and control practices and giving community members more say about (and more pride in) their own work.

Drew Williams’ amazing story Restoring faith in the institution: how mission-shaped communities revitalized St. Andrews remains one of my favorite stories I’ve seen on the MIX. In it, Drew talks not only about building shared purpose but also an approach based on the theory of “low control, high accountability.” This concept formed the core of a powerful community model that helped the St. Andrews church community triple in size between 2003 and 2008.

The M-Prize contest brought out lots of great hacks that pave the way for future exploration in this hack zone. A few additional favorites to check out:

- Don’t be afraid to engage the masses by pilot participant Tricia Emerson

- Ignite the light: spark employee engagement through a game-changing approach to corporate social good programs by Bryan de Lottinville

- Commando mentoring by Steve Todd

Possible Hack Zone #3: The Architecture of Participation

MIX Maverick Tim O’Reilly has been talking for years about the architecture of participation—the foundation upon which great communities are built. The M-Prize entries indicated that the underlying architecture of passionate communities relies on two key types of infrastructure: technical and motivational.

My favorite stories highlighting technology infrastructure supporting collaboration and sharing within communities included M-Prize winner Doug Solomon’s story about the internal knowledge-sharing system at IDEO, Patricia Romeo’s story about the internal enterprise social network at Deloitte, and pilot participant Peter Robbins’ story about the Spark Network community at GlaxoSmithKline.

Yet I believe those who focus on technical infrastructure by itself are falling into a tool trap. Technical infrastructure must be accompanied by a shared purpose, sense of freedom and autonomy, and often even that isn’t enough. Which is where some of the great hacks and stories for further build up the motivational infrastructure of the organization fit in.

My fellow MIX guide (and pilot participant) Ross Smith wrote a nice overview of many of the M-Prize posts involving techniques inspired by the world of gaming to motivate community members. And there certainly seemed to be multiple hacks suggesting motivational techniques involving getting employees to devote a percentage of their time to things they believe in, including pilot participant Kartik Subbarao’s post about creating a bonus fund and Gavin Symanowitz’s post about 10% passion time.

Still, I think there is room to explore the technical and motivational infrastructure much more deeply.

Possible Hack Zone #4: Eliminating hierarchy and control issues

While these first three hack zones all relate to things we can do to enable communities of passion in and around our organization, this fourth one covers a barrier that, according to the M-Prize entries, needs to be eliminated. Many users pointed to traditional command and control management and hierarchy as the enemy of engaged, passionate communities.

In his post entitled Vision-led freedom: the key to reigniting management innovation, pilot participant Bill Nobles went so far as to suggest hierarchical control issues with the current management model are at the very heart of all of the MIX moonshots. Bill offers some ideas for how to eliminate hierarchical control through something he calls vision-led freedom, a methodology offering up ideas that inform hack zones #1 and #2 above.

Andres Roberts, another pilot participant, tells the story of his company, Kessels & Smit, which is based on a founding principle that a hierarchical environment isn’t challenging for knowledge workers. At Kessels & Smit, they’ve created an environment without managerial or organizational structure where individual passions are aligned to the work.

But while many people have ideas for how a community of passion should look, I saw a big open space for ideas about how to change or deal with hierarchical organizations we face today. I’d love to see more hacks and stories that show, like (another pilot participant) Alyson Huntington-Jones’s story about Masco Corporation, how to force the transition from a hierarchical environment into a Management 2.0 environment.

Possible Hack Zone #5: Enabling passion beyond the walls of the organization

The final hack zone I’m suggesting we consider for the Hackathon Pilot is one that takes the Enable Communities of Passion moonshot beyond the scope of the Human Capital M-Prize contest. By limiting ourselves to the context of employees of an organization, I believe we are only studying a subset of the communities Management 2.0 can influence.

In my own work over the past few years, I’ve focused on building passionate communities not just within but also around and between organizations and people. To this end, I believe a study of how to enable communities of passion beyond the walls of the organization, using many of the same concepts covered in the hack zones above, will be a discrete and valuable area for further exploration.

Now what?

I'll be eager to hear what you think of my synthesis. Feel free to comment directly below. If you are a member of the pilot team, we'll begin a deeper discussion of these hack zones and others you suggest over the next few weeks using our pilot collaboration platform.

I’ll be sure to report regularly on our progress right here on the blog.

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alyson-huntington-jones's picture
I am still researching and digesting the information to help clarify my thoughts further. But  thing I am pondering on is this....what about tying your hacks into a holistic whole and once we have that determining what we attack first and attack them in a series. In end, much like a house we would end up with at least one and likely several "blueprints" for people to use to build a community of passion. One blueprint may be for someone establishing a brand new organization. Another for someone wants to transform an existing organization. There can be overlap in essential building blocks, but there can also be unique things as each are different. We could also create a generic one that anyone could then pick up as a starting point to start their building.  
So for example, here were your areas of potential hacks. I am seeing these a building blocks to include in an overall blueprint. 
Possible Hack Zone #1: Shared mission, values, and meaning
Possible Hack Zone #2: Autonomy, freedom, and personal accountability
Possible Hack Zone #3: The Architecture of Participation - technical
Possible Hack Zone #4: Eliminating hierarchy and control issues
Possible Hack Zone #5: Enabling passion beyond the walls of the organization
Take a new organization/community I want to build from scratch. Process steps would be:
First #1 define a shared mission, values and meaning. What are best practices in era of motivation 3.0 (per Pink's book we have 2.0 and now need to move to 3.0) in this area? What options/best practices/hacks can we recommend. So define blueprint on how to think about/build vision (purpose), mission and lastly, values that support both. 
Second - attack #4 and #5 together with #3 - how build hierarchy free organization/community that operates well internally and also is built to operate beyond walls of organization. My belief that organizations will and should be built to operate like this. Technology now helps us to do this. We hack this part and come up with some possible blueprints. 
Third - attack #2 as this is all about creating ecosystem in organization/community which best enables people to thrive in organization and best drive toward achievement of #1. If the second is the building/structure/envelope (to talk in building/architecture terms) then this piece is the interior design of the space. So once we have a building or buildings then what kind of interior ecosystem(s) best fits/operates well with space and people in it? 
So at end no we have something functional that people can pick up and start using to help build or transform organizations or communities that operate well in 21st century. These then can evolve and improve as new ideas, technologies, etc come about. But at least we have created a best practice blueprint base that people can start from? 
My 2 cents for now.
chris-grams's picture

Hi Aly!

I knew there was a reason why I didn't want to pre-define what Phase 4 of the pilot looked like, and you've just proved it here. Your suggestions may provide a very compelling way for us to make the final "chapter" we write usable for people in different types of organizational situations. I love the idea of contextualizing the information for organizations being built from scratch vs organizations that needs to be transformed.

Be careful or you may just volunteer yourself for some synthesis work at some point down the road:)

deborah-mills-scofield's picture
As much as I "preach" prioritizing to my clients, sometimes I hate doing it myself - case in point, your 5 proposed hacks!  #1, 2 and 5 (like alice) resonate the most with me.  In fact, having had a long discussion with my husband, a tenured Physics prof at Oberlin College, #1 is forefront on my mind given the whole issue around tenure (is it good/bad) and motivation...and how academia in particular is so bad at this on many levels that superficially 'make sense'
Will review these more this weekend - perhaps during the big UNC-UK game???
alice-williams's picture
Thank you Chris for this thoughtful synopsis. I am eager to dig into the entries in more depth, but I first wanted to offer an enthusiastic vote for further exploration in your proposed Hack Zone 5. Coming from a focus in the nonprofit sphere, establishing communities of passion outside the office walls have been critical for not only expanding the limited capacity and resources of organizations, but also for rooting large-scale policy or institutional work in the real lives of those on the ground.

I also saw, however, that this was the hack zone with potentially the least materials to reference. Later this week, I'll add a write-up to our conversations about one such exceptional beyond-the-walls community of teacher leaders - one where I had the distinct privilege to teach, learn, and be inspired daily. On a more theoretical level, I think that this notion of communities of passion that stretch beyond or connect organizations is so critical, because often the most innovative change can come in the interstices, the unique syntheses, or the bringing together of outliers, that is not possible within a single organization or culture.

Excited to join such a dynamic group, and I look forward to learning from all of you,
Alice Williams