Every year, our organization Emory Entrepreneurship & Venture Management (EEVM) hosts HackATL, the most prominent business hackathon in the Southeast. In this year’s HackATL, participants will have 48 hours to develop a prototype centered around the theme “Adventure is Out There”. The hackathon is coming up this fall and there is lots to be excited about, so we’ve decided to spotlight this event through a HackATL Article Series. Every month, one article in our newsletter will be related to HackATL, whether it’s about the event itself or tips on how to succeed in a business hackathon. Get excited for some wonderful articles leading up to the grand event, and we hope you enjoy this first article detailing key aspects of the hackathon process- how to ideate and prototype.
While there are numerous aspects that are crucial to innovation, there is one factor that seems to be the keystone element: the ideation process. When reflecting on extremely successful businesses, there is typically more focus on the impact the businesses have created within their respective industries, leaving behind the intriguing question of “how”. How did these innovators think of such revolutionary ideas to common problems?
Frankly, there is no simple path, answer, or equation. The concept of ideation, while distinct as a whole, is extremely flexible internally. Some entrepreneurs may experience the sought after “a-ha” moment while others embark to discover and search for what solves their target problem. Bill Gates most likely had a much different ideation process than Walt Disney, but they both had to undergo this process- a process devoted to generating, developing, and communicating new ideas.
Ideation typically occurs after a problem is identified. In the traditionally used Design Thinking Process, ideation occurs after one researches and connects with a problem. This is a time to connect passion with practicality and catalyze one’s interests into a wide range of solutions. Ideation is all about thinking big, asking the right questions, culminating perspectives, and uncovering undiscovered areas of thought.
As the grand scale of the ideation process can make the task seem difficult or intimidating, there are various techniques commonly used to facilitate the process. One important one to begin with is simply asking questions: “How might we solve the issue of…?”. With this question in mind, you can then move on to brainstorming ideas and pumping out answers to this key question. When brainstorming, don’t be afraid to experiment with unique or out of the box methods; if a simple discussion is not leading to a lot of ideas, don’t be afraid to try other forms such as individually writing ideas down, or getting up and physically demonstrating and sharing ideas through movement. Creating storyboards or mind maps where each member contributes their own part of the end result can also be a great way to combine creative thinking, and actually drawing or writing out scenarios is an excellent way to really bring solutions to life. Prioritize quantity and abundance, and don’t be afraid to ask “dumb” questions or consider the “worst possible” idea. Ideation is not about finalizing what would be the best plan, it is about creating the ground for your innovation.
After ideation, the prototyping phase takes place, where the implementation of your ideas starts to develop.. Now that an abundance of ideas and possible solutions have been created in ideation, you can now test the ideas and put them in action. This is a time where ideas become more concrete and therefore, comparable and testable. In this phase, people typically create an early stage, inexpensive form of their innovation. This is highly variable as well, prototypes could be a wireframe of a website or app, detailed sketches, or even real models. Prototypes can vary in terms of their extensiveness but the main goal of creating these examples is allowing for evaluation and testing. After this testing, you can then alter the prototypes so they are more effective, practical, and well-received by the target demographic. Now, I should clarify that while ideation is extremely important, ideation is not equivalent to innovation as a whole. One quote that really exemplifies this is from Garry Lyons, CIO of Master Card. “Innovation without execution is only ideation”. This is why prototyping is also so crucial, as it ignites the process of actually creating real and feasible solutions to your passion or problem.
As someone who has had some experience with both of these processes, I feel that there is really no exact “right way” to ideate or prototype, but there are ways to promote productivity and action during them. Whether you embark on these processes in a rapid-pace hackathon or a long-term effort, I feel that one of the most important aspects is to simply remember the why. If your group’s or personal passions or drives are prioritized, the daunting task of creating ideas and products will seem much more rewarding and fulfilling. It may bring you one step closer to truly understanding how many innovators have led such impactful journeys from their ideas.
Written by: May Zhou | IQ Associate