The world of hackathons brings the study of balancing high-speed, creative autonomy and administrative control to bear in many interesting ways. In these high-pressure environments, how do hackathon organizers chart a path to success, and what can industry managers learn from them? We participated in more than 10 hackathons across different domains, such as health care technology, finance, machine learning, and assistive technology, carefully observing, shadowing, and interviewing both hackathon participants and organizers. While hackathons are time-limited bursts of creative and collective energy that ultimately are very different from day-to-day organizational work life, we found that managers can harness this kind of collective energy and find a balance between desired autonomy and control for their employees. Successful hackathon organizers set the stage before the hackathon to allow easy access to experts in relevant fields. Hackathon organizers promote new ideas by removing themselves from providing feedback and creating a safe environment in which new ideas receive very early peer-to-peer feedback. The strategies suggested above, taken originally from hackathons and adapted for contemporary organizations, allow managers to leverage the creativity of their employees and help them perform at a higher level of engagement while maintaining directorial oversight and general control.
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