5 Innovation Lessons from GeekCon

December 15, 2016
By Ofer Hacohen

Israel is a country at the forefront of the maker movement. The “start-up nation’s” vibrant tech and innovation scene makes it the perfect location for GeekCon.

GeekCon is a 3-day “un-conference.” It welcomes over 200 makers, tinkerers, hackers, entrepreneurs, developers and dreamers – virtually anyone interested in building cool stuff fast.

The main must-have? Enormous creative energy and an actual project to build (no project, no entry). GeekCon-ers are encouraged to aim very high, and expect 60% of the projects to fail.

During the event’s 52 hours, teams rapidly build innovative and, in their words, “mostly useless” creations. They use cutting-edge tech like software, robotics, 3D printing, virtual reality and drones.

Projects this year included a remake of the Space Invaders game with 8 autonomous drones and a large laser cannon mounted on a track.

The AT&T Foundry innovation center in Israel, where I work as an innovation lead, together with Amdocs, were event sponsors, and came together to play an active role as members of the AT&T Foundry GeekCon team.

This was my 3rd GeekCon event, and it was as awesome as usual! Our concept this year was to create the Generation Z Encoder. We built a game for kids to compete against adults, with a “fix” making it easy for the child to always win. We used very high-frequency sounds that only kids can hear (as you grow older you lose the ability to perceive higher frequency sounds).

GeekCon is not just any hackathon. For one, it’s on the sunny shore of Caesarea, Israel. But there are some other aspects of this amazing event that make it special.

5 lessons I learned about innovation from GeekCon I hope everyone can use:z

1. Constraints are your friend.

When our team started planning for GeekCon, we had grand thoughts about how our project would look and what features it would have. But GeekCon is only 52 hours, so we didn’t leave much time to build. We had to continuously refine the essence of our project, throwing away features that weren’t really necessary.

By the event’s end we built a great working demo with only  about 30% of the functionality we initially thought we needed, but maintaining the same effect (if not better).

The lesson? Constraints are good. Use them to focus your innovation on what’s truly impactful.

2. Surround yourself with creative energy.

GeekCon hosts hundreds of people with diverse backgrounds and skill sets. They all had one thing in common: enormous creative energy. That kind of spirit is contagious. It drove me and the team forward, sparking new ideas and opening up pathways to rethink what was possible.

Innovation can be truly hard work with many roadblocks. Surround yourself with people who are actively innovating and actually doing. It can ignite your own creative ideas and fuel your passion.

3. You’re not alone. Collaborate!

Creative energy isn’t always enough. One of the amazing things about GeekCon attendees is their willingness to collaborate and help out on other projects. By asking for assistance from fellow GeekCon-ers, I learned about new technologies and tools. More importantly I gained a new way of looking at problems and solving them.

The same applies when people asked me for help. I get a fresh perspective on things from those I’m helping. Collaborating gives you access to a wide variety of skills and talent and triggers new avenues for innovation.

4. Don’t forget to add sprinkles on top.

The most successful projects usually have a “wow” element. There’s little time at GeekCon to build your project, let alone make it presentable. But thinking in advance about how to present the project, and how the spectator will interact with it, will have a tremendous impact on how people receive it.

Our team worked backward from the demo and thought about what the presentation would look like. It helped us focus on what was really important and create a better end result. Shortly before the event’s demo session, our project was working and ready…but it wasn’t much in the looks department. With a few touch-ups, we were able to make a big difference and take it from dreary to cool.

5. Passion is your fuel.

GeekCon attendees come once a year to build awesomely crazy projects, usually with some new technology they are craving to use.  It’s a great excuse to try something new—with no real down side.

In the prep meetings for GeekCon (a.k.a PreCon) with other teams, I loved talking to people about their plans. Even more amazing than the ideas were the passion. It was what drives them to frantically dream up and build the project, and not sleep for 52 hours! It’s the passion that fuels them into rock star developers and makers, making wild ideas come true at GeekCon. 

Photo Credit: Tal Duek

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Ofer Hacohen - Innovation Lead at the Israel AT&T  Foundry

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