Experimental Civics

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Use these tips to hack your creativity and generate hackathon ideas

How to jumpstart your creativity and generate ideas before a hackathon.

Before you start a hackathon, there are typically a lot of questions buzzing about your brain:

  • What’s a great project that can impact my community?
  • What are some community pain points?
  • How can one project make an impact?
  • Will people think my ideas suck or that they’re worthwhile?
  • What happens if no one likes my ideas?
  • Is the project impact scalable?
  • What if I hit a wall with my ideas?

There’s a ton of things to think about when you participate in a hackathon, whether you’re running a project or planning to hack a challenge.

How can you channel your energy to jumpstart your creativity? The first quote that comes to my mind when I think about sparking my energy is, “Create something today, even if it sucks.” Whether you’re stuck in traffic, sitting on the bus, daydreaming in a meeting or even having trouble getting to sleep at the end of the day, it’s important that you create something.

Let’s do it together. First, let your mind wander. Human minds are trained to spot patterns and things that we don’t like first …

So what don’t you like?

As I’m sitting here typing, I’m looking out Austin’s downtown skyline. It’s early morning and I’m wired on coffee.

Some rooftops (that are not actually Austin, but same deal) | Photo Credit: Vladimir Kudinov

My first thought is that I don’t like how grey and boring the numerous building rooftops are… I start to think about energy and how each of these rooftops could be filled with solar panels…

Or… what if these rooftops were converted into communal spaces? How cool would it be to wave to other people from other buildings as you’re hanging out? That might create a sense of connected community where interactions are transparent, open, playful, and exciting.

Then I think about how technology could play a role in telling the history of this city, perhaps with lookout points where interactive boards show the development of the land over the course of a decade, or even a year.

Next, I think about color. My inner child suggests that I buy some brightly colored paint and “accidentally” spill it over a rooftop just to see how I would feel when looking at it.

Paint it | Photo Credit: Jadson Thomas

Even though I’ve only been flowing for a few minutes, my mind has already started wandering into some interesting places.

Let’s recap:

Where You At, Yo?

I’m feeling well rested (I slept like a rock last night), I’ve had some food, and I’ve had my morning dose of espresso mixed with coconut oil. What’s your typical state when you’re trying to be creative? Are you sweating in a crammed subway at rush hour? Or are you cozy on your couch under a pile of blankets?

Laser Beam Focus

Think hard about what bothers you in your current surroundings. Ask yourself those “what if” questions. “If the rooftops were all bright colors, how would I feel?” “If traffic lights weren’t manual, how much more time would I have on my hands not sitting behind the wheel?” “If we had better street drainage, would I have stepped into that massive puddle?”

Keep the Ideas Going

It’s worth pointing out that this is not the time to think about whether or not your ideas suck. This is the moment when you should simply throw out any that might improve the thing bothering you. “It looks grey. What would energize me? Let’s put some paint on it.”

It’s better to have 1,000 bad ideas then to have none at all. Once you accept that most of your ideas aren’t the best, or that other people might not like them, you’re basically in the clear to be as creative as you want.

Engage Empathy to Assess Impact

Thinking about what bothers you is great, but civic action asks you to take that one step further and look at the people around you. Try to enter their situations and imagine the things that might be frustrating or concerning to them.

Maybe a mother to your left is struggling to keep her children at her side during rush hour — if only there were handles in the subway that were at child height and easier to grip.

Maybe a startup founder on your right just moved to Austin but knows nothing about the history of the city or the capital building in the background. If only there was an easy and interactive way for him to learn more.

Hackathons are a chance to change your world for the better. Get out there and make your contributions count! You can make a difference.

By now, I hope that your juices are flowing. And if not, contact me and let’s brainstorm further, I’m always here to help: experimentalcivics.io

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