The MBA M-Prize's Winning Hack

Last Monday, the Management Innovation Exchange announced the winners of the first MBA M-Prize, which I wrote about some months ago. From 114 entries (or hacks) that offered proposals for correcting flaws in current management practice, the judges initially narrowed down the field to seven finalists.

Arriving at a winner is never easy, but the judges for the final round (I was one of them) eventually gave the nod to an idea that in some ways reflected the contest itself. Submitted by two HBS students, David Roth and Alka Tandon, it's called Late Night Pizza: Extending Hackathons Beyond Technology. (The runners-up ideas were Organization Structure as Free Market, submitted by an IMD team, and Stopping Incremental Change and Fostering Bold Moves, from a LBS team.)

For the uninitiated, a hackathon is when programmers meet to do collaborative computer programming, but has come to mean intense ideation events, where teams come up with new ideas; they're most popular in technology companies like Facebook. Both Roth and Tandon had worked as management consultants before seeking their MBAs, and they understand that tacit knowledge is critical for professional service companies. They also recognize that these organizations usually lose a lot of tacit knowledge because employees infrequently intersect with one another, and because time pressures in a projects-based world erode organizational insights.

They therefore proposed a hackathon designed for professional service companies. Aiming to make their version more than an exchange of ideas, they offered mechanisms for regularly developing initiatives right from the ideation stage (think: brainstorming) through to the implementation stage (read: pilot). Applying this concept could be a low-cost way to bridge the gap between generating ideas and implementing them.

The MBA M-Prize is all about ideas that challenge the status quo and are easy to test through experiments. In fact, the contest itself was an experiment, one designed to test whether we can get fresh perspectives on old issues by crowd-sourcing ideas from bright young people who have not been brainwashed by our current ways of thinking about management.

Based on the submissions I studied, the experiment has undoubtedly been a success. All the entrants thought creatively and offered several proposals for improving organizations. Choosing one winner may make the others look less relevant, but every person who stepped forward to share an idea is a winner; the effort puts them a figurative step ahead of the pack. That kind of initiative counts for a lot in life.

As for the winning team, the biggest test lies ahead: Piloting their proposal in HCL Technologies over the next six months. If they are able to further our organizational reinvention, their version of a hackathon will truly be a winning idea.

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