HiDef’s CEO goes behind the scenes to explain how our internal innovation program has become the best way to maintain cutting edge services, retain an engaged staff, and sharpen our collective mind.
The Case for Recess
School recess. Remember those good times? I sure do.
I remember my heart pounding when I successfully jounced the playground bully off the balance beam to claim King of the Hill status for 15 seconds one cold morning in first grade.
I recall watching a friend navigate the monkey bars feet-only and challenging myself to do the same.
I recall countless soccer games that honed ball and social skills alike.
The more I reflect on my formative years, the more I believe recess played a pivotal role in providing a platform for mental, physical, and social innovation.
It turns out, the research shows I’m not the only one that feels this way. In his book Recess: Its Role in Education and Development, Anthony Pellegrini details the ways in which having recess is “a no brainer.”
If recess in primary school is a no brainer, how might we leverage the same creative energy within an organization?
HiDef’s answer to that question is our internal innovation program, CauseLabs.
CauseLabs: A Playground for Innovation
Deep in the psyche of every employee at HiDef is a drive to do something of value. In our day to day we do this when we partner with organizations to act as catalysts to their mission using our skills in product strategy, design, and development. Our secret weapon in our service line up is not a particular technology or process, however. It’s a mindset.
How does CauseLabs work?
We take one day every two months to innovate. We call these days Lab Days. But the time before and after each Lab Day is part of the overall value of the program for us. Here’s how it all plays out:
1. Drawing Board
Leading up to each Lab Day, we throw ideas on the Drawing Board, where they get discussed, inspired, and simplified. Peers can vote on the ones they love, providing a barometer for how much traction an idea might have. Before each Lab Day, folks promote the ideas they want to work on from Drawing Board to Lab Day. Participants who need help from a designer or a developer can create a role and have a colleague apply for the role.
2. Lab Day
Lab Day starts at 8am sharp. The trumpet call is given, and it’s off to the races. Innovate hard. Throw caution to the wind. Come back from recess huffing and puffing.
Now, some teams set up development environments the night before. Some teams–gasp–are so excited that they start tinkering a few days in advance!
3. Show and Tell
At the end of each Lab Day, we show each other what we built, gather constructive feedback, and learn from the whole experience. Sometimes ideas are so cool that we can’t help but show them to the world or develop them further (check out the projects we’ve open sourced on GitHub). One project has even been spun off into its own company now led by HiDef’s founder. You never know where an idea will take flight!
4. Back to the Drawing Board, or on to Launch!
The ideas never stop flowing. In fact, the best part about CauseLabs is just having a place to bring ideas. Most ideas don’t get worked on past Lab Day. We think that’s awesome. Some ideas get completed in one day and represent an advancement of an internal process. That’s great, too. Some ideas, like My Story, grow up into real products with demonstrable impact! Whatever happens after Lab Day, we always return to the Drawing Board and the mindset of innovation that CauseLabs instills.
Aprender Jugando – Learn Playing
CauseLabs is really a university of sorts that improves the services and skills we offer to partners. Books, online classes, seminars, webinars, and other traditional ways to get up to speed on something have their place, but there is nothing better than learning by doing. The benefits to our staff are enormous, but the improvement spills over into the core of what we do as well: serving alongside partners with digital services.
Keeps our service offering fresh. Our team gets on-the-job training with new technologies. Pairing the focus of on-the-job time with no-holds-barred experimentation, you can do a lot in just eight hours. Children who have recess are more creative problem solvers and adapt to change. Designers and developers with CauseLabs benefit in the same way, going back to partner work invigorated by play.
Improves delivery. Building stuff in a day makes you question stuff that takes two weeks to build. “We built this in one Lab Day, why can’t we build that in two weeks for our partner?” Lab Days constantly challenge our assumptions and estimations for our partners. Since starting Lab Days we’ve decreased our delivery time on partner work considerably as well. Of course, release cycles for larger scale projects will be longer than anyone wants, but we like the idea that we’re always finding ways to cut time without cutting corners.
Engages the whole employee. With so many businesses trying to combat employee disengagement like the plague, we think CauseLabs is a big part of why 100% of our staff say they’re satisfied with their job and their work is meaningful. Drawing Boards and Lab Days keep us spunky and keep us in the right frame of mind: spritely, out-of-the-box thinkers. It helps us to believe in things as they could be and not only improving what they are. The ability to think past present reality and into the best way to attack a problem.
More Recess, More Innovation
Part of innovating is being willing to take in what others are doing and see how it might apply to your organization. Does your organization need to systematize innovation? Would love to share some ideas. Do you have an awesome story about a program or process that has spurred innovation? I’d love to learn from it. Hit us up on Facebook or Twitter to talk playgrounds and sandboxes for a better world.