Hackathons are Masterclasses in Creative Problem Solving

After the success of Allianz’s Artvis Hackathon last year, they’ve decided once more to open the floodgates for future leaders and innovators to find creative ways to improve Allianz’ business processes. For those of you who aren’t in tune with tech, a hackathon is a sort of marathon event aimed at finding meaningful insights from data. Its 36 hours non-stop and in the upcoming  Allianz hackathon on March 8th, the winning team chosen by the jury is awarded 3 000 euros. Hackathons are pretty impressive on your CV. They're also a great way to earn prizes as well as being a common occurrence in tech. They are actually great for picking up valuable soft skills, notably creative problem-solving.

Why creative problem solving matters

Before looking at its role in hackathons, first, we need to understand why creative problem solving is such a valuable skill. Most problem-solving techniques are in themselves problematic. They are both limiting and limited. The inward focus of traditional problem solving, a.k.a. reaching a solution with the tools at hand and only those tools, creates a dry framework in which very little if any innovation can happen. For example, approaching a problem with a specific methodology like CATWOE doesn't only reduce the liberty you can take with your approach. It also limits your viewpoint to a strict lens.


creative problem solving in a team of 7 people

Creative problem solving is instead a disruptive approach. The goal is not the continuation of what already exists but the inception of something radically different. It is the search not for a solution but an alternative which takes both present and future problems into account. In the context of a hackathon, it’s an approach that ensures that what you come up with during a hackathon will be long-lasting.

How creative problem solving works

With creative problem solving, the thought process is divided into two phases: divergence and convergence. The divergent phase is one of disruption and recontextualization. Instead of ‘no, but’, think ‘yes, and’.  Divergent thinking redefines problems as suggestions for further research instead of obstacles to progress. These reframings create a different lens through which the context is viewed. This naturally leads to a bigger picture approach, which in turns builds the foundations for both sustainable and forward-thinking innovation.

Next comes convergence, the phase where you no longer suspend your judgment. Instead, you let it guide you towards the best combination of the ideas you have. During a hackathon, the divergence phase is one where you understand the problem in its depth and breadth. The convergence phase is where you reinstate your judgement look at all the solutions you’ve come up with as a team and find the best combination of them all. Finally, you realize them.

The importance of creative problem solving in hackathons

Under the banner of #BalanceforBetter,  Allianz has truly embraced the inventive nature of hackathons by emphasizing on their biggest asset: diversity.

Diversity is the starting point of creative problem-solving. Our biggest limitations arise from cognitive biases we no longer recognize and so cannot fix: think confirmation bias or groupthink. Hackathons avoid these limitations by imposing a new set of boundaries. Though this seems contradictory, creativity thrives when bounded. The imposing of limits often leads to innovative breaking of said boundaries.

First of all, the fact that hackathons are group efforts means that each team will have to create its own methodology. Instead of relying on preconceived frameworks, they have to articulate new ones in relation to the problem they’ve been given to solve. With different minds come different methods. Because the team has to accommodate everyone's idea, its members naturally suspend their judgment. This naturally pushes the team in the direction of divergent instead of convergent thinking.

team creatively solves problem

Each team has to start by not only understanding the problem in its depth but also its breadth. They then have to articulate themselves in relation to that problem. As it’s a diverse collection of people and experiences this articulation becomes both a reframing and a recontextualization. Together, diverse minds create alternatives, not solutions.

The fact that the hackathon lasts only 36 hours speeds up the divergence-convergence process. This not only leads to more disruptive ideas but also a better synthesis of those ideas. The evaluation phase is more thoroughly realized because of a team’s heterogeny instead of in spite of it.

Why it matters

Hackathons are gold mines for innovation and reflect the tech industry’s approach to progress. Progress should be fast, disruptive, both a collective and individual effort. Their teaching of creative problem solving through diversity is almost a redefinition of technological progress. #BalanceForBetter shows us that breaking boundaries requires a meshing of the technical with the non-technical. An artist interprets data differently from a computer scientist. With a diverse team, problems become suggestions and suggestions become alternatives which eventually disrupt the current business processes. That disruption is the key to winning a hackathon. The creative problem-solving approach is one that feeds off of balance: the balancing of creation with judgment, disruption with synthesis. Allianz’s #BalanceForBetter hackathon represents the gradual opening of the tech sector. Its search for balance in the innovation process through teams combining tech and non-tech represents a remarkable step in the right direction.

Interested in driving innovation or embodying #Balanceforbetter? Sign up for the Allianz Hackathon!


Leave a Comment

Image of linkedin vs bunq working environmentTwo friends working at mise en place