tl;dr – A proposal for a Reasonably Interested Community of Hackers as a loose network of people to work on half-baked ideas – no commitment necessary, just share and help.
Probably my best experience of ‘organised’ innovation in my career so far has been the ‘10% time’ organised by Tristan Ferne (and others) at BBC Audio & Music in 2008-2010. The premise was simple – 10% of your time each week, i.e. every Friday afternoon, you could spend on your own project, providing you shared the results with others, and it was in some way relevant to the BBC. Every so often (monthly, I think, but possibly fortnightly), a meeting would be called, where people would share work in progress, and those with new ideas could pitch them and ask for help. This was an excellent way of fostering a community spirit amongst disciplines – no-one claimed to be an expert, there were no cast-iron commitments to finishing a piece of work, it was simply this – if you want to help build something, to build upon an idea, take it and run with it, to contribute to helping someone else’s idea come to fruition, or to learn and share knowledge, this was the space to do it. It was excellent.
But, for whatever reason, 10% time is no more. There are, of course, more organised or formal ways of ‘doing’ innovation – hack days, R&D groups, the BBC’s Connected Studio. Not all ideas fit nicely into work remits or structures though. Sometimes you don’t really want or have a brief, or a challenge, or a short time frame and a competitive environment. Sometimes you just want a friendly space where you can share half-baked ideas – people are free to build upon them, help you realise them, or ignore them entirely. And, as is probably obvious to anyone who’s been reading this blog or has spoken to me recently, there’s things I’d like to try, things I’d like to learn, that just don’t tend to fit in those existing boxes. Sure, I could take these on as completely personal projects, learn and build them on my own – but that can be a difficult and frustrating experience. I don’t want to avoid this entirely, but when I know there’s people out there who could help, it feels silly to ignore all that, struggle and most probably give up in the end. Similarly, you could just blog and share it with Twitter and the rest of the Web – this is fine, but sometimes you need more of a bounded box of interested parties, so things don’t get lost in the noise.
Today I met up with Mark Simpkins (somehow, for the first time), after planning to meet with Chris Thorpe (another time!). We talked about an idea that Mark had been discussing around an alternative conference format – something in between a formal, present your slides, conference, and a completely free-for all unconference. What was needed, he said, was somewhere you could take a half baked idea, maybe show a very small amount of slides, but mainly discuss it with a group. The notion of a ‘salon’ was brought up.
To me, though, this brought to mind the atmosphere of a comedy improv, or sketch group – one where anyone could contribute an idea, and it would be quickly worked up into something (prototyped, if you will..). Half-baked ideas were celebrated. Ideas should be met with a ‘yes, and’ rather than a ‘no, but’. This doesn’t always work – sometimes when you have an idea, you want to follow that exact idea through – but this should be possible – you can follow through an idea, see what happens, but you could also let others be inspired by your idea and go off in a completely different direction. It’s all good.
So – I know there’s plenty of talented people out there. People who’ve got interesting ideas, and the ability and/or skills to help bring them to life. You don’t have to commit any time to this – just listen in, and if there’s something that takes your fancy, you can volunteer to help, in any way you see fit. Bring your ideas, too. Any and all skills are welcomed, even if you’re not a coder or designer etc. I’d expect we’ll need a mailing list, a wiki-space, and perhaps somewhere to meet up (pub?) once a month to share things.
As I say, no commitments necessary – but if you’re willing, able and interested, why don’t you join –
a Reasonably Interested Community of Hackers?
(is richlist.org or similar available??)