3 lessons from the NASA Space Apps Challenge

This past weekend, we hosted the Kansas City location of the NASA International Space Apps Challenge. It's a great hackathon that offers the opportunity to create something meaningful to shine a light on the important work that NASA continues to do.

With just a weekend to create and build, the hackathon format creates a unique environment. There's lots of learning to take away from working in this environment. I've pulled out three lessons that I thought were particularly worth noting.

1. Are you expecting others to think like you?

The great thing about a hackathon is that you are thrown in with people of varying disciplines. Some are conceptual. Some think linearly. The challenge is to quickly find a way to communicate and work (you only have the weekend after all.) This is a great exercise in understanding the value of ways of thinking that are different than yours.

2. Is your idea advancing the project or is it just different?

Discussion will spawn lots of ideas. As your team refines a solution, you will have to make some judgement calls about your input. Does your idea significantly advance the solution or is it just a different way of solving the challenge? You may love your idea. But if it doesn't advance the solution and poses a threat to the momentum of the group, you should think seriously about how hard you push for its inclusion. This is a great lesson to apply to your everyday work – even when you're not operating under an extreme time crunch.

3. Are you stoking the passion of the team?

Getting to a great solution in a hackathon requires a little bit of magic. You can find that magic in the chemistry of the team. If the chemistry is good, passion will grow. That passion is infectious and can have a compounding effect. If you take care to guard and stoke the passion of the team, you will discover results that surpass your expectations. That's a great lesson. Moreover, it's magic you can conjure in your everyday work.