As a coach for the 2014 LeadingAge Hackfest in Nashville, I was reminded that collaborative innovation is fun and frustrating. Time constraints can positively and negatively impact innovation. You have less time to flush out your idea; however, you are forced to be decisive. In the corporate world, you have time. If you are a true innovator, you may quickly develop something before the world is ready. If you are calculated, your product will be cutting edge as well as adopted by users. If you are slow and late to market, you will drown in competition.

Previously working at a collaborative technology company prepared me for the Hackfest round table discussions and white board usage. In the corporate world, we use project management tools such as DACI, which stands for Driver, Approver, Contributor and Informed. DACI labels are assigned to each team member to increase productivity and decrease confusion. But during hack fests these types of labels are not used. As a team, everyone is a contributor. Consensus must be achieved to move to the next stage of product development. This can be challenging when the team is not familiar with each other.

Hackfest participant Nikhil Baviskar from Washington, D.C. shares his experience about reaching consensus. “I thought we never were going to get there. There were a lot of starts and stops.” For Bobby Blackburn from Nashville, the resistance was challenging. He explains that everyone has their own idea and trying to articulate your ideas can be difficult. Judi Bonilla from San Diego says the process was very uncomfortable for her because she works by herself. “As an entrepreneur when you have an idea you run with it. You don’t need agreement to push through with your ideas,” says Bonilla.

The coordinators of the 2nd annual LeadingAge Hackfest built the teams based on skill set. Ten teams met for the first time on the Friday night before the annual conference and began “hacking” Saturday morning. Hacking means defining the problem, brainstorming the solution, and building the product by storyboarding, designing and coding. Simultaneously each team needs to create a 15-minute presentation to give the judges on Sunday afternoon. The presentation includes aspects of a business plan such as feasibility, marketing and revenue.

Team personality and experience

“There are always challenges you have to work though. It all works out in the end,” says Hackfest Day Team organizer Juliet Kerlin, volunteer from It’s Never 2 Late. Kerlin was a coach in 2013 and shared her experience with team dynamics. Each person has a different way of contributing. Some may have their own agenda. Introverts will talk less and those with big personalities will try and drive the conversation.

For those who are younger developers still in college, they may have little experience working on a team. The Hackfest provides the experience you need for real life. “Fail fast and keep going,” says Bonilla. When you have to build a product in less than two days you build resilience. You learn quickly.

One of our team members who may have learned the most during the experience was Reverend Hal Garman, our 78-year-old elder. Each team was assigned an elder who represented millions of older adults who need products to help improve the aging experience. Our elder from Asbury in Maryland spent his entire career as a spiritual leader and traveled to other countries on missions and pilgrimages. As a retiree, he spends time breaking down barriers of culture and inequality for his personal fight towards social justice.

Redefining the hacker model

The Reverend was one of the most engaged team members. He demonstrated a tireless passion — and I know after the first 10 hours he must have been exhausted. While this fest is mostly intended for the younger “learner” to gain knowledge of problems faced by the aging population, it is the older folks who are invigorated by having a purpose and sharing their wisdom.

I recommend that senior living communities across the US combine their intergenerational activities with their desire to seek technological solution. Create a hackfest of your own with your residents and local college and high school students. The answers you seek may be revealed by your own residents. And the local students want to find ways to live and work in their own backyards. For us in the Sacramento region, we lose so many talented young people to the Bay area where they go searching for opportunities and higher pay. The opportunities exist in their own backyards if someone can just show them the way.

Congratulations to the 2014 Hackfest winning teams: Excite (1st place), Adage and Primed (runners up).

Lola Rain has over 15 years communication and technology experience, and enjoys being a coach and mentor to students of all ages. She is the Director to Social Media for Eskaton, a non-profit serving 14,000 seniors in Northern California.