I’ve worked in a few places that have had hack weeks or hack days; a simple little thing where the whole company stops for a while and get to spend some time making something that you’re really passionate about.
This was first made famous by Google and their Google Time that have produced amazing products like Google Earth and Gmail. (That linked article, by the way, is showing my point of this post with painful clarity)
At every place that has had this kind of opportunities and practices I’ve also seen people skipping those days, because:
- We are too busy
- Well, that’s cute - but this real work needs to happen now.
- Not this week, but next.
That’s dangerous. Those silly habits are what is building your culture. Without that (where hack week is just an example) you are not you anymore.
We have these days in Aptitud, the consultancy where I work. We call them Aptituddays and the same things happen every time we have them. People don’t have time.
So we decided that Aptituddays is not an optional activity - it’s obligatory presence for everyone in the company. It’s one of the few things in our company that is required.
Should you not find Aptituddays interesting - we want to know about it so that we can make them interesting and fruitful for everyone. We don’t want you to not come. Because that is what we are.
Because if we stop doing the Aptituddays then we are just “any old” consultancy. We are not. We are Aptitud. And at Aptitud we do Aptituddays. That defines us.
I play in a Salvation Army brass band, Vasa Band. We are very particular in every rehearsal having plenty of time for devotional and spending time together as a Christian group. Becuase that is what we are.
So one rehearsal before we record a CD we still spend 30 minutes (out of 2,5 h) for devotional. Because if we did not - we would not be Vasa Band. We would just be Band.
This focus and priority are defining us. Everyone that joins our band knows this pretty soon and can choose to be part of our group or not. It’s important for our group to do this practice.
My last client
Never are these silly practices more important than when you start them up. At one client we introduced hack-days every other Friday. One team were under heavy delivery pressure and most of the team skipped out of hack-days.
What we soon saw was that the people that didn’t join hack-days also was the people that didn’t really got into the group. That missed out on our internal jokes, celebrations for successes and suggestions for new ideas.
There a nice story that is sadly debunked, about Winston Churchill. Even though it’s not true, there’s wisdom inside.
The story goes that Mr. Churchill suggested an increased budget for the culture department, in the middle of the second world war. A big debate, of course, followed: How can you say that when our soldiers are dying? We need to give all our resources to the military? We can get by without music for a while!
The answer was brilliantly simple and clear:
Then what are we fighting for?
Because we are defined by the things we do, our strange habits and quirks. All of that make up our unique culture. If you take that away we are not us anymore.
Don’t skip your hack days just because you are under pressure now. What value is a met deadline when the soul of the company is gone?
A culture takes a long time to grow but can be destroyed fast. Skipping you “cute quirks” is chipping off a small piece of you.