Cognitive Attends an MIT Hackathon


A group of us at Cognitive were chatting in the conference room over lunch (engagement!) when someone mentioned the idea of a Hackathon – an event where a bunch of people form competitive teams and put their heads together to tackle a problem. Wait… hold up… we can spend a weekend solving problems? It seemed like this type of event was made for us, so we did some googling around and found out that, indeed, hackathons are real! We quickly formed a team and signed ourselves up to a Hackathon hosted by the MIT Alumni Association.

  • Engagement Opportunity #1:  Laying the groundwork.  At the opening session Cognitive met Hackathon thought leaders and veterans – you know, the people who have attended 100s of these types of events and know the drill.  The goal for the Hackathon?  Identify an unsolved problem and use the Hackathon to develop a unique solution.
  • Engagement Opportunity #2:  Team identification.  The best teams include people you know and people you don’t... you know, the ones with fresh/different perspectives. 
  • Engagement Opportunity #3:  Problem identification.  Because it was a Hackathon we identified an “easy” problem… discrimination in healthcare.  But identification of overarching problems can be easy.  The challenge comes in the team’s ability to break it down into something tangible: where you understand the specific issue to the point that you get a sense for why it is a problem, and who it is a problem for.  Make sure to incorporate team members with expertise in the topic as well as those with minimal exposure who can challenge existing paradigms.
  • Engagement Opportunity #4:  Research.  OK, this is definitely Cognitive’s bailiwick, but in a weekend Hackathon (with no money to invest) we were challenged to seek out novel informational resources.  Given the abbreviated timeframe, there was a lot of googling. But the organizers of the event challenged us to get more personal – to talk to the stakeholders around the issue which we sought out via informal chats with medical professionals at the Hackathon and via “man on the street” interviews.
  • Engagement Opportunity #5:  Problem-solving.  The Hackathon engagement model challenges you to explore all potential solutions… not to settle for the first (or most obvious) solution to the issue. How do you know the process worked?  When the final product is nothing like your first idea, and that is exactly what happened with us. By the end of the Hackathon, we had gone from a meek plan – with no actual incentives to make it work – to creating a self-sustaining business model for our key issue. 

What does this mean for Cognitive clients?  Our Hackathon experience has reinforced our thinking that innovation requires engagement.  Engagement forces you to develop new ways of thinking, to problem-solve, to challenge the status quo.  Explore new approaches to problem-solving. 

This is reflected in our approach to consulting.  We engage.  Cognitive brings the thinking of a team of consultants to your key business issues.  We participate as team members on your greater team of marketing, clinical, medical, agency, and marketing research professionals.  

To learn more about how our consulting approach can benefit your team, contact