Pen is mightier than the sword.

An agency ‘gets weird’ to foster creativity

An exercise in hacking your company culture through the fun and silly

There is a Big Spaceship in Brooklyn manned by Michael Lebowitz, an agency leader who sees the value in allowing his crew to have some fun on the job. In Big Spaceship’s latest Hack Day Challenge held at their New York mothership, in-house teams across all departments were asked to come up with ideas on how to create weird things that people will deem shareable.

PSFK got to drop by Big Spaceship to see the creation first-hand as the teams worked to deliver on a spirited brief, and to get a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the Hack Day in motion.

The theme of this particular Hack Day was ‘Ideas That Socialize.’ Projects were evaluated based on shareability, originality and, of course, level of weirdness. With the following brief from Lebowitz in hand, they got cooking:

“When we’re not limited by constraints of brand-specific messaging, what could [we] as a series of teams create with the language that everybody here speaks all day long: the language of weird internet culture — to explore that and see what comes out the other side.”

Some of the ideas that the teams worked on and hacked include an online objective 3rd party decision system and a fun, interactive elections experience that changes the political conversation around the 2016 Election.

On the perhaps-strange submissions, Lebowitz comments:

“Even though this is all fun, silly and funny, the underlying philosophy is one that we believe needs to get adopted by brands now: stop using your internal structures to articulate things externally. Your social media is not separate and distinct from your digital marketing (that’s the weirdest distinction in the world). Or, dividing your mobile experience from your actual product, whatever it might be.

Our philosophy is that we need to stop talking about social media as separate and distinct from campaign advertising, products and services experiences. These are industry divisions, but people don’t experience it that way.”

In the spirit of not separating the departments at the agency, and encouraging some of the distinctions warned against above, people from all of the company’s varying disciplines came together to participate. Charlie Weisman, a business development employee at Big Spaceship, says:

“It’s a lot of fun for a lot of reasons. We all are doing things outside of our role. It’s a good creative exercise; no one on my team represents the same discipline or job function which can always be fun and brings variety. Everybody works together, despite their level: juniors, seniors, mid-level.”

Hack Days, of course, are nothing new at the agency. In 2015, PSFK profiled that year’s winning idea: a meditation room, offering even more insight on how Big Spaceship works to elevate the goings-on of its office.

Lebowitz feels Hack Days fit into the company’s culture and the quality of their work and output. As for steering of the ship, Lebowitz admits that giving clear parameters is key to the exercise’s success:

“You need a brief. There is nothing more crippling to creativity than an unlimited canvas. We change not just the brief but the format, too; we play with it all the time. We are not just trying to just experiment with the output of the hack day but also the inputs that lead to it.”

The output from this 24-hour hack and the parameters of this brief yielded unique results. In an ending suited for the day, there happened to be two winners. There was a tie between a Twitter Royale project and a political-meme-ranking tool.

Winner 1: Emoji Kombat

A Twitter­-powered, emoji­-fueled fighting game in which top celebs battle to the death. In it, beef gets sorted out, emojis fly and famous people get knocked out. Everybody loves celeb Twitter feuds, but nobody’s seen celebs battle it out Mortal Kombat­ style…yet.

Anyone can play the game by tweeting the handle of the celeb, one of three celeb ­specific emojis (‘attack,’ ‘health regeneration,’ ‘taunt’) and #emojikombat. Verified tweeters get access to a special move, and the celebrity gets access to a fight-ending fatality. Once the user’s move is made, the handle @emojikombat auto-replies to the contributor to let them know if they’ve hurt, healed or enraged a kombater.

Winner 2: Election Meme

In this one, you vote for your favorite dank meme online to be the Meme­-in-­Chief. Through a Web-based interface, users can interact with all of the best election memes around, and with one click, the user has more information about said memes.

The products and projects run the gamut in their variety, but it’s all in the spirit of making Big Spaceships’ company culture fun, inclusive and fostering. As Lebowitz tells us:

“For me, nobody could possibly make the case that doing a hackathon is a loss. The energy goes up, people get diversity of thought; they get to step out of their day-to-day, step out of intense focus on one particular brand or category, it gives people fresh eyes, ideas. It’s a big breath for the whole agency.

I am able to see what the company is capable of producing in a 24-hour period of time — which most businesses you don’t get to see.”

The lesson that emerged is that things that are quick, sharable and digestible are what fit the zeitgeist, one that happens to be marked by short attention spans — even agencies are having to build products ahead of time because their clients’ attention spans are become more fleeting, wanting the next thing before the first is even created. With every Hack Day Challenge, Big Spaceship, an office full of explorers, is just aiming to get a head start on what the world will need tomorrow, before it realizes it even needs it.

Big Spaceship

Originally published at www.psfk.com on March 17, 2016.