This academic article was written by Prof. Hila Lifshitz Assaf, Dr. Sarah Lebovitz (here), now Assistant Professor in University of Virginia, and Dr. Lior Zalmanson of the Coller School of Management at Tel-Aviv University. They followed 13 TOM Teams in two TOM Makeathons in 2015-2016. The authors were fascinated by TOM because of the unique environment, which is created during in the TOM Makeathons due to very limited time framework of 3 days, ambitious goals of having a usable working prototype of a hardware product, lack of prior acquaintance among team members, loose structure and near-absence of process, which academics refer to as ‘temporal ambiguity’.
My favorite highlights are: “...this study left us truly stunned by what can be achieved in three days. It changed the meaning of 72 hours for us - and for the individuals with disabilities who waited for years for companies to produce the products they needed.” and “...this study reveals [TOM’s approach of adaptive coordination (GG)] as a new type of coordination that provides a golden path for ad hoc innovation processes under high time pressure…”
In addition, when following 13 TOM Teams they observed that:
• Seven projects ended with no working prototype (see more about that below). These teams were ‘fully coordinated’ by compressing and condensing standard best-practices of innovation processes into the 3-day time frame. They often reached consensus on a ‘big bet’ early on and stuck with it in spite of the challenges they faced, which turned out to be wrong. Namely, merely ‘accelerating’ innovation and creativity failed.
• Six teams produced working prototypes. Surprisingly, these teams were minimally coordinated, namely, team members simultaneously explored different options toward their goal. Three of these teams remained minimally coordinated through the entire process, and one of their sub-groups eventually produced a working prototype.
• Three of the six ‘successful teams’ delivered fully functioning products. While being ‘minimally coordinated’, namely allowing their sub-groups to pursue alternative paths of designing the solution, these successful teams were also ‘adaptively coordinated’. Namely, they gradually converged around the successful idea through constantly providing feedback and supporting each other.
In a phone conversation with Prof. Lifshitz-Assaf, she told us that this research expands the boundaries of current understanding of ad-hoc innovation processes.
Additional Insights and Takeaways
First: TOM has gotten much better since 2016, with the experience of nearly 90 Makeathons by TOM Communities, earning us the title “The TEDx of Social Action.” Our approach and methodology, which are actually based on ‘minimal coordination’, are much more robust, with much greater emphasis on the Pre-Makeathon process that enhances prospects of success.
Second: the results of TOM may be even better than reported in the article, since the three-day makeathons actually lasted only 48-60 hours and not the full 72 hours as planned.
Third: No knowledge lost in TOM: in most hackathons, all failed projects and even many of the successful ones never reach fruition. In TOM, even ‘failed’ efforts contribute to the overall advancement of TOM due to rigorous documentation of all challenges and efforts, even failed ones. Since all TOM Solutions are open-source, there are no barriers to sharing all ideas as part of a global open-innovation effort.
Gender in TOM: Women Do Better in Makeathons: Hidden in the annexes of the article is a very interesting point about gender in TOM. The research covered 13 TOM Teams. While Only 30% of all members of these teams were women, four of the six teams that successfully delivered a functioning product through ‘minimal coordination’ had a majority of female participants (75%, 67%, 60% and 50% respectively). Meanwhile, the other seven teams, which were fully coordinated but failed to deliver a working prototype, were 60%-100% male-dominated. That point alone is worth an entire new research!