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How to Innovate at Flatiron Health? It Starts With a Hackathon

Search the Web for “how to innovate” and you’ll quickly confront 10.6 million results offering strategies in varying detail. “Five Ways to Innovate Faster,” one page proclaims. “How to Innovate with Intent,” another declares. “How to Innovate: 15 Steps (with Pictures)” a third says, as if the process is a Blue Apron recipe you must diligently follow. (Don’t forget to season with salt and pepper.)

The real deal, as most people know, isn’t so simple. Like free-range chickens, our creative instincts must be given room to roam if they are to generate ideas worth keeping. Which is why Flatiron Health, a six-year-old New York City healthcare services company acquired this year by Roche for $1.9 billion, conducts company-wide hackathons every three months. How to connect one cancer research tool to another? Give a handful of software engineers a few days of uninterrupted freedom and they’ll likely find out.

“A hackathon is a really good chance to spend two days working on something you would normally not have bandwidth to work on,” says software engineering manager Ann Jaskiw. “What’s really is nice is that you have permission to fail. So you can work on whatever and it’s not about the final product—you’re not delivering anything. It’s about what you learn and what you can do moving forward.”

How does Flatiron do it? Watch the video above to learn more.