How to hack your way to great ideas

Hack Week paint can
In 2011, when Dropbox had just 35 employees, we held our first-ever Hack Week. It gave us a chance to get back to our roots: small, agile groups of creative Dropboxers solving exciting problems together. We transformed the office into a giant workshop, and turned the ideas that we’d been dreaming up into reality. Since then, we’ve grown to over 1,200 employees in offices around the world, and Hack Week has grown into a beloved annual tradition of exploring how we can make Dropbox better for our users.

As we kick off this year’s Hack Week, we decided to take a look back at some of the ways it’s been essential at inspiring our creativity and innovation. Go ahead, try these things at home (or at work), and incorporate a little Hack Week spirit into your own life.

Switch gears
You’ve probably heard about flow — that state of concentration where you’re in the zone, getting your best work done. It’s hard to dispute the benefits of flow, and we’re big fans to say the least. But when it comes to breaking out of ruts and making room for new ideas, we find it helps to shake things up a bit. Hack Week gives us the perfect opportunity to spend a little time outside our comfort zones, and change our routines up. Pretty soon, we realize that we’ve opened ourselves up to new perspectives and ideas — ones we might have missed out on if we’d kept doing the same old thing.

Learn something new
While a lot of our energy is focused on creating during Hack Week, we’re also encouraged to take the time to branch out and learn new things. Dropboxers with unique skills often host workshops and courses about everything from gamification techniques to the basics of computer science. Not only does this give us a dose of mental exercise — a known path to happiness and longevity — it also gives us new insights we can take back to our regular jobs when Hack Week is over.

Take risks
A driving force at Hack Week is the support we receive for pursuing our wildest ideas, even if we’re not sure we’ll succeed. The goal is to take big bets — the kind that Dropbox itself was been built on — and disregard the possibility of failure so that we can get even one step closer to increased happiness for our users. As Henry Ford said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” We practice being bold and fearless during Hack Week, so we can see beyond our limitations and do truly great things.

Form a new team
It’s no secret that meeting people of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and experiences helps expand our minds. During Hack Week, Dropboxers are encouraged to work alongside people they might never encounter in a typical workday. People from different teams and locations expose us to new ways to think about our company, our customers, and the world. Plus, we make new friends and strengthen our working bonds, which is a huge bonus.

Give back
We care a lot about our impact on our community, and that’s why many Dropboxers dedicate their Hack Week projects to giving back. We’ve built volunteering exchanges to help match employees with local volunteer opportunities, hosted offsite volunteer events, and donated Hack Week time to Code for America. These projects are good for the community, but they’re also good for us. Donating time to volunteer efforts has been shown to help people be healthier and live longer — that means more time for getting the most fun and creativity out of life.

We’re lucky enough to have an entire week dedicated to using these tips, thinking outside the box, and focusing on innovation. It’s been the catalyst for new features and products that help make Dropbox better for our users — from commenting, to full text search, to file requests. And while you may not be able to host a Hack Week of your own just yet, we’ve found that taking the time to focus on even one or two tips can have a big impact. Give it a try on your own, and see what happens! As for us, today’s the first day of Hack Week, and we can’t wait to see what the Dropboxers dream up. Keep an eye on Twitter and Instagram for more tips, and behind-the-scenes peeks at our progress.