Red Bull Basement
Social Innovation

Improve your innovation skills with these 9 top tips from hackers

© Jacobo Medrano/Red Bull Content Pool
No one thinks about problem solving more than a hacker and to solve problems you need to be innovative. Increase innovation and get inspired for your next big idea with tips from Major League Hacking.
By Emily AkersPublished on
Last year, thousands of student innovators from across the globe submitted ideas for the 2020 edition of Red Bull Basement, with 38 finalist teams taking part in the Global Workshop, and one team, with an incredibly innovative idea, coming out on top.
But while the event is now over, the innovation continues — over the course of Red Bull Basement 2020 we worked with Major League Hacking (MLH), a company and community that has made it its mission to empower young technologists around the world, providing them with resources to learn how to code, and opportunities and events for growth. We caught up with some of their most engaged community members to shed light on how innovation and hacking (coding to solve a problem) are intertwined, and some tips to get you started.

1. Don't be afraid to look at existing ideas

Fawziyah Alebiosu -- MLH Coach
I know everyone enjoys the idea of building the next unique product/hack, but sometimes, you can find a lot of value in re-inventing existing hacks, with different perspectives. I've participated in hackathons where I submitted projects I had worked on for school work. What I'd do was take the same ideas I had built my class projects on, and use the hackathon to implement them in a different way. For me, this looked like building a command line game (from my CS 101 course) but doing it entirely in a technology I was not familiar with already, such as Python & Typer.
Finally, to adhere to the theme of the hackathon, I based the entire game around educating players on the importance of building accessible technologies. As fun as working on that was for me, I uncovered a new skill; which was looking at existing ideas, with a fresh perspective!

2. Innovation and inspiration often go hand in hand

Fiona Whittington -- Co-Founder and Executive Director of TechTogether
Before I start any hackathon project, I look online for anything that grabs my attention. Inspiration can come from anywhere but looking through Devpost, talking to friends, exploring social media is usually where I start my ideation process. Once I find something or a collection of things that inspire me, I start asking myself rapid-fire questions. What if we could draw this art piece with javascript? What if we could recreate this project but change the data set? Questions lead me to answers and answers lead me to innovative ideas for my hack.

3. Jump in and see what you can do

Will Russell is the Fellowship Community Manager at MLH.
Will Russell
Will Russell -- MLH Fellowship Community Manager
I always love to experiment and see where I can go. Just giving it a go can reveal much more than I initially expected, teaching me loads in the process. Going to hackathons every weekend taught me so much, way more than just building projects, which has been super valuable during internships.

4. Look at the pain points in your life for inspiration

Chris Gu -- Creator of Guess the Gibberish
Take a step back and think of pain points that YOU currently have in your own life. It can be literally anything of any size. Identifying these problems before hacking together a solution is key. Not only are you personally invested in the problem yourself, you’re ensuring that whatever innovative hack you come up with, it actually has a real purpose and resolves real issues.
We have a common misconception that 'innovative' means 'brand new'. However, innovation in problem-solving and hacking can simply mean taking what already exists and evolving it to fit better to whatever problem you have identified and its target audience. Essentially what I’m saying is, you don’t have to start from scratch.

5. Take the “No Judgement, Build What You Want” mindset with you everywhere

Kat O’Leary -- MLH Top 50 Class of 2020
Hackathons let students innovate without any overhang of organizational groupthink. At a hackathon, you can make whatever you want, and taking risks on a project is encouraged and rewarded. As hackers, we bring the “no judgement, build what you want” environment of a hackathon wherever we go.

6. Remember, “The Tech Industry invests in you as much as you invest in yourself”

Sashrika Kaur -- MLH Coach & Community Leader at WooTech
While taking up a new project, there is a quote that I generally refer to "The Tech Industry invests in you as much as you invest in yourself. The future of tech includes opportunities for everyone. It's your turn to grab the one that's best for you". So whenever you're working on something outside of your comfort zone, the best advice is to look up to and network with people who have already tried something in the field. It'll help you learn new skills and open doors to new ideas that you didn't even think were possible. Coming up with ideas is often tough and you might hit a block at times, but brainstorming with your fellows and your mentors is the best way to develop the creative thought process you need.

7. Work backwards

Anuhya Challagundla -- President of hackUMBC
Anuhya Challagundla -- President of hackUMBC
Anuhya Challagundla
One of my biggest pieces of advice is to always work backwards, think of a time you thought to yourself "darn, if only this was not so tedious". Take that tedious task and automate it. Or think of a time where you wished something was a bit easier on the eyes, or you thought the design layout wasn’t working -- well take that design and re-do it to be more user-friendly and eye catching! Just because the product has been built before does not mean you can't re-build it. Just build it with your own flare.

8. Remember there is more to hackathons than building the perfect hack

Gabriel Cruz -- MLH Fellow Batch 0 (Summer 2020)
I always struggled at the first few hours of a hackathon to find a good topic for a project. I want it to be perfect. I want the project to be innovative, well developed, and well documented. You know, all the good stuff we aim for while writing code. But the truth is that there is no such thing as a perfect project. Granted, some projects are way better than others, but to me it really depends on how you look at them.
When I go to a hackathon I'm not looking to make the best product, nor am I looking to implement the best tests. No, when I go to a hackathon I'm all about having fun. Sometimes I think I'll have more fun if my code looks clean (even if it's not finished), other times I want to have fun with my friends, so I spend most of my time pair programming. So my question for you is: how do you want to have fun?

9. Find your own story

Yashovardhan Agrawal -- APAC Hackathon Community Manager
Every person, every product, every company, every single thing in the universe has its own story. Don’t just build something for the sake of building it -- make a story out of it. Develop something that resonates with you; something that you feel can be solved. Don’t worry if you don’t know much about it, just go ahead and explore. Talk to folks around you, make connections, make friends -- know their story!
It is very common for folks to follow “successful” people blindly without thinking twice about what they actually want. Your institutional studies, your stream, your degree -- all of that will not matter in building your career if you’re brave enough to take charge of it on your own. After all, it is the story you narrate that will make you stand out from the rest!
Interested in hacking? You can find events at MLH online every weekend, where you can try your hand at innovation and tech. No prior coding experience is needed, just have fun!
Get inspired and keep up with Red Bull Basement all year long here.