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12/2/2011
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How To Create A New Product In 24 Hours

Atlassian offers to help companies create an innovation contest and social event to get employees to create a new product within a single beer and pizza-fueled day.

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Atlassian has put out an open invitation for businesses that would like to tutored on creating overnight sensations.

Once a quarter, Atlassian hosts its "FedEx Days" competitions in which employees compete to produce a product within 24 hours--typically including an overnighter fueled by pizza and beer. The success of this process was featured in a TED Talk by Daniel H. Pink, the author of books on creativity, innovation, and motivation like "Drive" and "A Whole New Mind." One of the things Pink found interesting was how Atlassian used a social event, rather than any promise of monetary reward, to spur innovation and creativity. Now through Dec. 21, Atlassian will be accepting applications from any firm that would like to experience a FedEx Day event, facilitated by the company's most experienced "FedExperts," with the winner to be announced in January.

Federal Express, the company, has nothing to do with this, other than as a source of inspiration. The name refers to FedEx's tradition of being the delivery company to choose when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.

"We've co-opted the name--the idea that FedEx ships in a day was the genesis," Atlassian founder and president Jay Simons said. "The idea here is that you have 24 hours to build and ship something."

Atlassian is an Australian software company best known for software development tools, its JIRA project and bug tracking system, and the Confluence 4 enterprise wiki.

The contest is not necessarily restricted to software companies or software projects, Simons said, but the idea is Atlassian's twist on some software industry practices for encouraging innovation, such as the 20% time concept popularized by Google. Atlassian also uses the approach of allowing engineers to spend the equivalent of a day a week working on a side project that falls outside their official duties, "but what we found was a lot of people wouldn't take advantage of it," Simons said, and even when they did they would sometimes wind up abandoning those projects.

[ There are a lot of ways to benefit from the social trend. Read 10 Social Networking Tips For CIOs. ]

"That was the catalyst for us to just come up with a different approach," he said, "where we would create a little pressure cooker around this 24-hour period, where you have to come up with an idea, framed by what it will take to execute it, and knowing that you actually have to show your peers what you've done at the end of that time."

When it's over, everyone votes to choose a winner.

Although this is the first time Atlassian has run the contest, the company has organized FedEx Days events for some other companies, such as one for MSN Austrialia themed around new ideas in digital communications. "A lot of companies are interested in creating something like this but don't know where to start," Simons said.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard

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