2013 Conference

Living Dead Week

Jason Fish, Manager of  Application Programming, Purdue Universityimage28

Google has 20 percent time but presenter Jason Fish asks what are YOU doing to foster growth and innovation in yourself, your colleagues, and your organization?

Purdue University’s IT group has “Living Dead Week” where designers and developers are given time each semester to work on something that they believe will help move the university forward.

The name is derived from Purdue’s “Dead Week” — the week before finals in which students are expected to spend time studying, and campus activity is “dead.” Living Dead Week is the week after finals where the group gets one week to put aside their regular projects to turn out one deliverable.

Here’s how Living Week was implemented at Purdue:

1. Find the Time!

Before Living Dead Week was implemented, the group adopted the 20-percent time idea from Google, which asks employees to devote 20-percent of their time on projects they’re passionate about. But because people weren’t working together on the same time, progress was fragmented. Carving out a standard time was important to help make things happen. Of course, crises are NOT ignored and are attended to.

2. Focus on New Ideas

The ideas don’t have to be new to the department or university but new to the person who is working on it. Fish talks about a designer who was interested in iOS development — not part of her day job. During Living Dead Week, she created an app called Backdraft which allows Purdue faculty to pre-write tweets and send them out during lectures.

3. Embrace Your Limitations

One week isn’t a lot of time; not everyone can learn a whole skill set and deliver in one week. If you can’t, for example, turn out an app in a week, try researching the idea behind the app and working on the content that might be housed on the app. Your great idea might be able to be carried over the finish line by a coworker — and then you’ve BOTH delivered something great.

4. Be Able to Tell a Short Story

Each person in Living Dead Week has to give a short presentation about their work: why they chose their project, how it helps the university, what they learned, what roadblocks did they run in to? This is important in giving people time to work on their presentation skills, and let coworkers learn and get inspiration from one another

5. Value the Good Failure

It’s valuable to learn what doesn’t work too. Fish talks about a project he worked on Purdue with the thought that external users might also be able to implement it. He realized late in the process that his framework was Purdue-specific and wouldn’t translate to non-Purdue users. This “good failure” informed a future project that *was* able to be used by a wider audience

6.  Geek Cred

Participants’ time is valued and appreciated within the group. Small gold painted zombie trophies are handed out at the week’s end, which fosters pride in one’s work and fuels drive and inspiration for next year.

Photo Credit: Tyello via Compfight cc

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By Liz Gross

Liz Gross is the Director of Campus Sonar. Her professional super powers include designing and analyzing market research, applying social media strategy to multiple areas of the business, explaining difficult concepts in simple language, and using social listening to develop consumer insights and assist with reputation management. She received her Ph.D. in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service in Higher Education at Cardinal Stritch University.