Insights from the H(app)athon in San Francisco – March 20, 2013

Is happiness a better indicator of economic prosperity than GDP? It may surprise you that many economists, governments and business leaders believe it is.

Bringing this concept to life is the goal of the H(app)athon Project, started by my friend and colleague John Havens. John has kindly included me in his incredibly rich Advisory Committee to share the lessons we have learned from Social Media Club to inform the facilitation of their global gatherings. The project is a multi-year effort to develop a cohesive vision for an application that will use happiness indicators to determine what the people of Bhutan have come to know as their Gross National Happiness.

But this isn’t just a macroeconomic exercise, our efforts will ultimately lead to pattern recognition that will advise citizens on potential activities to improve their overall happiness, not just measure it. These indicators and insights will become more visible, measurable and actionable by leveraging Big Data collected from a vast array of public and privately shared sources available through social media, the Internet of Things, Quantified Self technology, and other economic measures.

The project formally launched to coincide with the day the United Nations has designated as the International Day of Happiness (March 20th). Building on the pioneering work of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck from Bhutan in the development of his vision for understanding the Gross National Happiness of his country in 1972, a group of entrepreneurs, engineers, economists and citizens gathered together around the world to develop a vision for how the world might leverage this treasure trove of data to improve a number of the emergent indicators of happiness.

This 45min video below from the San Francisco Happathon, which I facilitated, features an introduction to the project itself along with commentary from three of the project’s Advisory Committee members including myself, John Clippinger of the MIT Media Lab and Jessica Hasson of PulpPR. It also contains a 12 minute keynote, an extended audience Q&A and an introductory overview to the workshop we conducted which produced four separate concepts I will address momentarily. In addition to explaining the role of his Open Mustard Seed project out of the MIT Media Lab as a resource partner of the H(app)athon Project, Clippinger spoke about the Billion Person Project he has just launched.

We were very fortunate to have an exceptional keynote speaker in Peter Hirshberg, Chairman of Re:Imagine Group, my former TCG Partner and the principle leader of the Summer of Smart 2011 which is a tangental but important part of the bigger story behind this movement. Peter has been working with governments, open data and data visualization efforts for many years now and was able to share what cities and countries around the world are already doing with some of these technologies today. Peter’s passion and insights were invaluable in setting the stage for the workshop exercise that followed.

This San Francisco event was held at NextSpace SF, one of the great coworking spaces we have in the city. Many thanks to the great community there for hosting us and co-sponsoring the event. It was one of the first of its kind, held just hours after the London, New York and Indianapolis events, and produced some amazing results.

In San Francisco, we had four separate teams working together to create concepts, marketing campaigns, community programs and apps that would improve a specific happiness indicator. The leading idea to come out of San Francisco was called DoUnThree, presented by serial entrepreneur and all around great guy David Sifry in the video below. Essentially it extends the “pay it forward” concept, but instead of doing unto others as you would have them to do to you, it envisioned doing this for two other people, hence the play on words in the title changing Do Un(two) into Do Un(to) Three.

H(app)athon San Francisco Workshop Presentation 2-winner DSifry from The H(app)athon Project on Vimeo.

The other concepts were equally impressive including Enterpremonia, a life mentor program, and a  social dashboard for workplace satisfaction focused on motivation and engagement through transparency. All in all, quite an impressive set of ideas coming from San Francisco and a great start to this incredibly important project.

I am humbled and honored to have played a small part in making this event happen and oh so grateful to Jessica and Mishri from PulpPR and to Kristie Wells from Social Media Club for helping pull off this event in a relatively short window of time. I also want to thank the great community in San Francisco who came out on relatively short notice to support this worthy effort. In my opinion, one of the most important shifts in consciousness we need as a global society is to look beyond quantitative financial measures of success and include qualitative measures to provide what I have long spoken of as a “market in balance”. For too long corporates have served the stock market first and foremost even above serving their market. Seeing the H(app)athon project come to life gives me hope for our future.

I would like you to get involved too. Most importantly sign up and participate in the initial two week Happiness Survey to share your data and improve our understanding of personal happiness indicators and the conditions that lead to your greatest happiness. You can host a H(app)athon in your own town with help from the project’s workshop toolkit, you can write a blog post or shoot a video with your concept, or you can just spread the word by tweeting out this event and/or sharing this idea with our friends and colleagues through word of mouth. For more information, visit the H(app)athon web site and get in touch with John Havens.