Today I was fortunate enough to sit on a stage with two extremely innovative leaders at Sprint. Razia Moolla (director-Apps Development, Enterprise Testing Services), Kevin McGinnis (vice president-Product Platforms and Services) and I were given a platform to talk with Sprint employees about innovation.
Razia had some really great insights from her corner of the company. She’s the leader of an organization littered with process and run on billable hours, similar to a law firm. She spoke about a leader’s need to recognize when THEY are impeding innovation. We often see this with corporate politics and some of the ego pumping that large companies are famous for. Razia had my favorite line of the day when she said innovators are able to maintain a “child-like” wonder without acting “childish.”
Kevin is a leader that I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with at Sprint for a few years now and it was fun to hear his perspective on innovation. He talked about getting away from your normal surroundings as much as possible when seeking creativity. Taking walking meetings, attending events like 1 Million Cups here in KC and a crowd favorite anecdote related to a young Kevin McGinnis who’s career was changed by a showing of “Winnie the Pooh” in a Lawrence theater (HA! Sorry Kevin…I couldn’t resist!!).
Kevin also spoke to the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people, stating that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time around. Wise words…and something my Mom warned me about as a young kid. Even more important in the professional world.
I was up next and talked about innovation through the lens of launching “Thank You Thursday,” a program that has now delivered almost 1 Million handwritten notes to Sprint customers directly from the pens of employees (read more here). I tried to codify my thoughts on innovation through the following 4 pillars:
Problem/Solution Thinking – Innovators focus on the customer first and look for problems where they can imagine creative solutions
Network of people who can DO what you can’t – Innovators are NOT lone wolfs…it’s a common misconception
Rapid Prototyping – Innovators just get stuff done…they don’t talk about it, they act
Failure is always an option – They recognize failure for what it is…a learning opportunity
I’ve noticed a problem over the last few years in the corporate world. Wild and crazy ideas that have the potential to change our business could come from anywhere in our company. We have really amazing employees who have the capability to build amazing stuff but yet, the risk of failure holds many of them back from taking the necessary steps.
Progressive tech companies like Google encourage their employees to use 20% of their time to innovate on products unrelated to their current role (THAT’S 1 DAY A WEEK!!). Yahoo! and Facebook have hack days where they put everyone together in a big room for 24 hours and shove pizza/beer under the doors until something cool is created.
I took my 5 minutes in the spotlight to do something crazy….I announced #HackFriday, a new program that we’re going to start next Friday. The idea is to bring employees from all corners of the campus into one area to innovate, or “Hack the Business.” I fully believe that when given the chance, anyone in our company can be truly innovative. #HackFriday is their opportunity to stop talking and start building.
I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I see the problem, believe in a creative solution, have a VERY supportive network of people who can help me pull this off and have decided to just go do it. I’m going to experience some failure…no doubt. But hopefully everyone else around me will do the same and we can all work together to build a stronger culture of innovation at Sprint.
If you’re a Sprint employee and you want information on #HackFriday, contact me and I’ll encourage you to show up!