AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Life Lessons, Marketing Brilliance, Project Thank You

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    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

    Innovation Slide

    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!


    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Life Lessons, Other Cool Stuff..., Project Thank You

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    Today I was given an AMAZING opportunity to talk with our talent management group in HR.  I was originally asked to come talk about the “Thank You Thursday” program but decided to find a common link between that and the recent Hack-a-Thon that my team won here at Sprint.

    As I was preparing for this presentation I did the usual….

    1. Establish a working outline around the narrative
    2. Build a skeletal presentation with the content I needed to tell a complete story
    3. Practice….Practice….Practice
    4. Remove almost ALL of the words and insert pretty pictures


    Step 3 is crucial.  Where I originally relied heavily on the words within the page, the practice in a private spot allowed me to grow comfortable with that content.  By the 3rd run through I was able to utilize the pictures on the page as a visual cue, turning my presentation into a supporting actor and not a distraction.

    While those 4 steps helped me, I did find that there was one final key….the live presentation.  As I walked toward the conference room I reminded myself to punch up the energy, look people in the eyes, don’t dance around in one spot and watch the “um’s.”

    Because I KNEW MY CONTENT so well, I could focus on these minor details making the presentation far more entertaining to the audience, ensuring they weren’t distracted by any of those things.

    What are your presentation secrets?  Anything I’m missing


    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Project Thank You

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    As you know, I’m a big fan of the handwritten thank you note…  While Sprint’s “Thank You Thursday” effort continues to gain traction internally and externally, I’m always on the watch for others doing it right.

    Continuum Innovation is a design agency full of intelligent people who were instrumental in bringing apps and services to life in our retail stores.  We were working closely together at Sprint (and making huge strides) but fell victim to a changing of the guard.

    I received a thank you note in the mail today from the Continuum team and it really blew me away.  The note was genuine and full of gratitude for our partnership, thanking me (and my team) for our support and wishing us luck in the future.  Even in a situation where it’s easy to be upset about the outcome, Continuum looked at the great progress we made together and sent a heart-felt thank you for the partnership.

    Classy move guys….look forward to running into you again some day!


    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Project Thank You

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    I spent some time talking about the beginnings of the Thank You Thursday program at Sprint the other day and promised to follow-up regularly with some more detail on various aspects of how it all came about.  Today, some time on why I was so attracted to the handwritten note as a medium.

    I often feel a little guilty about what companies like mine have done to the emotional and personal connection involved in communicating with others.  Technology like email, text messages and the enablement of social networking have made the barriers to communicating lower but at the same time a lot less meaningful.  My company has 50 million paying subscribers sending an average of 1,000 text messages per month.  Getting its employees to handwrite notes sounded so remarkable it was almost unbelievable.

    I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with handwriting….  It’s not something I’m particularly good at and by the time I was in 4th grade, typing classes were already replacing the art of cursive.  That being said, my Mom was always adamant that I personally thank family members at the normal gift intervals in my life.

    That same attitude followed me through life and into my relationship with my wife, Stacey, who not only took the time to write thank you notes for gifts, but even for fairly basic things others did for her.  I still remember the first time we stayed the night at my parent’s house as a couple.  My Mom called me a couple of days after we left and asked if I knew that Stacey sent a note to thank them for providing some basic accommodations for her cat.  Though my Mom was/is protective of her first-born son, it was evident that this girl was just fine by her.

    Mail in general is fairly boring…yet, you most likely rush out to your mailbox every day after work in hopes that something there will blow you away.  Among the bills, junk mail, bank statements and advertisements, it’s rare to see something like a personal note.  Second only to a package from UPS, a letter with a handwritten address label and postmarked stamp is sure to get you excited…even more so when it’s un-provoked.

    Which brings me to the reason for tonight’s post.  I came home tonight to discover a postcard from my friend Jason in the stack of junk mail.  I won’t take complete credit for him jotting a quick note and putting it in the mail, but I’ll thank him publicly for taking the time.  It changed my day!!

    Be like Jason….go write a note to someone you know real quick.  No reason necessary, just do it.



    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Life Lessons, Project Thank You


    I started my career with Sprint as a retail rep and watched customers enthusiastically line up at our door to purchase the first camera phone on the market (Everyone LOVED the Sanyo 5300…many of you probably carried one).  I also stood in a Radio Shack store right after the Sprint/Nextel merger and patiently accepted critical feedback on how terrible service had become at this particular customer’s home.  Over my 9 year career, you could say that I have sat side by side with my customers on quite the roller-coaster ride.

    It’s no secret…we have had more than our fair share of troubles, yet we have had this fantastically loyal group of customers who actively made the choice to stick with us through it all.  After a conversation with a friend in our base marketing group in early 2010, I found out that many of these customers felt under appreciated and there wasn’t really much we could do for them…they were just loyal people who didn’t expect anything in return for that (yet, I owed every paycheck and my entire career to each and every one of them).

    I’ve long believed that meaningful communication is at the heart of my company’s existence.  Though we’ve continually innovated the way you do that over the past few decades, the need has never changed.  Finally in July of 2010, I talked 20 co-workers into sitting down with me and finding a way to let these customers know how much we appreciated them.  We have hundreds of marketing programs and cool ways to contact people given our heritage as a communicator….I wanted to do something different that would be recognized.  We were going to send these people hand-written thank you notes.

    Through 2011, the program experienced viral growth, quickly turning our group of 20 people into over 300 each month.  Employees were telling other employees and they would show up on the first Thursday of the month to help write.  We went from a few thousand hand-written notes in 2010 to almost 50K  in 2011.  At some point in 2011, Dan (our CEO) caught wind of the program.  At an employee all-hands that November, he announced that the entire company would be involved for 2012 and wanted to send 500K notes!

    As of this writing, we’re over 400K notes this year and will easily blow away the 500K goal.  Obviously, we still have a long way to go in thanking everyone in our base, but Dan recently recognized this program as something that sets Sprint apart from our competitors in a talk with Forbes Magazine.  In the talk when asked if there’s “anything special you do to connect with customers” he quotes:

    “Handwritten letters. I know it’s kind of old-fashioned, but I think in today’s digital world customers notice and appreciate that we take time to write letters to them. One employee and his team started a letter-writing campaign, thanking customers based upon their longevity. They would do it every Thursday, and it’s now mushroomed, and it’s become “Thank You Thursdays” company-wide. Our employees sit down with a list of customers, which includes something about the customers, like how long they have been with Sprint, and they hand-write letters thanking the customers for doing business with Sprint.”

    Though I can claim credit for the “Idea,” it took the hard work and program management of some very dedicated Sprint employees to grow it to the scale it’s achieved today (not to mention the sore wrists of thousands more across the company).  Aside from the obvious 1×1 customer impact there were many other lessons learned from this that I’ll try to cover over the course of time on this blog:

    • Encouraging a direct connection between all employees and the front line
    • Enabling any employee to solve any issue
    • Breaking the rules of normal process at a fortune 500 company
    • Building culture by bringing people together for something they believe in
    • The fine line of making something “required” vs. intrinsically motivating people to participate
    • The lost art of hand-writing….and how to deal with writer’s cramp!


    Until then, if you’re a customer who feels like you’re deserving of a hand written note, drop me a line….I’m more than happy to get a note in the mail and offer my commitment to help if there’s anything I can do to make your experience better.


    UPDATE:  Fierce Wireless picked up the story as well….cool!

    UPDATE 2:  USA Today joins the coverage :-)