LIFE LESSONS

  • WILLPOWER AND THE PEOPLE CHEERING YOU ON

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Leadership, Life Lessons

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    A lot has been made of this dog’s problem solving skills while some may fuss that the person filming is being cruel to animals. I can empathize with the dog at many points throughout the video and watching it makes me downright emotional.

    Early in the video, Theo (the dog) shows frustration, you can hear him whimper a bit. He tries taking a step back to see if maybe he’s just not going fast enough….that doesn’t help. He lifts his head up higher, but the bridge’s railings are too high. Theo’s owner continues to cheer him on from afar. She could easily fix this problem for him but she doesn’t and he lets out another whimper.

    Finally a random twist of the head and the end of the stick hits the bridge as he’s backing away…inspiration strikes. He takes a step back and enters the bridge with the stick at an angle and sails smoothly through with just a couple bumps along the railing.

    —————————–

    For me, the demonstration of willpower is what is most remarkable in this video. You can feel Theo fighting his natural impulse to take the easy way out all because he wants that damn stick on the other side of the bridge so badly.

    Theo could have easily dropped the stick and continued on the walk…maybe he would have found another one. He could have walked around the bridge and maybe been a little muddy. What was it that made him push just a little harder, to struggle just a few more moments to make it happen?

    —————————–

    I don’t know much about Theo’s videographer but she doesn’t sound unpleasant…in fact she sounds extremely nice. She was encouraging Theo along the way and while she could have helped out…she didn’t. Picking up the stick and walking it across would breed dependency and Theo’s friend is trying to show him that he has the will to do what it takes.

    Hopefully you’re surrounded by people like this in life. You probably grew up around them. An encouraging father, a tough love moment from your mom, a stern warning from a relative…who’s pushing you today?

    I had a chance to hang out with a good friend today who always has this effect on me. Alana is a person I admire and is more than comfortable encouraging me to keep crossing the bridge. She’s been there before and probably knows how to get across but doing it her way would only make me more dependent on others.

    One isn’t always better than the other, but recognize when the people around you just need someone to believe in them. Listen to the joy in the woman’s voice at the 45 second mark…probably my favorite part of the video.

  • MY FRIEND CHARLIE – CREATING COMMUNITY WHERE IT DOESN’T EXIST

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Kansas City, Life Lessons

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    I found myself somewhat enamored with the odd looking character off to the side of the room.  From across the expansive lobby of the Kansas City Star building he clearly stood out in the crowd but it was apparent standing out in a crowd was nothing new for this guy.  Amongst the attendees of the 2014 Middle of the Map Festival Forum was Charlie Mylie, an artist who donned a sequin vest and a matching bowtie, shrouded by the robe of a wizard.  On top of his had a gilded dunce cap covering up a head of curly dyed hair and his water color stained fingers were hard at work making people’s wildest dreams come to life on a 4×6″ postcard.

    Had you asked me in that moment whether or not I would want to spend time with this person….I probably would have told you “sure, why not.”  If you would tell me that this person would be someone I would soon consider a friend…I would call that improbable.

    ————————————————–

    So I find myself sitting in a bar, patiently waiting for Charlie to show up.  I don’t remember how we came to exchange contact info but it happened and we were going to have a beer together.  In he walks, this time not in a wizard’s outfit but definitely not dressed like me.  He’s brought his fiancé Lindsey who is also an artist (possibly for comfort…I imagine him telling her how strange I dressed and that he didn’t want to show up alone).  Over the next hour or two (I lost track) we had one of the best conversations I’ve had in a bar.  Though our skill-sets couldn’t be further apart our dreams and desires were eerily aligned.

    We talked about my new career path and my desire to discover a side of KC people don’t experience every day, they talked about swimming in the fountains of the mansions on Cliff Drive.  I discussed my journey to Las Vegas to visit the Downtown Project and they talked about their friends wedding where they canoed down the Missouri from Omaha to KC to hold the ceremony on KAW point.  I told them about my mission to make Kansas City a destination young people are proud to call home and they said the exact same thing about young, up and coming artists who see New York as the desirable destination to be “discovered.”

    We were worlds apart and neighbors at the same time…

    ————————————————–

    Charlie and I have stayed in contact but out of the blue he sent me an email this week and we decided to get together.  The last time we met I showed him one of my new favorite places, The Belfry, a new bar in the Crossroads District.  Tonight he suggested we throw darts at the Blarney Stone, a dive bar outside of Westport.  The record stopped when I walked in the door.  Counting the bartender, I was the 4th person in the place and it was apparent to them that I didn’t belong.  No problem, I ordered a Boulevard Pale and sat down.  Charlie walked in 2 minutes later, was greeted by name and he promptly ordered a pitcher of PBR for only $2 more than my pint.

    Minutes later his friend Tim walked in (a photographer) and ordered the same thing…clearly I was an amateur.  We threw darts, drank beer and continued to bond over similar interests.  None of us were great at darts but the three of us excelled at getting the most out of our dollars at the juke box finding excessively long guitar solos within classic songs (7 minutes and 28 seconds of The Allman Brother’s Jessica was my pick).

    We talked about our days and I found myself growing green with envy at these two guys who will do just about anything, but spend most of their time on what they love.  I’ve been searching for a long time for something I can refer to as my craft and these guys are constantly crafting.  I have been swinging a hammer lately in my spare time trying to rediscover the pride of building something with my hands.  Tim remarked that he probably needs to do a little less of what he loves so he doesn’t have to swing a hammer to pay the bills (he spent a lot of the day outdoors today, the coldest day of the year, doing physical labor).

    We enjoyed the company, had more than a few genuine laughs and most importantly agreed to make this happen again.

    ————————————————–

    Community is an amazing thing, most likely one of the most powerful abilities all living things on this planet have developed.  It can galvanize people of similar backgrounds, interests or locations.  It creates a sense of belonging and can build momentum behind movements.  It is a way of sharing knowledge, developing core values and creating culture.  

    Most often, we consider community a group of people who have something in common.  Truly powerful communities have much more to do with diversity than they do with similarities…in fact, it’s possible that the strongest communities are those with extremely diverse backgrounds that are bound by one extremely strong purpose.

    Charlie and I have found community in an unlikely place and I don’t know how many more people like him (or his friends Lindsey and Tim) I’ve walked by without a second thought.  And I guess that’s the rhetorical question/statement here…what are you doing to discover and create community where it doesn’t exist today, where it (by most standards) shouldn’t exist?

    I feel lucky to have found a friend in Charlie and I know we’ll share many more games of darts as we both work to change this city.

    ————————————————–

    Check out Charlie’s work at http://charliemylie.com/

    To catch a glimpse of Charlie and his fiancé Lindsey Griffith in action check them out in this project by Concept/OK:

  • THANK YOU SPRINT!

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Kansas City, Leadership, Life Lessons, Sprint Accelerator

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    [this thank you note is too long for a card but humor me…]

    On August 1st, 2014 I took the stage of the Sprint Accelerator to address a group of employees.  This platform and the surrounding space has witnessed countless presentations, endless nights of hard work, hilarious conversations, serious meetings, open brainstorms, raucous dance parties (there’s a video but I can’t find it…) and uncontrollable tears streaming from my face.  Right now, I was getting up to announce the winners of what would be my final #HackFriday as a Sprint employee and one of my last events in a building that had my fingerprints all over it.  I manufactured a little extra enthusiasm to counteract the swelling of my throat and cracking of my voice…

    The memories of the preceding 11 years run through my head and the overwhelming emotion of how lucky I am to have been afforded the opportunities/risks to get me where I am right at that very moment hit me all at once.  I often joke that I bleed Sprint Yellow and honestly, if you would have cut me that afternoon, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

    —————————

    In 2002 I started an informal relationship with a cute bartender at the Old Chicago in Lincoln’s Haymarket District.  I wasn’t some patron throwing down large tips in exchange for friendly conversation.  No, I was washing glasses and hoping to win a spot as her sidekick on the lucrative Wednesday night shift and maybe a small place in her heart.  I accomplished the former pretty quickly which accelerated the latter…soon we were officially dating and I was hitting the streets looking for a new job (restaurants were full of enough drama, our relationship would be much stronger outside of the walls of that building).

    I looked at my options…  I considered other establishments in town, a number of my friends and co-workers were willing to vouch for me at any one of the “O Street” bars, but I was a junior in college and it was time to set an eye toward my career.  I was currently in the J-School working on my advertising degree and loved it.  A quick check on available advertising jobs turned up a bunch of unpaid internships.  I kept looking.  Around that time I went to the mailbox, to find the first bill from my cellphone provider, Sprint.  The job hunt had my sensitivity to cash flow on red alert and there were some charges that seemed incorrect.  I marched into the local store to figure out the error.

    I unloaded on the poor sales rep who greeted me and we eventually got to the bottom of the mess…someone forgot to inform me of the state/federal fees on top of my monthly charge.  The rep was sorry about the miscommunication but I could sense he wasn’t truly empathetic to my situation, so I asked him what he paid for his phone.  He replied that sales reps get a free employee plan and I asked to speak to his manager immediately.

    After some negotiation, I walked out of the store with a job application in my hand and a couple weeks later I proudly donned a bright red polo shirt with the Sprint logo.

    —————————

    I never saw a long-term relationship with Sprint and when Stacey was accepted into law school I felt the same way about Kansas City.  I figured that she would finish up her degree and then we would be back to Omaha where all of our friends/family lived….I was wrong.

    Over the last decade I have had a lot of fun setting and achieving goals that were important to my bosses while finding ways to start things that were important to me in my free time.  Connecting with people in our community, sending millions of handwritten notes to customers, bringing diverse groups of Sprint employees together for #HackFriday’s and starting the Sprint Accelerator.

    A mere 15 months from the conception of the Sprint Accelerator and only 60 days after wrapping up our first class with Techstars, I’m leaving behind some really amazing people and [up to this point] the best role in my professional career.   We are nowhere near flying the “Mission Accomplished” banner but I’m confident that awesome peers like Tina, Doug and Monica will continue to grow the Sprint Accelerator into another remarkable chapter in the 115 year history of our company.

    Throughout my journey at Sprint, I’ve had nearly a dozen bosses; people who provided amazing guidance and even better lessons of what not to do.  From the get go, my relationship with Kevin McGinnis was different.  We didn’t get along for quite some time but the gravity of our disruptive personalities eventually brought us closer and closer together.  A bond was formed between the two of us after an internal hack-a-thon and I came to appreciate the vision and passion he has for KC.  As the oldest of 4 boys, I was secretly jealous of my friends who had older siblings.  Kevin has been, and always will be, more of an older brother than a boss and more of a visionary leader than anyone else I’ve ever dealt with directly during my career at Sprint.

    There are hundreds of other people who have impacted me along the way (too many to name here), none have had the same effect on the direction of my life.  Kevin showed me the importance of developing community inside and around the company walls and ironically, he’s partially to blame for the opportunity that has led to this new path in my career.  I’ll continue to lean on him for guidance and I’m nothing but appreciative for where he’s steered me so far [THANK YOU].

    —————————

    Another friend and executive at Sprint sent me a note this week after he heard the news that I was leaving:

    You have inspired or frightened many people. Both are good as it made them stop and think. Your presence will be missed.”

    I pride myself on the reputation I’ve built as a corporate revolutionary.  For a company sitting in 3rd place, there were a number of people who felt unnecessarily comfortable collecting a paycheck and I found it my duty to make them feel uneasy.  Watching Marcelo Claure yesterday during his very first Town Hall with the employee base was heart warming.  Sprint’s roots can be traced back to an entrepreneur who challenged a gigantic monopoly from the center of the country.  As a founder himself, Claure understands the cultural values required to do the same thing all over again and I have confidence that Sprint is in great hands with him at the helm.

    Thank you Sprint.  Thank you for everything….the last decade has been a learning experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.  I look forward to taking everything you’ve taught me into making KC a more attractive place to live, work and play.

    Your #1 fan and now loyal customer,

    Erik

  • A LOT CAN HAPPEN IN 14 MONTHS…WHAT WILL YOU DO?

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Kansas City, Life Lessons, Sprint Accelerator

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    I woke up unaided this morning at 6am (that’s unusual for me…I generally battle my alarm clock starting at 6:30 and it finally wins by around 7).  Today is Demo Day for the first ever Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator powered by Techstars class.  It has been a thrilling 90 days and I’ve learned so much, worked with amazing people and will dearly miss every single one of them…but that’s a topic for another day.

    What got me out of bed this morning was reflecting on what got us to this point.  It was fun for me to look back on this post from April 4th, recapping a 10 day journey that would forever change my career and my life.  On the flight home from Portland, I wrote two blog posts and put together a pitch deck that became the foundation for what would eventually become the Sprint Accelerator.  Kevin McGinnis (who is now my boss) was the first recipient of this presentation and eventually would refine this pitch and get it pushed through the executive ranks of Sprint, all the way up to our CEO Dan Hesse.

    It wasn’t just that…  A switch had been flipped on that trip.  I wasn’t interested in sitting at a desk any more and my day job that was truly amazing at one point in life seemed dull.  I did enough to not get fired during the week but nights and weekends were mine.  In that time I attended Startup Weekend and joined in on two other hack-a-thons.  I took a cross-country trip from San Francisco back home to KC with new friends, filming a documentary on technology along the way.  I was asked to speak multiple times with internal teams on innovation and I eventually launched HackFriday, bringing the magic of rapid prototyping/customer validation inside the walls of our corporation.

    I don’t know what’s to come but there’s one person who continues to stand by me through what I’ve referred to as my early life crisis.  My wife Stacey has been supportive through my ups and downs.  Working outside of the lines has moments of mania and depression….she’s dealt with me through both.  Milestones like this allow you to reflect on the things you’re truly grateful for…she’s #1 on the list.

    The last 14 months have been a hustle but today is a day to sit back and smile as the first batch of companies through this program will take the stage this evening at the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts.  I couldn’t be more proud of them.

    They will make a HUGE impact on the world but they’ve already made a bigger impact on me personally.  I grew up around entrepreneurs and I started my life as an entrepreneur…I’ve finally discovered in the last year what was missing from my career and I’m grateful to everyone who’s been a part of that.  For those of you sitting out there who also feel like something is missing…get out there and make something happen.  You won’t regret it.

    P.S.  If you haven’t signed up for tickets to Demo Day yet….make it quick!  We’re very close to selling out and I want to see a packed house tonight!!:  RSVP HERE

  • MAKE SURE YOUR PRIORITIES MATCH YOUR PITCH

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Leadership, Life Lessons, Marketing Brilliance, Sprint Accelerator, Uncategorized

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    David Mandell

    I first met David Mandell while in NYC during the whirlwind recruiting tour for the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator.  We had a relatively short conversation before jumping on stage for a panel discussion.  David’s balanced personality as a warm/friendly listener and honest/straightforward communicator is remarkable, something that serves him well as an entrepreneurial leader.  When I saw him walk into the Sprint Accelerator this afternoon, I knew our teams were in for a treat.

    Shortly after the mentoring sessions concluded for the day, David jumped up on stage to give his story as a Techstars Alum.  He covered a number of topics but I was excited to hear him address the topic of focus.  Startups (and for that matter, just about any early stage product/idea) often fail not because of a lack of talent or customer demand but because they can’t stay focused on basic marketing strategy.

    Brand and marketing (not to be confused with advertising) are often overlooked or considered way too late in the game.  David shared a fairly simple template can keep your team focused and executing on the right things for your business:

    For [fill in the target audience here] 
    Who [fill in the pain point your target audience is feeling] 
    My company [fill in what your company does] 
    As opposed to [know your competitors…not just direct competitors but substitutes as well] 
    We [tell the world how you’re better, different, worth paying attention to] 

     

    When read out-loud, this marketing template should sound a lot like a pitch…and it did when David filled in the blanks with details from his company Pivotdesk.  As you dig into that statement, it clearly states the vision of the company including who to target, the problem you’re solving, who you’re competing against and how you continue to differentiate.

    Put simply…with limited resources, focus is critical.  Make sure the priorities of your company match your pitch.

  • A CHARISMATIC NERD ON A MISSION…UNSTOPPABLE.

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Kansas City, Leadership, Life Lessons

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    At 9:30am, Micah Baldwin visited the Sprint Accelerator during a stop in Kansas City.  I’ve seen him speak a couple times before and had some idea of what to expect.  He’s informal, conversational, and sometimes so brutally honest that it may come off as a bit vulgar….it’s always awesome.  Today he reflected on his career so far and listed three rules for founders.  I captured the words on twitter so I could remember, here’s my interpretation:

    1. Be a Missionary – Be purposeful and mission driven with your business…understand why you exist.
    2. Be Nerdy – Be obsessed with what you’re working on.  Working on something that is a passion isn’t really work.
    3. Be Charismatic – Be approachable and infectious, make it easy for others to believe what you believe….

    Know why you exist, be obsessed about it, find a way to spread that passion to everyone you come into contact to.  Pretty simple lessons for everyone doing anything…if you can’t follow those three rules you probably won’t be successful.  Great advice Micah!

  • DO MORE FASTER: ACTION IS CONTAGIOUS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Kansas City, Life Lessons, Mobile Tech, Sprint Accelerator

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    Hello again internet…it’s been a while.

    Kevin McGinnis brought it to my attention last week that I hadn’t posted anything since October 22nd.  My last post may have read somewhat like a George Bush “Mission Accomplished” banner but I’m far from done here; I simply didn’t realize how much time had passed.

    (To be fair…I have been writing a little bit, but it’s been on the Sprint Accelerator blog HERE)

    I’m writing this post from the comfort of my couch after the very first public event at the Sprint Accelerator.  My feet hurt, my voice is fading in and out from talking too much and I feel fantastic.  Tonight was a gigantic milestone in a journey that started 9 months ago with a serendipitous trip to Portland.

    *Wayne’s World Flashback – do do do, do do do, do do do*

    I stood inside of the Nike+ Accelerator on that evening in April, sipping on a Bridgeport IPA, reflecting on a long day of “speed dating” with entrepreneurs.  As I looked around the room of Techstars teams, a speaker from Big KC came to mind who had quoted Jim Rohn (“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”).  The creativity and hustle that filled the room was palpable, these people had already affected me.

    I’m not going to bore you with the entire story of how the last 9 months unfolded, because it’s probably better told over a cold beer.  My big takeaway in working closely with Techstars, the KC entrepreneurial community and my peers?  The word “accelerate” is contagious.

    Over the last 9 months, I watched our executives, our corporate real estate team, lawyers, architects, contractors and co-workers move quickly, sometimes in a way that was un-natural or outside of their “process,” to pull off everything leading up to tonight’s milestone.  Much like this blog, the Sprint Accelerator isn’t anywhere close to flying a “Mission Accomplished” banner but we’ve established some good momentum, building a culture that will infect everyone who comes into contact with us.

    Remember…you are one of the 5 people that someone else spends a lot of time with.  Set a great example and make them catch up to you.  Stop talking about your great idea, do something about it.  Quit waiting for initiative, take it.  Don’t plan on learning something from inaction…give it a shot, take good notes and try again as a more enlightened individual.  Hustle.

    Or as Techstars likes to say:  “Do More Faster”

  • DEFINING PURPOSE WITH THE AUDIENCE EFFECT – THANK YOU READERS!

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Leadership, Life Lessons

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    Today I was given the opportunity to talk with a few of Sprint’s best and brightest, newly graduated MBA’s from the most prestigious programs across the country (that isn’t them above…I just wanted a picture of an audience, bear with me).  I was asked by our HR department to come in to discuss some of my recent successes and how I’ve overcome certain failure along the way.  It was a great conversation and we covered a lot of ground.

    The presentation can be found here, but the real short version….I’ve always looked at my role with Sprint as more than a “job.”  I’m a person who bleeds Sprint Yellow (except for Saturdays when it’s Husker Red); most likely dating back to my beginnings as a retail rep for our company.  Completing the responsibilities of my “day job” has always been a focus but starting things like Thank You Thursday, #HackFriday and Sprint Accelerator are passion projects that I have developed for the good of my co-workers, my company and ultimately our customers.

    I built my premise around three points:

    1. Define purpose in your career – figure out why you’re here…what will keep you energized and engaged beyond the current work in your hand?
    2. Bet your paycheck – you can often hear me saying this in the hallways at work.  This is a figure of speech around conviction, know what you want to do and commit to it, own the results of a massive failure or success
    3. Move fast and break stuff – no one is going to hand you initiative, you need to TAKE it.  Ideas are easy but execution is the real work.

    So if you know why you were put on this earth as a means for evaluating opportunities, you’re convicted enough to put your livelihood on the line and you’re willing to put in the work to make it happen there’s no avoiding a promotion.

    Simple enough…right?

    ——————————————–

    After the event, I got a really amazing email…something I’ve struggled with for a long time.  Essentially it was along the following lines (to protect the identity of this person, I’ll shorthand our conversation):

    Erik – great talk today, really connected with your presentation.  I would like to say that I understand my life’s purpose, but that would be a lie.  How did you go about defining that for yourself?

    Damn…busted…at first, I didn’t have a good answer for that.  There are plenty of experts out there who have told you that purpose is important, but who the heck will help you figure out WHY you exist??

    To be honest with you, the statement in my presentation (“My Purpose:  Solve old problems in new ways, inspire others to do the same”) is something that has gone through numerous revisions and probably still isn’t finished.  It’s become a great filter to view life’s choices through, but it hasn’t been by my side for very long in that short and simple format.  My purpose statement is something that’s evolved over time through my life experiences.

    That led me to think more about the evolution.  How has it changed over my life, during my career at Sprint, over the last 2 years….?

    ——————————————–

    Last week, on my way back from California, I read a phenomenal article in Wired Magazine:  “Thinking Out Loud” by Clive Thompson.  In the article, Thompson discusses how social media tools are actually improving the process of critical thought and shaping those who participate through the audience effect:

    “Having an audience can clarify thinking.  It’s easy to win an argument inside your head.  But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.  Social scientists have identified something called the audience effect – the shift in our performance when we know people are watching.  It isn’t always positive.  In live, face-to-face situations, like sports or concerts, the audience effect can make athletes or musicians perform better – but it can sometimes psych them out and make them choke, too.  Yet studies have found that the effort of communicating to someone else forces you to pay more attention and learn more.”

    So, my eventual answer to this truly difficult question was that YOU ALL have helped me define my purpose.  The simple act of putting my thoughts in a public setting where others (theoretically) can read and critique has made me pay more attention to my experiences and thoughts.  Cataloguing simple events like a trip to Portland or identifying with some crazy guy at the Kentucky Derby has helped me arrive at a clear and simple purpose for my life and in turn, my career.

    So what are you doing?  Why are you still on this site?  Go to wordpress.com and start a FREE blog, start writing, post it for everyone to see and start learning from yourself.  Don’t get hung up on the audience…Thompson says that “going from an audience of zero to an audience of 10 is so big that it’s actually huger than going from 10 people to a million.”

    ——————————————–

    Still not convinced, here’s one more excerpt from the Wired article…

    Mom – look back to one of my very first articles published on this blog.  I know you’re a regular reader and I thank you for that!!  Love you!

    You can see this audience effect even in small children. In one of my favorite experiments, a group of Vanderbilt University researchers in 2008 published a study in which several dozen 4- and 5-year-olds were shown patterns of colored bugs and asked to predict which would be next in the sequence. In one group, the children simply repeated the puzzle answers into a tape recorder. In a second group, they were asked to record an explanation of how they were solving each puzzle. And in the third group, the kids had an audience: They had to explain their reasoning to their mothers, who sat near them, listening but not offering any help. Then each group was given patterns that were more complicated and harder to predict.

    The results? The children who didn’t explain their thinking performed worst. The ones who recorded their explanations did better—the mere act of articulating their thinking process aloud seemed to help them identify the patterns more clearly. But the ones who were talking to a meaningful audience—Mom—did best of all. When presented with the more complicated puzzles, on average they solved more than the kids who’d explained to themselves and about twice as many as the ones who’d simply repeated their answers.

  • 3 DAYS AT SXSW V2V, MY TAKE-A-WAYS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Kansas City, Leadership, Life Lessons

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    I spent the first ½ of my week in Las Vegas attending a conference on behalf of Sprint.  South by South West is a well-established cultural conference that takes place in Austin, TX each year, but they’re extending the SXSW brand into other parts of the country.  V2V (Venture 2 Vegas) is the first of its kind with Las Vegas playing host to almost 1K entrepreneurs and innovators.

    There were a few stumbles and I question why it wasn’t held this October in a venue located near the revived “Downtown Project” (adjacent to the upcoming “Life is Beautiful Festival,” a combination that would have easily delivered on the brand promise of SXSW), but overall I’m walking away more enlightened and energized about what’s to come in my career.

    Conferences can often be a mixed bag and I treat them much like I did business school…you’re only going to get as much out of them as you’re willing to put in.  For me, this conference was special…I got to hear from one of my business idols (two if you count McGinnis), listen to a forefather of the internet, develop deeper relationships with KC community leaders, collide with like-minded innovators and speak on a panel for my very first time.

    There’s so much to share and many of my insights will continue to develop here on this blog over time…  I’ll wander through some of the high points of my trip so you may have to bear with me.  Hit me up in the comments if you want to hear more specifics!!

    Tony Hsieh

    It’s not fair for me to narrow this to one take-a-way but I’ll try…  Tony is someone I’ve been following for a long time because of his very progressive views on the importance of company culture.  If I had to pick one quote, it’s the following:

    “Brand is just a lagging indicator of company culture”

    He talked about selling his first venture to Microsoft for $¼ Billion.  He didn’t sell out because of the money but because, in his words, he just didn’t like working there any more.  His focus with Zappos is on the employee experience, looking to create a community where his employees collide with the other innovators in Downtown Las Vegas.  Tony has successfully built a company culture that reflects each individual Zappos employee, focusing solely on customer service that eventually results in the sale of more clothing.  Zappos is not a shoe company, it’s a company that will always deliver happiness to their customers, regardless of the product they’re selling…maybe even an airline some day soon?

    Bonus Points – I also got to shake Tony’s hand after a random encounter at a pool party in downtown Vegas…pretty awesome moment for me.

    Steve Case

    For those who don’t know, Steve Case is the founder of America Online (AOL) and literally responsible for getting America “online.”  I don’t know what comes to mind when you think of AOL (probably CD-ROMS being delivered to your door, a screeching modem connection, chat-rooms and that friendly voice exclaiming “YOU’VE GOT MAIL!”), but we owe a lot to this man.

    When AOL was founded, 3% of the US was connected to the internet and on average those people were online 1hr per week.  AOL created the tools and applications that made the internet real, effectively revolutionizing how we now communicate and conduct daily life.  Steve talked a lot about his views on the continuing internet revolution and the fact that it’s not limited to a single city:

    “60 years ago, Detroit was the center of American innovation, not Silicon Valley.  What happened?  They lost their entrepreneurial mojo.”

    This quote is something that resonates with me and helped provide some context to what I wrestle with in my company.  Almost 120 years ago a farmer in Abilene, KS decided to stand up to the Bell monopoly, giving the customers he served a choice in their communication provider.  Decades later, we laid the first all fiber-optic network across America and soon after launched the very first national wireless network.

    The entrepreneurial mindset is not something reserved for 2 people in a garage or a start-up just trying to make it in “Silicon Wherever.”  Entrepreneurial thinking is a mindset that challengers everywhere must adopt to survive…  Whatever industry you’re in, take a look around.  Does your company have its entrepreneurial mojo?

    KC Community

    Launch KC and Think Big Partners held a cocktail party Tuesday night to get some of the KC people together as well as some other interested conference goers.  The party was in a penthouse at “The Hotel” (That’s with a capital T for those out there trying to find the right place…..*cough*……Brian).  It was off of the beaten path, requiring a $10 cab ride to get there, but as I exited the elevator on the 62nd floor and rounded the corner, the sound of 50 people having simultaneous conversation filled the hallway.  My take-a-way:

    The Midwest’s neighborly attitude and ability to work together will help us win!

    The city’s Big 5 initiative is ambitious, hoping to make KC one of the most entrepreneurial communities in America.  KC is relying on one of our strongest assets…the Midwest cultural values of a hard work ethic and a neighborly attitude to make waves in the tech/entrepreneurial scene.  KC has long been plagued with an invisible line that for some reason fosters a centuries old “border war.” It can be fun during football season, but the entrepreneurial community is showcasing our ability to compete together as one.

    Among the party attendees was a strong contingent of KC start-ups, government agencies, foundations, corporations and venture funds.  We all get-a-long in a way that is unique from the start-up communities I’ve visited.  There’s still a long way to go but the conversations happening in this room were evidence of how far we’ve come by working together.

    KC is thriving and will continue to do so because of our desire to collaborate.  We may never get to the population density of other larger markets, but we have a leg up when it comes to the “collision density” that Tony is striving for in Downtown Las Vegas.

    A Corporate Role in the Entrepreneurial Eco-System

    Kevin McGinnis and Jeff Slobotski sat down on Wednesday to have a fireside chat.  In a story I’ve heard many times, Kevin talked through the last couple years of Sprint getting more involved with the entrepreneurial movement in KC.  The symbiotic relationship between corporations and start-ups has been well documented and a lot of times, it can be misconstrued that the benefits are lop-sided.  Kevin brought in a few examples of the benefits Sprint has seen since engaging more in the community, but the following really hit home for me:

    “Employee satisfaction picks up when our employees engage in the entrepreneurial ecosystem”

    I’ve taken a lot of inspiration back to my day job through my involvement in the entrepreneurial community.  Participating in local hack-a-thons, start-up weekend, mentoring and just hanging out with some of these innovators in KC has given me a fresh perspective on my career.  As a corporation, we have access to a lot of valuable assets ranging from intellectual property, money, customers and more…but our most valuable resource is locked within the minds of the domain experts we’ve trained over the last few decades.  Getting those people out of their desk every now and again to “collide” with the larger eco-system is critical to our success.  Giving employees the freedom to sit down as a mentor and walk away with a better understanding for the entrepreneurial mindset will change culture at Sprint in a way that can’t be trained or handed down.

    If you’re a corporate employee in Kansas City and you feel like you’re doing your job the same way it’s been done for years, then stop it.  Stand up, get involved, change something.  The community is ready for you, but much like a business conference, you’re only going to get out what you put into it.

    Let me know if you need help getting started.

  • TECH TREK DAY 4 – PLAYING WITH GLASS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Life Lessons, Marketing Brilliance, Tech Trek

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    After the long ride down the coastline, we ended the evening in one of LA’s oldest Mexican restaurants (El Cholo).  The cold margaritas and spicy fish tacos were a welcome treat after a long car ride.  It was nearing midnight so after one more beer at a bar around the corner we all headed for the hotel for a little rest.

    We spent the next day on the beach, finally feeling that California sun….many of us now with the red skin to prove it.  Of all the beaches in the LA area we decided to spend our time on Venice beach, hoping to catch some of the action on the board walk.  It didn’t disappoint.

    Among the street vendors, beach bums and tourists there were pockets of really interesting people doing things outside.  We took the opportunity to put Google Glass on the faces of people who were out and about get their point of view.

    So far, most of us agree that the “killer app” of Google Glass is definitely the photo and video capability, capturing a cool human eye perspective that only takes seconds to enable (and we’ve found the image quality to be amazing).  We interrupted a few people to try on Google Glass while they were going about their afternoon activities.  A street ball “dunker,” a boxing trainer who was working out with a client and a street performer on the boardwalk were all willing volunteers.  We had fun watching the point of view Google Glass afforded us (I don’t know about you, but my days of doing a 360 degree spinning dunk are long gone).

    More than the cool videos that we were able to capture, it was fascinating to see the general public react to seeing Google Glass in the open.  In San Francisco we got a few looks but for the most part, the novelty has worn off in a city where Googlers have been walking around with them on in public for months.  LA was far enough away from the bay area giving most of the residents and tourists their first look at it in the wild.

    It started out with in-conspicuous looks but soon enough people were gathering in a crowd around Chris to catch a glimpse and maybe even try them on.  You can instantly see the power in Google’s bleeding edge piece of hardware to capture people’s imagination.  Even more than that, you get a good understanding for Google’s strategy of “pre-releasing” this device before it’s ready for prime time.  Google may not know how Glass will be put to work, but what we’ve discovered is that everyone has an idea of how they would like to use it….and that’s exactly what Google’s hoping for.

    We wrapped up things in LA (stopping at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles for a quick bite to eat) and headed into the desert for Las Vegas.  While Google Glass continues to capture the imagination of the general public we found at least one person who’s not interested in imagining the future…the head of security at the Luxor Hotel and Casino.  Chris was told to “take those off” within seconds of entering the hotel lobby.