INNOVATION

  • INSIGHTS FROM MITCH HURWITZ: MAKE AN ASSUMPTION ON YOUR OWN WORK

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

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    I am an Arrested Development NUT….those who know me can attest to my fanaticism.  I’ve seen each of the episodes in the first three seasons over 10 times and have been through season 4 on Netflix twice now (after staying up until 2am to watch it the morning it was released).

    Tonight I have been reading through the Reddit “Ask Me Anything” with Mitch Hurwitz (the creator of Arrested Development).  He talks a lot about the stories behind the running jokes, keeping timelines straight, directing amazing character actors, reigning in even more amazing writers, cameo appearances that didn’t happen, how the internet and social sites like Reddit are changing television plus so much more.

    For those who don’t know, Arrested Development was canceled in 2006 after the show had failed to gather a following of the masses.  The creators and writers of the show aimed to do something never seen on network TV…after 2.5 amazingly hilarious seasons, network TV execs decided it was a failure leaving cult fans like myself completely upset (only to squeal with joy to hear that Netflix revived the series for at least one more season in 2013).

    There are a lot of easter eggs in Mitch’s discussion with the internet but I find this question and answer between a random Reddit user and Mitch Hurwitz extremely insightful on risk taking:

    Question from Reddit User:  On February 11, 2006 What were your thoughts of continuing the Bluth story? Did you think you had a shot in hell at ever telling more?

    Answer from Mitch Hurwitz:  On February 11, I DID. There’s an audacity that comes with any creative enterprise. I mean, I don’t think I would have written my first spec script if I had known how unlikely it was to get a writing job. And I don’t think I would have tried creating ARRESTED if I really thought “look at the data of what’s already been developed. they won’t make this.” but I should have – that was the evidence that existed. I don’t think I would have included all the stuff about Saddam Hussein in Season 1 if I’d done the math on the likelihood of getting through an entire season to reveal the punchline. And I think that everyone has to jump off that cliff and make that assumption in their own work – because the truth is, even if it doesn’t happen, you have a more interesting life if you’re to sit down and write a novel than doing the math on the likelihood of it getting published.

    We are all challenged by the “What If”; data, peer pressure, the risk of something not working and the way things have always been.

    Stop doing the math….embrace your audacity…make an assumption on your own work…

    You’re probably right.

  • LIVE ON THE EDGE…YOUR LIFE CHOICES ON A CONTINUUM

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

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    b&w

    con·tin·u·um

    A continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, although the extremes are quite distinct.

    If you had to put any moment of your life on a continuum, where would you place it?

    The fat middle – Where your decision, action, opinion, perspective isn’t perceptively different from those around you?  Where it’s safe and the return is relatively predictable?

    The extreme edges – Where you will stand out from the pack?  Where there’s a chance you’re going to fail?  Where you’ll most likely experience something new and different?

    I try to stay on the edges as much as possible.  At the very least, always be aware of where you stand in any given situation…

    —————————————–

    One of my favorite examples of someone living on the extreme edge is a boxing coach in NYC by the name of Eric Kelly.  In this VERY explicit YouTube video, you see a man who is offensive, vulgar and rude to his own clients.  He also has a waiting list of people hoping to work with him….he gets results and charges clients handsomely for it.

    (seriously…a lot of F-Bombs behind the play button…I warned you Mom!):

     

    There are hundreds of boxing coaches in NYC, most of them in the fat middle…hell, there are probably a few that are better than Eric Kelly.  They all have 3 choices:

    1)  Don’t change a thing, stay comfortable with their place on the continuum and the results they’re getting (ASSUMING THE CONTINUUM ISN’T MOVING!!!)

    2)  Move to an edge, it’s difficult to be known as the 2nd most offensive boxing coach in NYC…what about the nicest?

    3)  Create a new continuum, when all else fails change the selection criteria…the only boxing coach in NYC who will bring the gloves to your workplace so you can duke it out in the office.

    —————————————–

    “Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience”

    -Pixar’s 22 Rules to Phenomenal Storytelling – #13

  • MAKE YOUR NEXT MEETING LESS LIKE A MEETING AND MORE LIKE A PITCH

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Leadership

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    In the last week, I’ve been lucky enough to participate in two events where the presenters were extremely purposeful with the information they communicated in a very public setting.  Better known as a 5 minute pitch.

    Last Tuesday I headed out to the Blue Valley CAPS building to watch the High School (YES…HIGH SCHOOL) Junior/Seniors in the CAPS Excelerator present their final projects.  Each student team had 5 minutes to summarize their SEMESTER’S worth of work.

    Tonight I was given the opportunity to judge the final pitches for the graduates of the Kauffman FastTrac TechVenture program where they each had 5 minutes to pitch their new business venture.

    In both cases, the very real pressure of time and an audience produced “pitches” where the presenter was well rehearsed and somewhat formulaic in structure.  I don’t want to give the impression that any of the presenters were boring; as a matter of fact, most of them were extremely dynamic.  Instead, I want you to consider the importance of knowing your content, focusing in on the key points and keeping the attention of your audience by reducing needless filler content.

    Before you stand up or sit down in front of a group of people to communicate information, consider these simple observations I had as an audience member/judge:

    1) Define the problem – Why did you call this meeting?  Is there a customer being impacted?  Is there money/time to be made/saved?

    2) Clearly articulate the solution – Ok, that sounds like a big opportunity…do you have a creative way of fixing that problem?

    3) What does success look like – You have my attention…So how much money/time can you make/save exactly?

    4) What do you need to be successful – Woah, I’m in!  Why are we still standing here?  What’s standing in your way?

    I’m not sure why 30 to 60 minutes became the standard for conveying information in the corporate world…  Meetings are painful and the people you invite are VERY expensive resources.

    Make your next meeting less like a meeting and more like a pitch…at the very least start with #1 and see where things go.

    Want to get crazy?  Rehearse your “pitch” and get a peer to limit it to 5 minutes.  You’ll be shocked at the progress that follows.

  • BUILDING A CULTURE OF INNOVATION, #HACKFRIDAY

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

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    I accidentally got hooked on hack-a-thons late last year.  I was walking through our corporate cafeteria and my good friend and co-worker Jason Rincker asked if I was participating in the internal Sprint hack-a-thon.  I had heard of hack-a-thons but didn’t realize Sprint would be holding one…nor did I consider myself “technical” enough to take part.  I was wrong.

    That 24 hours changed my life and ever since I’ve been on a mission to bring the benefit of rapid innovation to more of my co-workers. I announced the #HackFriday program during a leadership webcast on a Wednesday and asked people to join me 10 days later, the next Friday.  I opened the door to anyone across the company willing to take the entire day “ON” and 75 innovative employees were crazy enough to join me.  I hope they’ll never be the same.

    With 75 people, we formed 11 teams, produced 10 great innovations (two of the teams merged just before mid-day), ate 22 pizzas (thanks to MobiTV for coming in at the last second witha surprise lunch) and learned more than anyone could have hoped for.  Here’s how it went down.

    We kicked things off at 8:30 last Friday with some informal networking.  There were employees from IT, Marketing, Network, Sales, Product, Corporate Communications, Legal, User Experience Design, Customer Experience and more.  Many of the attendees had never met before and there were pockets of people starting to socialize.  It was awkward at first but I encouraged people to embrace that….life outside of the comfort zone is where the magic happens.

    By 9:30, after a brief orientation, we were divided into equal groups and each team began defining business problems.  The brainstorm was very open with only two restrictions, they should solve a pain point related to customer loyalty and their solution had to somehow incorporate “gamification.”

    With the help of some hand-selected facilitators, the teams moved quickly from brainstorming into creative solutions.  The pressure of a 7hr hack-a-thon was palpable with people working straight through lunch in a rush to deliver something by 3pm.  We didn’t set many guidelines on what they should deliver and there were really amazing results.  Along with PowerPoint presentations, there were prototyped applications, videos posted to YouTube, hand drawn flip-charts and even a couple skits complete with hilarious acting.

    At 3pm we had a panel of Directors and VP’s come in to serve as our executive panel (the first executives to participate all day….#HackFriday was organically led with only managers and individual contributors participating).  They judged the concepts based on pre-determined criteria and gave some closing remarks.  Every single one of them was blown away by the amount of work that was completed in the short amount of time, the collective knowledge of the business and the viability of the concepts.  At this point it wasn’t a question of whether or not #HackFriday would continue, but more of an argument over what business challenge would headline in May.

    The biggest validation of the event came from the participants.  Throughout the evening I received text messages, emails and personal comments saying things like

    “This has been the best day in the office in years”

    “Thanks for the awesome opportunity, what happens next?”

    “This had to happen at Sprint, I’m glad you started it”

    “I felt I was working in Silicon Valley. The mood, the energy, networking all showed you don’t have to be in Silicon Valley to experience that culture.”

    My co-workers had been bitten with the same bug that got me months back…I fought back tears of joy as I drove home that night.

    I’ve learned a lot over the last year diving into the entrepreneurial community here in KC.  While I continue to search for my place within it, I see a bigger opportunity for how we can all work together.  Large corporations can provide an eco-system for startups to thrive with access to technology, seed funding, a large customer base and domain knowledge.  While many of these same large companies will fail to recognize what they can learn from entrepreneurs….I’m going to make sure Sprint learns to innovate like a startup.

  • TAKING THE FIRST STEP FROM YOUR COMFORT ZONE, #HACKFRIDAY

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Life Lessons

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    Here we are…#HackFriday Eve.  It’s been a hell of a week.

    For those who haven’t been following along, I was granted an amazing opportunity to speak on Innovation at Sprint last week.  Knowing that I had 10 minutes of fame and a platform in front of the company’s leaders, I invited innovators from across our corporate campus to join me (video link if you want to see it in action).

    They responded… Rather than spending this Friday answering emails, taking a leisurely lunch or cutting out a little early for a happy hour, over 100 innovative Sprint employees will be coming together to “hack the business.”  I don’t know how things are going to go, I’m not sure if any of the innovations generated will be viable, I can’t even guarantee that I’ll have a job on Monday for getting 100 employees to vacate their desk for a whole day.

    What I do know:  We’re going to take 8 hours tomorrow to solve a real business problem, we’re going to bring employees with diverse backgrounds together, we’re going to build stuff (rather than talk about it) and we’re not going to be afraid to fail.

    It’s been fun to spend a little time this week witnessing people stepping out of their comfort zones.  Here are a couple of my favorite stories of bold employees in the run up to Sprint’s first ever #HackFriday:

    • My friend Nate contacted me on Monday.  He had a conflict Friday and was asking if he could just show up for the first 1/2 of the day.  I said it was completely up to him, but warned that he would probably be ditching his team as they made the critical shift from ideation in the morning time to “building” right around noon.  He replied about an hour later and told me he moved his afternoon meeting out to next week and was ALL-IN.  Nate became part of the team before the teams have formed….

     

    • Our work phones always append the functional organization name to the end of the Caller ID.  Marketing employees have the tag [MKT], Sales [SLS], Network [NTK], Wholesale [WLS], etc…  On Tuesday I got a call from someone I didn’t recognize, it had [LEG] at the end of the name.  I decided to let that one go to voicemail.  I checked it a few minutes later and it was someone from….you guessed it…legal.  The message said he wanted to talk with me about #HackFriday.  I braced myself for a battle, sure this attorney wanted to talk about who had the rights to the intellectual property developed during #HackFriday or how on earth hourly employees would count their time when taking the so called “Day ON.”I was surprised to get this question after some brief small talk:  “So…can anyone really attend this thing?  Like you would be ok if a couple lawyers showed up?”I let out a deep breath and exclaimed “ABSOLUTELY!!  See you Friday!”

     

    • On Wednesday a Sprint employee I didn’t know appeared at my desk with an arm extended to introduce himself, he didn’t look a day older than 24.  Turns out he was a couple years out of college, relatively new to the company and working in our accounting department.  He proceeded to tell me how excited he is for #HackFriday but his boss wasn’t going to allow him to take a “Day ON” to come participate.  I was upset with this short sighted manager, but before I could express my frustration this fresh-faced employee told me that he was going to take PAID TIME OFF and his manager was ok with that.

     

    There were plenty more stories like this….probably hundreds that I haven’t heard but hope to hear over the next 24 hours.  These people are all taking a GIGANTIC, uncomfortable leap.  I have a idealistic mission of creating a culture of innovation at Sprint.  Step one is getting people out of their comfort zones, step two is making that feel normal, step three will be growing it at a massive scale.  #HackFriday may not accomplish all of that, but I can guarantee the PEOPLE who show up tomorrow will.

     

    In addition to the people who are learning to step out of their comfort zone, I have some REALLY close friends who are also taking gigantic leaps to make #HackFriday a success:  Cari Ferrara, Mitch Rice, Stephanie Lashley, Wade Burris, Tina Peterson, David Rondeau, Jason Rincker, Doug Dresslaer, Brian Mills, Lana Graf, Kevin McGinnis, Matt Gunter, John Tudhope, Melinda Parks, Scott Zalaznik and probably many others who are just as deserving (tell me if I forgot you and I’ll add your name).  

  • ALL LIBRARIANS SHOULD BE THIS DISRUPTIVE, CITYCAMP KC 2013

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Life Lessons

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    I was leaving work on Friday and someone asked me the question:  “Hey Erik, anything fun going on this weekend?”

    Almost instinctively, I responded with:  “nah…probably just going to lay low”

    I had lied.  I didn’t realize what I had signed myself up for over the weekend and once again I stretched my brain to new limits.  For those who haven’t been following along, I’ve had some busy weekends lately.  A whirlwind trip to Portland, a weekend in Omaha and KC Startup Weekend.  I was honestly ready to just “lay low” but had an opportunity to attend Kansas City’s “CityCamp” and couldn’t pass on it.

    CityCampKC is the KC region’s installment of the wildly popular global unconference series connecting civic doers, makers and hackers together with local government officials for a day of learning, discussing, imagining and building.

    – CityCamp KC

    “Unconference” was a new term by me, but I came to learn that it meant that the content of the day was largely driven by the participants (many of them the best and brightest in KC…I was surrounded by talented makers, skilled entrepreneurs and leaders from the area).  There was a general outline and theme for the day, but only a few speakers were “booked.”  Anyone who wanted to present could go post their topic on the wall, where participants could vote the topic up.  The sessions that gained in popularity were given large rooms and the others that didn’t float to the top were given smaller spaces, almost all were given a platform for conversation.

    I listened to speakers like Mayor Joe Reardon (KCK) and Mayor Sly James (KCMO) on the state of our cities, I sat in on a suburban city councilman who spoke about the suburban expansion of KC from 1893 to present, participated in a round-table session on corporations + entrepreneurial startups in our city and joined a small group of citizens to discuss the role of technology in public transit.

    At one point just past mid-day, the crowd gathered for one of only 3 scheduled events, “Ignite KC.”  I had read about Ignite talks in Brad Feld’s book “Startup Communities” but had never seen one in person.  Each speaker had 5 minutes and 20 slides to talk about a topic of their choice.  With only 15 seconds/slide (set to auto advance), the speakers produced some really amazing (often hilarious) results.

    The conference could have ended there and been phenomenal, but my favorite moment of the day came toward the end of the event.  Lesa Mitchell of the Kauffman Foundation got on stage to kick off a shared keynote address.  She spoke about the tools that have popped up over the past few years for people looking to tinker, experiment and build (TechShop, Sunglass.io, MakeXYZ, etc…).  While these sites and organizations are doing amazing things, access to these tools is still limited to those with means.

    —————————————————

    “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed”

    – William Gibson

    —————————————————

    Lesa introduced us to a librarian in Chicago by the name of Yolande Wilburn who is trying to fix all of that.  Yolande was adamant in preserving her title as a “Librarian” and quickly convinced me that all of her colleagues should be so proud as a Library is so much more than a place that holds books.  One of her first slides displayed the mission statement for the Chicago Public Library:

    Within the mission statement of the Chicago Public Libraries, Yolande pointed out that they have never been about books, but instead, lifelong learning and the idea of equal access to information.  As she talked about the procurement of things like sewing machines, vinyl cutters, CNC milling machines, laser cutters, 3D printers and even an XBOX Kinect transformed into a 3D scanner I was enthralled.  She is leading a fight to transform the Chicago Public Library into a place where patrons can TRULY read, learn AND discover.

    At once, everything I was hearing hit me like a ton of bricks.  I’ve been feeling guilty over the last few months for not “making” stuff, on a wild spree to re-learn design tools, dive back into learning code and focusing on this blog.  A lot of what I’ve valued in my educational and professional career up to this point has been centered around “theory.”  Because of the maker movement, there’s an entire generation of children who will grow up with the ability to put theory into practice with very little investment.

    When you consider my simple “innovation equation” (innovation = ideas + action), Chicago Public Library is enabling true innovation for the masses.  No longer should any idea trapped within the mind have any excuse, the necessary means for action are right there at the Harold Washington Library, the crossroads of the mass transit lines in Downtown Chicago.  The continued spread of this model is not just something nice to do for the patrons of a public library system, but game changing for the American economy.

    People like Yolande are doing wonderful things for the future of our country, giving people equal access to the tools of creation, putting not only the theory into their minds but also the tools to put it to use.  The children (and adults) of Chicago are very fortunate to have Yolande working so hard for them, I’m excited to see them return the favor.

  • I SPENT THE DAY LEARNING ABOUT PROCESS…AND I DIDN’T HATE IT

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Life Lessons, Other Cool Stuff...

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    …I might have even learned something.

    Jenny Tarwater and I have formed an improbable relationship.  Not because she’s a boring person (she’s full of just as much energy as I am), not because she’s a downer (she’s SUPER positive) and not because she’s stuck in her ways (I would argue that she is VERY innovative).  No, we’re a lot alike aside from our love (or in my case avoidance) of process.

    I’ve always known of Jenny, but never really knew her.  A few weeks ago I decided to go formally re-introduce myself because I had walked by these crazy “Kanban” boards and heard so much about “agile development.”  After a quick tour and crash course on what she’s started inside of our product development group, I was intrigued.  The thought of process serving a real purpose in allocating the proper skills for a particular job, encouraging communication, bringing people closer together to make quick decisions and more than anything speeding up delivery was a foreign concept for someone so used to the process that I thought I knew….

    Jenny encouraged me to jump into an upcoming training course taught by the equally amazing Hollie Carrender-Shephard.  So I did…and I brought a couple co-workers with me.  After making a few immature jokes about flicking spit wads and finding my seat in the back of the class, Hollie got me under control and we spent the day learning about visioning, themes, user stories, Kanban, definition of done, iteration and more.  If you would have told me a month ago that I would be sitting through a day of training on process…….and enjoying it…..I would have fallen on the floor laughing.  To be clear, I’m still not the right person to implement everything I learned today, but I sure as hell respect it.

    After a long day of listening and asking questions, Jenny and I went to grab a quick beer to talk about the application of agile to my tiny marketing team.  There are many companies adopting “Agile Marketing” practices and my team has started to champion the merits of this idea…I’m always looking to pick an expert’s brain.

    I get schooled on multi-tasking…at a bar

    I tell you all of this only to provide context…  I’m now at a bar with a process expert (remember…an innovative process expert) and she says she wants to show me a quick experiment on multi-tasking.  I’ve enjoyed two beers, so I oblige…what could she teach me about multi-tasking?  I take on everything I can and juggle it all without any issues.

    She grabs two receipts and flips them over, handing me a pen.  As she grabs her iPhone she tells me to start writing numbers in sequential order…as many as I can in 30 seconds.  She yells “TIME” and I stop writing, I made it to the number “22.”  She resets the timer and tells me to start writing my ABC’s.  This time I’m really ready and I fly through the alphabet.  By the time she yells “TIME” again I had blown through the letter “Z” and started writing “A, B” already.

    Now for the lesson…she grabs the other receipt and this time has me write both characters together, “1A, 2B, 3C, 4D, 5E, etc…”  I make it to 18R.  This set was noticeably harder as I had to start engaging my brain on what pair came next (though my brain figured out a trick once I got to the number 8 that sped me up a bit…ask me in the comments and I’ll tell you about it).

    When my brain was given the ability to focus on an individual task (writing number or letters individually) I was able to get through 50 characters.  When my brain had to think about the sequential order of both numbers and letters, I only got through 36 characters.  The theory here is that multi-tasking engages your brain in context switching and actually requires more attention and time OR increases the risk of errors.

    As a person who is frequently (VERY FREQUENTLY) distracted by shiny objects, this is something I need to be aware of.  While Jenny admitted I scored better than most, the risk of switching context explains a lot about my productivity.  Figuring out how to effectively tackle something with my full attention will produce the best result.

    As for me and my new found friend in process…I’m happy to have learned so much about it but thrilled to be surrounded by people like Jenny who can keep me on track.

  • INNOVATION @SPRINT AND THE LAUNCH OF #HACKFRIDAY

    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!