LEADERSHIP

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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!

  • 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 2 – SITTING WITH STARTUPS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Leadership, Life Lessons, Tech Trek

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    Day 2 of the Tech Trek didn’t disappoint…I’ll admit, the non-stop action met by the comfort of a hide-a-bed is leaving me hoping for a little extra rest but I’m learning too much to worry about it.  We had a unique opportunity to see three different companies in very different stages yesterday.

    Early Stage – StatusPage.io

    Our first stop of the day was to meet with the founders of StatusPage.io.  Steve and Danny both grew up in the shadow of the research triangle in North Carolina.  After being accepted into Y Combinator both of them and Steve’s brother Scott moved out to the Valley to grow their business.

    The three of these guys (all in their mid-20’s) cram themselves into a small room in a poorly built office park near Mountain View.  They sub-lease a space that is smaller than a tiny bedroom from another startup where the two companies share less than 1,000 total square feet.  The three of them also live together in a small 3 bedroom, 2 bath apartment where they pay over $3K/mo.

    They’re thrilled….

    Both Steve and Danny quit their jobs in the corporate world.  They could easily be climbing the ladder, nearing a 6 figure salary as consultants with their technical background but something about the entrepreneurial lifestyle called them to their current position.  Both lamented hitting a wall in the corporate world where they weren’t being challenged any more at a time where they wanted to continue learning.

    When asked why they’re doing what they’re doing, Danny simply told us that “Figuring stuff out is satisfying…we’re working until 11 or 12 at night and that would probably normally kill me but for now it’s working.”  He couldn’t wipe the smile off of his face.

    The challenge for corporations is clear, find a way to leverage talented people who are interested in solving problems for you or be prepared to pay a premium for them later on once they’ve figured it all out.

    Scaling the Business – We Heart It

    We had an unreal opportunity to sit down with digital content royalty in downtown San Francisco.  David Williams worked for Schweppes early on in his career and at one point was tasked with figuring out how the company would “use the internet.”  After a few months of poking around and researching, David came back to his executive team and said “I have no idea what a soft drink company is going to with the internet, but I’m leaving.”

    He did and he was successful.  After a few startups, he and a couple other entrepreneurs revolutionized the music industry.  A few years after Napster had shocked the music world, the labels were still looking for their play in a digital era.  iTunes had started to peel users away from CD’s but a little startup called Rhapsody had this crazy idea to allow users to “access” all of the music they could listen to, long before Netflix was ready to do the same thing with digital movies.  David was a co-founder of Rhapsody…so yeah, he’s kind of a big deal.

    Since leaving Rhapsody, David has tinkered around in the Valley successfully jumping in and out of startup companies.  His talents for scaling small companies were now required at an image based social network by the name of “We Heart It.
    Started by a designer in Brazil as a solution to his own problem, it quickly turned into something more than 20M active users log into on a regular basis (presently adding 1M users per month).

    David had a lot of knowledge to share and did so graciously.  He’s not what immediately comes to mind when you think of the stereotypical ego-maniacs that top the ranks of successful Silicon Valley companies.  In fact he’s completely the opposite.  Kind, patient, honest, open and more than willing to sit down with 8 guys from Kansas City at 5pm on a Friday evening.

    He spoke to us about a lot of different topics but I thought it was interesting to hear his thoughts on the benefits of the densely populated downtown San Francisco area.

    “It’s just smart people talking to other smart people”

    Building a huge network and engaging in meaningful conversations is what’s to blame for almost every turn in David’s career:  the opportunity to leave Schweppes, the idea for Rhapsody and his current role as president at We Heart It.  These “collisions” of brilliant minds shouldn’t be unique to the Valley…this might be my inner Alana Muller talking now but I need to drink more coffee and eat more lunches with smart people.

    The Giants – Facebook

    The cities of Mountain View, Cupertino, Menlo Park, San Jose and San Mateo look much like any other white collar suburban metro area aside from the fact that every commercial building and office park is littered with logos from your favorite websites.  You can become a bit star struck as you drive around gawking at the signs that say Ebay, LinkedIn, Yahoo!, Google, and a gigantic “Thumbs Up” symbol that we all have come to know as the like button of Facebook.

    We decided to pull over.  The idea of taking a picture in front of the Facebook sign, posting it to Facebook and tagging the Facebook HQ was too tempting so we did.  As we found a spot in the parking lot and made our way out of the car toward the sign, we started to notice Facebook branded security trucks arriving near our area.  They never said anything but they were always in view as we walked around.  We snapped our picture, got back in the car and noticed that a blue tag had been placed under our windshield wiper.  It wasn’t a ticket, but definitely some kind of a marker to track how long we had been parked there.

    This was a recurring trend at many of the big companies we visited.  Blame it on Edward Snowden or just the paranoia around intellectual property…the openness and friendly collisions are most definitely running out of favor for the internet giants.  Multiple requests to speak with anyone from any of these companies for our documentary were declined…people are fascinated with what they’ve done and what they’re doing but they have no interest in the free publicity.

    What does it all mean?

    I can’t say that there’s a common thread between these three stories just more of an observation of companies each making their way in the San Francisco area.  It’s been fascinating to observe, listen and learn from everyone we talk to.  I’m seeing a lot of the appeal factor that comes with this area but I also believe there are lessons in my experiences above that I’m already seeing applied in Kansas City.

    I’ve been typing this all from the curves of Highway 1 and have learned that car sickness is impossible to avoid while watching the screen.  We’re about 200 miles out from LA and this weekend should be fun to see how Southern California differs from Silicon Valley.  Stay tuned for more!!

  • 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.