KANSAS CITY

  • 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

  • RSVP NOW FOR THE SPRINT MHEALTH ACCELERATOR DEMO DAY!

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Kansas City, Mobile Tech, Sprint Accelerator

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    70 days ago, we welcomed 10 companies to Kansas City.  As a group, there were 43 of them and they came from all over the World (Chicago, Salt Lake City, Boston, Baltimore, New York, Atlanta, LA, San Francisco and Seattle.  Italy, Australia, Bulgaria, Belarus, Spain and Argentina).

    I’ve been surrounded by remarkable people…a physician who put her medical residency at a Boston Hospital on hold, a former attorney who left his job on Wall Street, a founder who turned down a Fulbright Scholarship to med school, a mobile developer who starred on “The Amazing Race”…twice, former Google, Intel, Microsoft engineers, and more accomplishments than I have time to list here.

    Each company formed around a problem they had personally encountered related to healthcare.  Relatives struggling with diabetes, a grandparent who had suffered a traumatic fall, a parent sifting through mounds of paperwork through treatment of a chronic illness and a desire to better understand how a beloved pet was feeling just to name a few.

    They came in various stages, some with just 3D drawings or prototypes, others with customers and growing monthly revenues. During their time in KC, they all had a mission to accelerate the growth of their startup companies, cramming about a year’s worth of work into 3 months with access to experts in health, tech, business and each-other in the collaborative Sprint Accelerator facility.

    According to the “you’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” rule, my average has shot through the roof.  I feel like a pretty lucky guy.

    ———————–

    I’m looking forward to sharing these companies with the world…  On June 12th, the 10 CEO’s will stand on stage to talk about their business and the progress they’ve made over the 90 day program.  This is your opportunity to get a sneak peek into what progress looks like in a changing healthcare industry.  The event is free and open to the public…all you need to do is RSVP now.

    In addition to you, we’re looking for interested investors, media, business leaders, government officials, healthcare workers, university students/faculty, entrepreneurs and community members here in KC who want to learn more about the 10 companies.  With 1,700 seats available in the Kauffman Performing Arts Center, we will nearly triple the audience size of an average Techstars Demo Day, truly showing off our supportive Kansas City community.

    Sold?  Go RSVP for the show!!

    After that, share the link with your friends, post it to your social sites and bring the rest of KC out for an evening that will be one to remember.

  • 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”

  • 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.