AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Leadership, Life Lessons, Marketing Brilliance, Other Cool Stuff...

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    I was coming home from Omaha on a Sunday evening a few months ago, jamming to NPR.  This American Life was about to start and Ira Glass hopped on the mic with a preview of the evening’s story.  He mentioned that this episode would be about Amusement Parks; to my delight his first stop was Worlds of Fun in Kansas City to talk with the Manager of Games, Cole Lindbergh.

    I won’t do the story justice in writing….so you should go listen to it when you have 30 minutes free.  Don’t have time right now?  I’ll do my best to sum it up:

    Cole Lindbergh is a 26 year old who started in the games department when he was 14 (you know…ring toss, pop a shot, guess your height, weight, age, win amazing plush prizes….games).  Since that time, he’s worked his way up the ladder to manager of the entire games department, responsible for more than 120 teenagers every summer.  He’s energetic (some would say silly), he loves what he does, he accomplishes large goals and most importantly he gets the teenagers around him to do the same thing.

    Needless to say, the story really got to me, producing one of those infamous “driveway moments” that NPR is known for.  I sat in my car listening to Ira and Cole discuss empowerment, motivation and the challenge of leading millennials.  Ira at one point noted that “it’s rare to witness anyone so happily great at any job.”

    The story ended and I shut off my car, closed the garage door and went straight for my computer.  I found the Worlds of Fun Games department Facebook page and sent a message about how proud I was of Cole and how well he represented Kansas City.  It took a few months, but I jumped at the chance to connect with him one on one (I offered to buy him some tacos….he should have charged me WAY more).

    Through a conversation that lasted well over 90 minutes, I learned a lot…a better investment than some of the business books I’ve read.  For most of us, Leadership is a trait you have to practice and hone over time.  Leadership is part of Cole’s fiber, deeply embedded from the days of helping his father unload cargo from airplanes when he was only 12 yrs old (2 years from officially entering the workforce himself).  He has a drive and work ethic you don’t see often….and it’s viral, he even put a spring in my step as I headed back to the office.

    During our conversation, I heard 3 common themes that I would attribute to his success:

    1) Set a Mission/Vision/Objectives

      • This sounds simple in nature, but it’s often overlooked.  Providing your crew with a North Star (not necessarily an instruction manual) is critical to success.  Empower your team members to do the same…there should never be a question as to the mission (team or individual).


    2) Invert the Org Chart

      • Fight for your team, not with them.  If things aren’t going in the right direction, it’s because you failed on #1, not that they have bad ideas.
      • Cole walks the park every day, takes an interest in every single one of his employees (120+ of them…), surely you can do the same.  Innovation is happening on the front line and Cole had an example where an idea from a 16 yr old working the ring toss came to him with an idea that DOUBLED the revenue for the game she was working on.


    3) Attitude is Infectious

      • Cole has drive and exudes work ethic, enthusiasm and passion…he even mentioned that he “would never work for someone who doesn’t want to have fun.”  It’s no wonder his employees emulate his attitude, take part in zany training videos and come back year after year to work with him.
      • Because of the seasonal nature of amusement parks, he has to rehire all 120+ people each year.  He boasts a retention rate better than 75% year over year (meaning he only has to fill and train a fraction of new employees each year…most of them coming through referrals)
      • His current lead team has an average tenure of 4-6 years (ridiculous when you consider the fact that these supervisors are just over 20 years old).  There’s something about Worlds of Fun they like….I’ll give you one guess.


    I have no idea what the future holds for Cole, but I can guarantee you this….he’s going to continue to be successful (and hopefully keep in touch with me as he enjoys that success).  His next challenge will be to take a step back and realize that he’s a lot more than a games manager at Worlds of Fun, his skill set transcends what he’s doing today.

    My advice to his current employer, find a place for this kid….he’s got the right stuff.  Put him in a place where his leadership skills can be of most value to you.  If you wait a few more years….you wont be able to afford him because someone else will.

    Keep it up Cole!

    Follow him on Twitter:  @colelindbergh 


    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Other Cool Stuff...

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    A few months back, the marketing groups at Sprint were consolidated into one building (finally) and the moving process was underway.  I asked a simple question in my director’s staff meeting that stirred up a bit of a dust storm….”do we have any other options aside from cubicles?”

    Before I knew it, the corporate real-estate team was all over it, showing us layouts, walking me through floor plans and detailing out all kinds of options we had…they were thrilled with the opportunity to accommodate.  In exchange for a little bit of personal space, the new floor-plans brought more open areas, collaboration space, lounge chairs and a personal meeting room for our team.  With a half-way enthusiastic group, we took the plunge, complete with a name for our new home…Cubertino (graphic design work thanks to our creative friends at Fervor)

    We’re now a few months in and the feedback has been extremely positive.  Just our team asking the question inspired others in marketing to opt for a more open workspace and we even encouraged a team on our floor to convert after moving their stuff in.  I’ve noticed that we hold more “standing meetings” (meaning we don’t waste time on the calendar), we socialize more around coffee grinders, french presses, assorted baked goods and more than anything, we’re all much closer as a team.  Our personal conference room has become a place others want to come and ideate, complete with a whiteboard table and a fancy 360 degree conference phone for remote members of our team.

    While our shared workspace won’t rival those of Digitas, Google, Spotify, Lookout or some of the other tech startups I’ve visited…it beats the heck out of a normal cubicle!



    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: App Test Drives, Mobile Tech

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    Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent-at 55 mph-of driving the length of an entire football field……blindfolded

    -Department of Transportation Study

    Let’s be honest, it’s happened to all of us at one point….  You’re headed somewhere, your phone makes a noise, you reach over to just take a quick look and by the time you look up the situation on the road has changed drastically.  In fact, the stats like the one listed above are straight up ALARMING!

    After a few too many close calls, and some prodding by my employer I’ve decided that it’s time to swear it off completely.  While no one in the industry has come out and supported an all-out ban on their products while in a motor vehicle, Sprint has taken a stance that any distraction on the road is un-acceptable and AT&T has even started running PSA’s that are extremely powerful.  I applaud all of these efforts and I hope more follow the lead.

    It’s embarrassing to admit, but sometimes my phone is just too tempting…  I set out to find a more direct method of blocking my obsessive behavior.  There are a number of apps out there for Android that restrict phone usage, some of them like Sprint Drive First even automagically lock your phone when they detect movement over 10mph.  The application sends all calls straight to voicemail and auto-replies to incoming text messages when enabled.  I opted for a more passive approach and went with “Safely GO” a similar app that requires the driver to manually enable the lock screen before heading off on a trip (I like to be in control…)

    To create a visual reminder, I now have an NFC enabled sticker* on my steering wheel that will enable the Safely GO app when I tap it.  Within the first week of setting all of this up, I found that I grabbed my phone an average of 6 times per trip to and from work….once picking up my phone and seeing the lock screen, I’m reminded to put it down….who knows what I was really looking for.  Email, text messages, Facebook updates????  None of that is really that important and can wait until I get to my destination.

    I’ve found that the sticker is now a permanent reminder to keep my eyes on the road and my phone sits happily in my pocket.  Nerds like myself will continue to hack solutions together like this, but it’s only a matter of time before the government steps in and figures out a broader solution.  Challenge yourself on your next car ride.  Count the number of times you reach for your phone, I think you’ll be surprised.

    Have a better solution?  Let me know in the comments!

    *For my Mom…NFC is Near Field Communication.  The technology is built into certain phones (all Sprint Android phones going forward) and is a short range wireless communication that can enable tasks on your phone.  With a blank NFC sticker you can program it to do certain tasks when you touch your phone to it….I programmed this one in my car to enable Safely GO’s driving mode.  It’s the same technology that enables “tap to pay” applications like Google Wallet.


    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Marketing Brilliance

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    My friend Mark is like Oprah (if Oprah were tall with a red faux-hawk and beard)….he’s always on top of the latest trends and helps those around him discover things they would like.  He has what the Japanese (and Seth Godin) refer to as Otaku.  His Otaku has shifted over the years of our friendship from music, to beer, at one time fine dining and cocktails….  Lately, he’s been into marketing theory, tapping experts like Simon Sinek, Gary Vaynerchuk, Steve Jobs and more.  Like the obsessions that came before, he’s jumped in head first.

    A couple months ago he came to me with an idea.  It wasn’t just a process improvement or a cool new app that he had discovered….he wanted to share this Otaku with his circle of influence (people he’s responsible for leading but don’t report to him).  Like any corporation, we have no shortage of meetings where we shove people in a room and attempt to make decisions.  He saw a need to get people together in a casual manner to simply share ideas, enjoy each-other’s company and potentially learn something from experts in our trade.

    Out of this concept, he created a “bizarro happy hour” where we drink coffee instead of beer, eat doughnuts instead of hot wings and trade inspirational ideas rather than war stories from the week.  He calls it the “Morning Happy Hour”

    What you need for your own Morning Happy Hour:

    • One Hour (we prefer Monday morning…everyone’s really fresh from the weekend and the momentum carries through the week)
    • A gathering space (we use a room with a projector and a decent sound system so we can easily watch a quick video)
    • A short, inspirational video (TED is a fantastic place to start….thousands of inspirational stories in under 16 minutes)
    • Your circle of influence (Try to limit the size…it’s best when everyone has a chance to talk.  When the room gets crowded, encourage others to start their own happy hour!)
    • Coffee and breakfast items (always a good draw)


    Today’s session was fantastic…we heard from GE’s CMO, Beth Comstock, about innovation and instigation.  She had three tips for bringing innovative ideas to the foreground in a large company (GE has 45K engineers and 5K marketers….I’m sure these same 3 steps will apply in companies of all sizes):

    1. Tell a good story
    2. Come with a little insight/research
    3. Passion always wins


    I immediately posted these three rules in our shared workspace and it’s been fun to hear the discussion around the office today.  Are you simply managing your day to day tasks or is there something you can do to inspire your circle of influence on a regular basis?