APRIL 2013

  • 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!

  • 8 RAPID FIRE LESSONS FROM KC STARTUP WEEKEND

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Life Lessons, Marketing Brilliance

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    Friday at 6pm, I walked into a building where I only knew 3 of the ~60 people there.  I got in a line with 30 of them, stood in front of the room and pitched an idea for a startup which I felt had a compelling business model.  Unfortunately, it was half-baked and the rest of the room didn’t vote mine into the top 12 so I joined a team who was selected.  Over the next 56 hours, we created a fully formed business, focusing in on the problem, solution, customer validation and business model.  Between two VERY talented coders and an AMAZING designer, we had a prototype to demonstrate in front of a crowded auditorium during the final round of the 2013 Kansas City Startup Weekend.

    What did you do this weekend?

    While I should have been at home fixing things on the house or getting my lawn mowed before a week of rain…I recognize how fortunate I am to have the freedom (AND EXTREMELY UNDERSTANDING WIFE) to take part in an event like this.  I’ve talked multiple times on the merits of hack-a-thons; KC Startup Weekend was no different, and my favorite one so far!!

    In addition to being the longest and most in-depth, I went into KC Startup Weekend with my eyes wide open giving me a better perspective.  I learned a lot…enough to fill this blog for a year.  Rather than make you wait, here is a rapid fire session of the bits of wisdom I took away:

    1. Take the opportunity to “scare the shit out of yourself”:  Startup Weekend is not a place to play it safe…  Pitch your idea, butt into conversations, talk to people you don’t know, ask dumb questions, work on something you don’t understand, take initiative.  You’re with a group of people who are trying to do the same thing and they’re going to celebrate failure with you (it’s ok here).  Don’t miss out on the fun!
    2. Don’t fall in love with your idea until someone else has:  You’re smart….but so is everyone else.  So if your pitch doesn’t make the cut…go find something that will stretch you to new limits.
    3. Dive in, get committed:  You have a pass for the weekend, use it.  Work 16 hours straight, go get a beer to talk about the day, take a nap, wake up thinking about your project, get back to work.  It’s a riot and it’s not something you get to do every day.
    4. Embrace the luxury of a deadline:  the VERY real pressure of getting something delivered by presentation time gives you the excuse to start cutting scope from your project.  If you’ve done your research on the problem and the target customer, what’s left is only the most essential features.  Your future customers will thank you.
    5. Connect with everyone:  Seriously, the people around you are the future leaders (or existing ones) of your community.  Don’t miss out on collecting business cards, following them on Twitter and building new relationships.
    6. Take free advice from people who have been there before:  We experienced “Mentor Madness” midway through Saturday…we had to take a walk, decompress and digest the feedback.  We marched back into our room with a renewed focus, fresh with insight from some very wise people who were nice enough to give us some tough feedback…it saved our project.
    7. Play to your audience:  First your customer, then your judges.  We had a sweet solution for our target customer….unfortunately none of them were sitting in the judge’s chairs.  Keep that in mind and tailor your presentation accordingly.  Find a way to make the judges care.
    8. Practice, Practice, Practice:  Your entire business is only as good as the final presentation…don’t fill it up with needless words or a busy PowerPoint.  You’ve been working 56 hours for this moment!

     

    We didn’t walk away with any awards (well…we did come in 3rd as “crowd favorite”) but I feel like a winner.  I have new friends, a better appreciation for GitHub/social coding, a new comprehension of design and an experience that I can’t erase.  Startup Weekend will be back in the Fall….who’s coming with me?!?!

  • NIKE & TECHSTARS, BUSINESS SYMBIOSIS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Life Lessons, Marketing Brilliance, Mobile Tech

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    Many of you have read about my whirlwind week that culminated with a last-minute trip to the Nike Accelerator in Portland.  It was an amazing week my best week on record and I learned a lot about putting myself in the “way of opportunity” as a friend of mine put it.

    Aside from personal growth, I witnessed an amazing partnership between a huge multi-national corporation and a handful of small startups.  These two groups are typically juxtaposed but what I saw in Portland was a symbiotic relationship where everyone involved was walking away with more than what they brought into the relationship.

    First some context…The world has changed

    Seth Godin’s latest book, “The Icarus Deception,” chronicles the end of the industrial age due to the birth of the connected economy.  Rather than fumble through explaining this shift to you, I’ll let the master give you a 3 minute schooling:

     

     

    High Growth Startups were born in the Connected Economy

    The benefits of the Connected Economy are well-known among entrepreneurs and founders of high growth startups.  They grew up in the connected age and have defined it for themselves by creating a lot of the platforms and tools they use to be successful.  There are 4 principles that I believe set a successful high growth startup apart from a typical organization in the Connected Economy:

    They focus on a real customer problem/pain point:  with limited resources, they define a problem, prototype a solution, understand market size/competition, focus on differentiation and determine a business model…in that order.  As a side benefit, the founders are typically emotionally connected to their companies making it easier to define and adhere to a clear mission in the marketplace.

    They connect with a ridiculously large network of people who can help them:  Well documented in Brad Feld’s book “Startup Communities,” entrepreneurs build out a community that looks out for one another, favoring a “give before you get” mentality.  Jumping into something blind sucks, knowing that there are a number of people around who have been there before increases the likelihood of success.

    They move quickly:  They don’t tackle the entire solution right away, they instead target a Minimally Viable Product that will get them on base and use an iterative process to continually improve while growing their business.  Practices like the Lean Startup Movement, Agile Development and even Agile Marketing have been designed with speed to market at the center.

    They have no fear of failure:  Failure is always an option…as long as you’re learning something and improving the next time around.  This ability to silence the “lizard brain,” and find a way to get something done is a true competitive advantage.

     

    So are corporations just worthless and screwed?

    Absolutely NOT!  While corporations may have been born during the industrial age, almost all of them have amassed valuable assets that any young company would love to get their hands on…they just need to be shown the value in sharing:

    Meaty Business Problems:  Every organization out there has business problems in need of solutions.  Generally the lack of fresh thought the limitations of bandwidth or a lack of entrepreneurial skill-set make these problems fester.  By open-sourcing these challenges, corporations and startups could both benefit.

    Access to Intellectual Property:  The rate at which corporations file patents is amazing.  There’s so much IP floating around that a lot of it actually goes unused.  While the theory of “technology transfer” is something that’s been around the academic world for quite some time, exploring performance based IP licensing models where someone else could actually help enable that IP would benefit everyone.

    Talented “Domain Experts”:  I sit next to thousands of tenured professionals who have deep experience and extremely valuable skills.  Your startup most likely can’t afford a brand expert who has been working on large sports sponsorships or a pricing manager who crunches business models for a living.  Loaning this talent to a startup as a mentor not only helps a startup in need, but maybe some of that cultural magic will rub off on your corporate employee…

    Seed Capital:  This is typically cited as a key challenge for any startup community.  A large corporation should be playing the role of a hub in your entrepreneurial community.  This includes investing relatively small amounts of money that return a good portfolio of entrepreneurs working close to core business problems. At the end of the day, you want to ensure innovation happens around you, not to you.

    Large Customer Bases:  Ah yes…the holy grail.  Once that startup has a product in market they sure would love to have access to all of your paying customers.  As a corporation, if you’ve managed to surround yourself with a portfolio of relevant startups, chances are…you probably want your customers to know about them.  Everyone wins.

     

    Creating an Environment where everyone can win…right in your home town

    Large and small companies working together is not a new concept by any means…in fact, there are a number of companies doing something similar to Nike.  Technology companies immediately set their sights on Silicon Valley, I would opt to start as close to home as possible.  Startup communities are popping up in every city and they’re probably waiting for a large corporation to show a little interest.  When building a community close to your company, make sure things are close enough for you to keep tabs on what’s going on but far enough away from HQ to keep the heavy hands of the executives at bay.

    What Nike and TechStars have set up in Portland seems to be working and I’m excited to watch it grow.  They have laid the ground work for a healthy innovation pipeline that they can manage over a long period of time.  As I provided advice to each of the teams I met with, I received a number of thank you’s and genuine appreciation….but they ended up changing me for the better (whether they know it or not).

  • MY BEST WEEK EVER

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Life Lessons

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    I’m still scratching my head as to how the events of the last week unfolded…but I’m just going to refer to it as “Erik’s best week ever.”  What I experienced was remarkable and filled with coincidence.  I’m not publishing this to gloat or brag but more as a way to make sure I don’t lose any detail from what I saw.

    More than anything, I want to give my friends/family/co-workers some context into my behavior, disconnected mental state and general absence.  I’ve shared bits and pieces with many of you…the experience was too cool to keep bottled up in my head.  To keep things detailed but brief, I’ve included a few links that you can click-through to:

    Wednesday (March 27th)

    • I attended BIG KC after a co-worker hooked me up with a spare ticket at the last-minute.
    • After the event was over I was talked into skipping my “Food not Lawns” gardening class and instead enjoy a beer at the VIP cocktail reception.
    • I truly connected with this amazing lady wearing a bad ass Harley Davidson shirt.  Our conversation slowly shifted from that into the TechStars model of acceleration.
    • This lady, who turned out to be Lesa Mitchell, invited me to join her on a trip to Portland (April 4th – One week away) to visit the Nike+ Accelerator, powered by TechStars…I thought she was joking.

     

    Thursday (March 28th)

    • I received an email from Alana Muller just after midnight, one of my favorite leaders and an influential mentor…Lesa had told her about the invite to Portland and she too kicked me in the rear with words of encouragement: “She was serious… GO! Don’t pass it up.”
    • I checked prices on flights…it would be an expensive trip.  Though I believe this could have been spun as a “business trip” surely work wouldn’t pay for it.  I sent an email to my boss just to give it a shot, he said “no way.” (for the record, I love my boss…this was a crazy request and he was more than happy to allow me to take vacation)

     

    Friday (March 29th)

    • I reflected with a number of people on my dilemma…I would be investing more than $800 of my own money to make the trip and miss a pretty important day of meetings with a vendor I had invited to town.  The decision was unanimous…
    • On a road trip to Omaha, my wife and I had an impassioned discussion: “Let me get this straight.  You want to spend how much to fly to Portland next week, with a WOMAN you met at a happy hour?”
    • She had a point but we eventually came to an agreement.  I booked my flight and hotel room just before midnight…I was in.

     

    Saturday (March 29th) – Wednesday (April 3rd)

    • I questioned myself, read a lot about Startups & Acceleration, I woke up early every morning with memories of vivid dreams and all kinds of thoughts running through my head

     

    Thursday (April 4th)

    • I woke up at 3:30am….my alarms (three of them) were blaring but I couldn’t sleep anyway.  I was in an excited emotional state that I haven’t felt before (For those who don’t know me… I’m an overly passionate person.  This was different)
    • Armed with some new reading material (Startup Communities by Brad Feld, The 2012 Kauffman report “Entrepreneurial Community in Kansas City, From Fragmented to Collaborative” and dozens of internet articles clipped to my Pocket Reader) I didn’t sleep a wink on my flights to Portland….my eyes were opened even wider with new insight
    • I landed in Portland and met Lesa at her gate…we walked toward the cab and she asked me: “so what are you hoping to get out of this?”  She patiently listened while I did my best to dump all of my thoughts over the previous week into a mostly coherent verbal manifesto…we had a fantastic 35 minute conversation in the cab before pulling up to a rehabbed old brick building in NW Portland.
    • We walked into the Nike+ Accelerator, a very open space with tables, chairs, couches, whiteboard paint on almost every surface and tasteful Nike branding scattered throughout.  Around 30 entrepreneurs of various ages were all over the place.  We were greeted by Greg and Dylan a couple of Rock Stars who are leading things at the space.
    • We talked about the progress so far, I shot a bow & arrow (yeah…in an office), we sat in a room for some one-on-one time with 8 of the 10 teams.  We were given demos of products in their current state, challenged the teams on certain aspects, brainstormed with them on their biggest issues and referred them to other mentors who may be able to help when we didn’t have any more answers.
    • Around dinner time, the entire group stopped working.  I grabbed some Chinese food, poured a beer and sat down to hear each of them make a 5 minute pitch for their business followed by some critiquing of their presentation skills.
    • At 8pm things were wrapping up, so I went to grab a beer with a couple close friends who live in Portland….I was mentally spent and some casual conversation with good buddies was exactly what I needed.
    • I hit the sack at 12:30am pst….I had been up for 23 hours straight.  LITERALLY, the best day of my career

     

    Friday (April 5th)

    • I woke up at 6:45am pst.  I couldn’t sleep any more due to my enthusiasm (and a splitting headache….Portland has some REALLY good beer).
    • Because Thursday/Friday were officially vacation days for me I hit the streets of downtown Portland for some fresh air and a coffee (cold brew is awesome…why isn’t the Roasterie bottling that stuff?)
    • I walked around putting thoughts together, reflected on the past 10 days…So much opportunity, a lot of decisions to make.
    • On the flight home I wrote this list and another blog post that I’ll post soon.  My eyes were fading fast though, the trip from KCI to my house was terrible.  I hit the sheets just after midnight and slept.  There’s nothing like your own bed.

     

    No words of wisdom here….just trying to piece things together while it’s still fresh in my mind.

    Maybe one take away.  The events of the last week are proof that I’m doing a better job of applying the things I believe in.  In the last month, a lot of my personal beliefs have been validated by Adam Morgan’s books “Eating the Big Fish” and “The Pirate Inside” as well as Seth Godin’s book “The Icarus Deception”:

    I am a challenger brand.  I am not playing it safe any more.  Safe is dangerous.  Making hard choices and doing hard work (as opposed to working hard) is remarkable.