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:
- 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?
- 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
- 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.
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.