BUILDING A CULTURE OF INNOVATION, #HACKFRIDAY

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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.

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