Soft Skills Development at Innovative Non-Profit

When the newest cadre of students at The Grooming Project were slated for Soft Skills development, I was asked to bring mindfulness training to the group.

We started the session with the mindfulness activities Moment to Arrive, Head/Heart/Gut check-in, and SBNRR (Siberian Northern Railroad AKA Stop, Breathe, Notice, Reflect, Respond). When these are done at the start of work or throughout the day, they bring presence and non-reactivity to the moment and/or potentially challenging situation.

One of the longest activities was mindful listening. The participants saw the impact of not being listened to as well as being listened to. It was noticed that we most often pay attention to the conversation in our heads instead  of the person speaking.

One person noticed the profound affect on her life that not being listened to had. Another person said it was “wonderful” being heard.

The group saw that having a client (or loved one) be heard is a gift, and a perfect way to build positive professional and personal relationships.

I asked each person to write down the impact the workshop had on them. Some of their responses are below.

“My feelings have changed as far as sometimes it is so important, very important, to be heard, as well as listen, and just caring about other people’s voices.” ~ Valerie C.

“I now know that I need to be listened to just as the next person needs me to listen – relationship-wise!!” ~ Keyla

“I now feel reflective of situations in my personal life where people have been frustrated by me not listening when I felt like I was but looked distracted (I call myself a multitasker). I also better understand myself and my gut response to these situations is to walk away or shut down with that person and it does not help the situation.” ~not indicated

“I feel like I could walk into any situation good or bad and tell myself I got this and can handle the situation in an appropriate way.” ~Kayla S.

“I can handle stressful situation better. I feel like I was heard and understood. I feel like I can deal with customers better.” ~Megan

Team Bonding

The morning of the first day of the 2015 Lean Lab Fellowship program, Strategically Playful organized activities designed to convert stress to positive energy, create a sense of connectedness, and enliven creativity.Lean Lab fellows June 2015

The fellows were beginning a four and a half week Incubator Fellowship. They will be guided through a rapid process of innovation for a specific problem or challenge in education they have identified. The most viable of these solutions are then invited to join the 201 Incubator Fellowship program where their initiatives are piloted in local Kansas City schools.

Their skills in creativity and innovation will be critical as they build their solutions.

Often stress and fear of failure prevent risk taking and kill the willingness to take risks and try new things, all of which are essential for innovation.


Nerdy Overnight Website Challenge


Every year, The Nerdery creates the Overnight Website Challenge for “nerds” to “give their time, talent, and weekend” to build new websites and back-end systems to support area non-profits.

Project teams work 24 consecutive hours, on newly formed teams….. on new projects.

Needless to say, those conditions can cause stress.

I created late-night energizing breaks for teams to reconnect, relieve stress and boost their mood.

Nerd Russell Dempsey said, “The session helped our team perk up and get motivated to work together again. I noticed that the activities broke down the walls everyone naturally puts up, and after the session people started acting like a community instead of individual villages behind walls.”


Using Applied Improv at for Innovation

When began transitioning from a general search and Q & A service into a mobile focused business in 2012, they incorporated improvised play (Applied Improv) into their weekly routines.


Every Friday afternoon the entire organization utilizes improvised play and exercises to infuse innovation and creativity into their everyday corporate culture, says Lisa Kavanaugh, Chief Product and Technology Officer at in this interview.

After reading a book by Tina Fey, their CEO wanted the organization to utilize improv based tools and exercises at work. He made it clear he was not expecting activities like those in the famous improv show Who’s Line is it Anyway.

Instead, it was borrowing from the pillars of improv and applying them to their business setting to stimulate innovation through a new way of thinking.

Some key tenants of improv are that everything that’s shared is accepted, embraced and celebrated; that you do this in the moment, and that you collaborate with others to build on those ideas.


Failures, Unexpected Outcomes and Attitudes

“If you are afraid of failure, you won’t try anything new,” says Tina Seelig, Executive Director of Stanford University’s Technology Ventures Program.

Because creativity is essentially problem solving in new, novel and relevant ways, fear of failure impedes creativity.


At the other end of the spectrum is play, which minimizes consequence, is fun, is purposeful, is action oriented and players have a positive mindset.


Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, thinks playfulness helps them get to better creative solutions, helps them do their jobs better, and helps them feel better when they do them. Matt Weinstein at Play Fair says “If you’re having fun at work, the stress level goes way down, there’s an increase in morale and creativity, and customer satisfaction goes way up. ….because people like to do business with people who like to do business.”


A mantra at IDEO is “fail often to succeed sooner.”


Team Forming at Lean Lab

Lean LabThe Lean Lab is a new start-up non-profit in Kansas City, igniting innovation and reform and making education better in Kansas City. They envision deeply connected communities where all kids have access to excellent educational opportunities.

The doors officially opened in June with a full staff dedicated to understanding barriers and ready to make breakthrough differences.