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

It’s All a Mistake

According to Seth Godin, “it’s all a mistake child-419440_640

“…until it works.

“That’s what innovation is. Mistakes, experiments, mis-steps.

“Until it works.

“The process isn’t to avoid the things that don’t work. Because that means avoiding the things that might not work…

“Instead, our job is to eagerly embrace the mistakes on the road to the impact that we seek.”

I wonder what life would be like if our parents taught us this, or we learned it in school.

Failure would be like a very informative, helpful friend: “go another direction, there’s nothing here for you…..”

The reasons to feel shame might diminish significantly. Avoiding risk taking wouldn’t make sense – you’d be missing out on knowing what works and what doesn’t.

You might feel – and be – encouraged to risk failing earlier, and knowing that it’s an option, to prepare yourself and maybe others. Maybe we wouldn’t need to hide so much.

“Weight Training” at Beta Blox, a Startup Incubator

Improv-2-fThe Beta Blox startup incubator is a training ground for entrepreneurs as they unleash their new businesses to market.

Always on the look out for resources to make a difference to those in his incubator, Wes Bergmann, principle at Beta Blox, decided to try an emerging training in Kansas City that leverages skills developed in improv. During a several year period of focused professional development, Bergmann experienced a noticeable benefit from the many improv workshops he took.

He knew entrepreneurs could achieve more success with the improved “thinking on your feet” skills that he’d experienced (and seen others develop) in the improv training.


Productive Thought and Genius

Einstein thought “Combinatory Play” was the secret of genius and the essential feature in productive thought.

“Combinatory Play,” he says, comes about as a result of the collection of cross-disciplinary building blocks we amass — knowledge, memories, bits of information, sparks of inspiration, and other ideas — and then combine and recombine. The process occurs  mostly unconsciously, and results in something “new.”

We build an infrastructure of  “own” “original” ideas.


Improv Course at MIT

Top tier business schools such as Stanford, MIT, Duke and UCLA are teaching improv as a method to increase collaboration, creativity and risk taking.
In a recent interview on NPR, Daena Giradella, MIT Sloan Lecturer, Leadership Center, talks about success, failure, taking risks and “Yes and…”

Often our fear of failure and doing the wrong thing zaps our ability to be present and project confidence, which is what is required of leaders. By developing muscles to deal with fear, the ability to succeed is expanded.

The course work is experiential and is designed to make the impact of failure be less and less important in a person’s decision making process.


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.”


Thriving in a World that’s Changing Fast

Seth Godin’s thoughts on changing your mind speaks to the inevitability of needing to change and adapt to new information, and the need for skills in being responsive.

He says “It took me about five minutes to change my mind, after eighteen months of being wrong. I still remember how it felt to feel that flip switch in my head.”  That flip, the ability, when confronted with a world that doesn’t match the world in your head, to say, “wait, maybe I was wrong.” We’re not good at that.


When the depth, breadth and scope of change are uncertain, an organization often needs not pre-determined plans but flexible improvisation, an article published by MIT’s Leadership Center states.


Professor Wanda J. Orlikowski believes that improvisation skills in business create an agile, successful business. Her tips for success are all based on the benefits of implementing improvisation at work:

  • Plan to improvise – sometimes you can anticipate change, and if you can do that, you should plan to address that change in a flexible way
  • Adapt when you cannot foresee – as business rules are changing, adapt and test on a smaller, departmental scale before making company-wide changes
  • Create a learning environment – encourage communication between your employees in different locations and departments, push everyone to learn from each other
  • Encourage flexibility – to allow for improvisation, CEOs need to release some control and allow employees to experiment
  • Improvise today for success tomorrow – create a culture of experimentation and improvisation even when you’re not experiencing extreme change in practice for when you do need to change


About Strategically Playful at Work

We are professional facilitators, improvisors, educators, actors  and seasoned business

Team Bonding at Lean Lab, Kansas City

Team Bonding at Lean Lab, Kansas City

people. We create awesome experiences with activities and entertainment at your location or off site retreats, meetings and conventions.


Programs include:

  • Team Fun Having
  • Activating Creativity
  • Team Forming
  • Network Building for Entrepreneurs
  • Team Bonding
  • Group Energizers
  • Community Co-Creations
  • Improv for Business
  • Innovation and Entrepreneurial Soft Skills
  • Presentation Preparation