A Look Back: the Making of a Stronger Orlando

By: Megan Lanier

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Orlando. The City Beautiful.

I never truly understood the meaning of the city slogan until a week ago.

Orlando has never been more beautiful. Sadly, the catalyst for this profound beauty was a sudden jolt of tragedy, anger and despair. Never has an event like the Pulse Nightclub shooting affected me so deeply. Every day, we turn on the news to hear of murder in our cities and war in countries overseas – all horrific tales of unnecessary death and violence. Somehow though, the Pulse shooting was different. It was more than just a news story. It wounded my neighborhood.

I did not know any of the victims nor did anyone in my immediate circle of friends and family. Orlando is a close community, but even in a city of over two million people the supposed six degrees of separation can seem monumental at times. Even without knowing the victims and their families, the whole world seemed to bear the same pain.

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By the afternoon of June 12th, rainbow flags already adorned the entrances to local businesses, Facebook groups for a citizen’s response was started and an outpouring of volunteers waited in lines for hours to donate blood. I still do not have the words to express the incredible support, unity and acceptance that surged out of this city. It was obvious that we were all in this together. Complete strangers were now friends and pride for our city had never been stronger.

A week after the shooting on June 18th, my husband, some friends and I attended the candlelight vigil around Lake Eola (Orlando’s mainstay public downtown park). The Central Florida commuter train, SunRail, opened for a special Sunday service that day to provide another transportation option for attendees. 20,000 people were expected to attend. The group of us all rode our bikes to the nearby station planning to ride the train to the downtown stop. When the trains cars pulled up they were already packed to the brim with riders and dozens more pushed their way in. We knew this would be a big night.

Forgoing the train to cycle the entire trip instead, we arrived at Lake Eola Park 30 minutes before the vigil was scheduled to begin. The 23 acre lake was surrounded by people at least 10 feet deep along the perimeter. The park was strikingly beautiful and painted in a sea of colors by everyone in attendance. The final attendance count was estimated to be over 50,000 people.

Although it had been a weekend full of gray skies and rain, just minutes before the program began a massive rainbow emerged across the sky – directly over the park. Everyone erupted into applause as our gazes all turned upwards. We knew the meaning of that message.

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The vigil commenced with words from Orlando Mayor, Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor, Theresa Jacobs, and several other figureheads who were involved with the incident. Everyone shared a message of love, humanity and strength. Our city would not be overcome the actions of one. In the final moments, we lit our candles and the area sparkled as the names of the 49 victims were announced. It was a beautiful moment and one that will be fixed in my memory forever.

Following the close of the program, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” played. It was as if everyone was frozen in time. Although the announcement to leave had been given, it was as if we all just needed a few extra moments to take it all in. The lake glistened from the reflections of candlelight and there was a great sense of belonging.

The social media hashtags surrounding the event – #OrlandoStrong and #OrlandoUnited – could not be a more accurate representation of the feeling and response. We are together in grief as much as strength.

I have never been more proud to call Orlando home and I know that we will only become stronger.

A Look Back: JD Casto and what Pulse meant to him.

Flag and Sky

It has been a little over a month since my hometown community was faced with the country’s worst mass shooting, words I would never attribute to the city in the shadow of the Mouse. Below is the story of a dear friend of mine who pushed himself to exhaustion to be there for the Orlando community. 

While the world came together to mourn the tragedy of the Pulse nightclub shooting, Orlando resident, J.D. Casto opened his heart and home to anyone who needed a safe space. Originally from Ohio, J.D. attended Rollins College and since graduation has been building his career as a photographer, videographer, and community organizer. Having chosen Orlando as his home, the events of June 12 hit particularly close to home.

Gay Chorus and Anderson
J.D. Casto is here on the left.

Even though he did not lose any close friends that night, the attack was personal. Pulse to J.D. is “a safe place to have fun and not be judged” and was a welcoming place for all kinds of people. In fact, his first time to the nightclub was with a group of straight male friends later in his college years.

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The last time he went to Pulse, he was invited by his straight guy friends to go out on a Tuesday. With excellent drink deals, the guys just wanted to enjoy a chill environment. J.D. remembers that the crowd was truly representative of the diverse community in Orlando.

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As the dust settles and life slowly returns to normal, J.D. was quick to point out that while we may focus on the gun control debate now, there is a larger issue at play. “We need to reform our education system. Without that, our communities will continue to only see differences and continue to be divided.”

The images above were made possible by J.D. Casto Photography and you can find his work on Facebook and Flickr.

Coping with the Student Loan Burden

Image from Bascom Hill on Flickr
Image from Bascom Hill on Flickr

Written by: Megan Lanier

I am crippled. Not in the sense that I have a physical impairment, but rather a financial burden that looms over me and my husband day every day. That aliment is student loans. We are just one of the 40 million Americans inflicted with this weakness that was supposed to be our saving grace.

To be honest, this was somewhat self-inflicted. While I was one of the lucky few who was able to escape college and graduate school debt-free, my husband was not so fortunate. He (and now we) carries around an absurd amount of debt which makes me sick to my stomach to even think of the number, let alone share it with others. Although we make substantial payments each month, the total only seems to rise.

Knowing that we must not be the only ones stuck in one of those zero progress clichés, I started thinking: what are other millennials doing about this issue? We are a young, inventive and curious generation that will not be stopped a little issue like paying back over $1.2 trillion in our lifetime…right?

While most repayment plans are put on a 10-year track to debt freedom, the average bachelor’s degree holder takes 21 years to repay his or her student loans. That is also taking into account that the average loan amount is about $30,000. Gulp. Sadly, that amount is far less than the figure my husband and I are dealing with.

So, enough with the facts and figures. What are millennials actually doing about this “crisis”? Here are some creative ways our generation has tackled this mounting societal problem.

  1. Be a Volunteer. While the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is widely known now, it is not a feasible option for everyone. A couple of innovative millennials have crafted a way for the service-minded to receive the benefit of loan repayment assistance. Two organizations with a similar concept in mind, reward volunteers for participating in volunteer projects that receive funding from sponsors. Zerobound and SponsorChange have different funding models, but the same idea to make the burden of loans a little easier for those who give back. In a sense, volunteer work is crowdfunded by companies, friends, family, etc. to pay down student loan debt.

 

  1. Debt Realization. The first step to tackling debt is knowing exactly how much you have to pay off – and the time it will take you to do so based on your monthly payments. The federal student loan calculator is a marvelous tool. One millennial had the help of her boyfriend to finally come to terms with her student loan debt issue. By implementing some creative solutions to cut back expenses and make additional income, she has paid off $90,000 in debt. She discovered some unique ideas for earning extra income which made those monthly payments a little easier.

 

  1. Earn Rewards. Almost every credit card nowadays offers rewards for cash back, airline miles or hotel points. Another company has taken a similar approach by offering the benefit of student loan repayment. SmarterBucks allows users to sign up for a free account and shop the online marketplace featuring popular brands and earn up to 10% back paid to the student loan carrier of your choice. Additionally, family and friends can sign up for a “Gifter” account and their rewards will be contributed to repayment as well.

Although the issue of student loan debt can be frightening, it is reassuring to know that others have tackled the problem and are now thriving, debt-free individuals. Hopefully, some of these ideas will help you (and me!) make further progress on repayment and break free from student loan debt.

CNN Money Coverage on Student Loan Crisis.

New America Study on Student Loan Debt in the U.S.

U.S. News article on the realities of paying off your loans.

Information on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

Zerobound – how you can use volunteer hours to pay off your loans.

SponsorChange – complete special projects and get a loan payment.

A calculator to help better plan on how to pay off your loans.

Forbes – How one person paid off $90,000 in student loan debt in a year.

Helping Minority Women Bridge the Gap

CourtneyCMB

We covered everything from professional disadvantages that women of color experience, family, the informal education that colleges and universities provide, and how she is evening out the playing field to give exceptional women of color a fighting chance.

It all started for Courtney when she was a scholarshiped campus leader as an undergraduate student at the University of San Francisco. During her years there, she continued working at a law firm to cover her education costs. Inspired by the events during Katrina, Courtney wanted to have a direct positive impact instead of operating behind the scenes.

Therefore, Courtney went to straight to Fordham and obtained a Masters in Urban Studies. While she was there, Courtney researched urban minority women’s ability to integrate into society. With the pervasive nature of violence against women, Courtney’s research illuminated that urban minority women lacked robust networks. Instead young minority women were being hidden away at home in an effort to protect them from the variety of dangers in their community. This layer of protection was in turn harming these women’s abilities to get out of those communities as they lacked the social capital.

I met Courtney for the first time in October and we brought together women who we thought were inspiring.
I met Courtney for the first time in October and we brought together women who we thought were inspiring.

However, upon graduation, Courtney was offered an incredible opportunity in New York and began her “adult” life. But, as is the case with all transitions, it was a significant challenge. Faced with this new environment, Courtney quickly discovered that she needed the guidance that many of her peers received. Seeking this resource, Courtney couldn’t find the kind of organization she needed. So, in true driven millennial form, Courtney started her own non-profit the Color MeB. “I remember there was a lot of snow that year in New York, I had lost my job and I was really down from all of these challenges. But, I really wanted to provide direct value and promote successful women.”

From that day forward, Courtney has been growing CMB to offer trainings, webinars, networking opportunities and an insightful blog created for minority women. When asked what has been her greatest success, “Getting an article published with Bustle and being asked to speak as an alumna graduation speaker were the external validation that we were going in the right direction with CMB.”

On the greatest lesson? “Take your time. There’s always this pressure to have the grades, experience, you had to rush. There isn’t a huge rush, take the time so you can figure our what you want to do.”

To check out Courtney’s work with TheColorMeB check out her site here and check  out her Instagram @thecolomeb or Twitter @thecolormeb.

Happy 2016! The Perfect Time for a Pivot.

One of my early supporters of the Millennial Takeover, Patrick McKelvey provided creative direction and never ending enthusiasm.
One of my early supporters of the Millennial Takeover, Patrick McKelvey provided creative direction and never ending enthusiasm.
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Another early supporter of the Millennial Takeover, Jewel Jennings Wright, provided enthusiasm as well as structural guidance to building the blog.

When I first started this blog, I did all the research to figure out what the heck I was doing so that I could give this blog the best shot possible. With a firm set of rules in mind, I started to build out content to meet meaningful metrics: a post a week, at least four social media interactions a day, etc.  And over time, the influence grew and I was seeing results. As things got harder at work, the more I pushed on the blog, until the predictable happened: I burned out.

I had to travel to Afghanistan for work and I was nearing burn out with the blog. Frustration, fatigue, and disappointment started to settle in and I was not delivering the quality product I wanted to deliver. When I tried to maintain the momentum once I arrived in Afghanistan, I just gave up. It was too much to be devoting the kind of energy my job needed to then go back to my room and sit in front of my computer (again) to write  about things that felt so far away from where I was. So I put blogging aside with every intention of picking it back up when I returned home. And I tried and tried, but when I came back the reverse culture shock had me questioning everything, including my initial intentions for the blog.

The Millennial Takeover was designed to spotlight kick a$$ millennials in a world that loves to hate them, that wants to put them back into the 1950’s boxes of polite and predictable society. Even using the label “millennials” has placed our entire generation into yet another box, into the plan that every “good” citizen is expected to carry out. As my generation continues to grow up and morph the milestones (car, house, etc.) for the lives we are crafting, we are recreating the world to the way we want it to be, no matter how bad it hurts in the process. And I want to share their stories to demonstrate how we are disrupting the way the world works.

One of my favorite writers and long time friend, Megan Almasi and her husband Erick.
One of my favorite writers and long time friend, Megan Almasi and her husband Erick.

So, while I debated on giving up entirely on this blog and the incredible progress I was able to build over 2015, I simply couldn’t. The Millennial Takeover has become such a key part of my development that I could not close up shop and move on to something else. Instead, I am making some adjustments. This year I will be posting twice a month instead of weekly and I’ll be featuring posts from my dear friend Megan Lanier. 2015 ushered in for Megan a whole slew of “adulthood milestones” that her and her husband have made their own.

As The Millennial Takeover makes this pivot, I want to thank you so much for being with me through the ride so far and look forward to your feedback in the coming year. Happy New Year!

Looking back to my first Startup Weekend

Recently, I went to my first ever Startup Weekend event. Focusing on social impact, the whole 54 hours was devoted to finding real scale able solutions that have a positive impact on society. While I went to check out what the event was all about and stretch out my business savvy muscles, I learned so much more about myself as well as the field that I so desperately wanted to join.

But how does a startup weekend work exactly? Imagine a mini conference with the requisite check in table, swag giving and name tag collection. Then, at least in my case, sheepishly scan the room for a friendly face and a place to sit through the impending talk that gets participants in the right mind set. After about an hour of that, participants are invited to pitch their ideas and the top 10 or so become the businesses that will be developed over the weekend. Once the 100 or so participants are released they search for a group that will hopefully win the competition for best business idea. That’s when the gloves come off and the race to build a validated business is on.

While our team did not win the competition, the experience itself allowed me to learn some very valuable lessons. The top three are below.

1. Just because you have an idea, doesn’t mean you’ve got a business.
There were a ton of inspiring and seemingly solid ideas that were pitched during the weekend. But the businesses that rose to the top of the heap, were the ones who were able to clearly articulate who their customers were and had proven that they would be willing to pay for whatever they were offering.

2. Shiny object syndrome is a real thing.
When you are trying to develop a project from an idea, having an unwavering commitment to your mission is crucial. Without that focus, your idea quickly becomes a Frankenstein of features that don’t have anything to do with the original intent. This doesn’t mean that your idea can’t change and evolve, but the original problem you are trying to solve needs to be the center of your work until you can prove that it’s not a problem people are willing to pay to solve.

3. Building and keeping your team engaged is half the battle
Getting a group of very passionate people together can be energizing and motivating. You are exploring ideas with each other and all of a sudden anything seems possible. While idea development is a ridiculous amount of fun, getting your team to go from the idea to actually testing your idea is the only way to know if you’ve got a business or a fun idea.

So if you are looking to take your idea and test it out in the real world, find a Startup Weekend event in your area.

It Takes Being Lean to Play Lean

“We’ve only just tapped into the beginning of the potential.” – Tore Rasmussen on teaching Lean Startup.
Test playing in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Photo Credit: Playing Lean
Test playing in Rotterdam, Netherlands with Co-Founders Tore and Simen.
Photo Credit: Playing Lean

Taking an idea and turning it into a business is risky and the likelihood that you will be successful by copying and pasting someone else’s business model will only seal your fate as another failed startup.But how can an innovative millennial founder-to-be get over this potentially idea killing situation?

Meet the masterminds behind the incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign for Playing Lean, the board game, Simen Fure Jørgensen and Tore Rasmussen. Based on the Lean Startup Method, Simen and Tore built a teaching tool that simulates the process of rapidly building a successful business. Made famous by Eric Ries in 2011 by his book, The Lean Startup, the Lean Startup Method is centered on building the simplest prototype, testing it and gaining customer feedback, and then applying those lessons to improve the product. Today, the framework is deemed an essential piece to building a successful startup.

How I found them

I discovered Playing Lean by participating in the Lean Startup Academy’s Meetup, “Playing Lean.” At the time, I had heard of Lean and understood the basic principles, of “build, measure, learn” but, wanted to learn more. As luck would have it, I was able to join a testing group for a board game, Playing Lean. After 2 to 3 hours of maneuvering the prototype and relentlessly trying to push the boundaries of the game, I gained a greater appreciation and understanding of the importance of Lean.

Photo Credit: http://blog.necomputersolutions.com/
Photo Credit: http://blog.necomputersolutions.com/

This experience was not unique. For the past 18 months, Tore and Simen have been traveling throughout the U.S. and Europe testing low level prototypes. Organizing a variety of groups tests of the game and carefully documenting the interactions with the product led the duo to gaining 500% more than their goal on Kickstarter within a year and a half of the first prototype.

How They Started

But how did these two meet and create a game as well as an educational tool? Simen worked as an IT consultant and often had to teach the Lean Startup Method to groups within these larger groups. Simen searched for tools and teaching aides to help his clients grasp the concept beyond just reading the book. One night, while playing board games at home the idea came to Simen to create a board game version of the Lean Startup Method. Within months he had created tons of prototypes and gained some feedback, but it wasn’t until an inquisitive grad student, Tore, was able to join Simen did the team begin to assemble.

Bringing his programming expertise, Tore was able to help Simen address the technical aspects of the game. They wanted to build a game that would take 90 minutes to play while still allowing players the ability to firmly understand Lean.

More test play. Photo Credit: Playing Lean
Using Lean to build the game, get customer feedback often.
Photo Credit: Playing Lean

Lean Challenges

Through their first iteration they faced many challenges. First, they failed to raise capital through their first Kickstarter campaign. Second, they struggled to get the scenarios just right. To properly address it, they had to be willing to toss out good work, 200+ of it, all in the hope of building the right product. But through each challenge, Tore and Simen continued the process to build, test, learn.

By taking the game out into the U.S. and European markets to their ideal consumer, not only were they able to build a better game but they were also able to build a massive following. That following, paired with new team members and the guidance of Lean Startup evangelist, Ash Maurya, Playing Lean was fully funded in 10 hours and is now available here.

Lean Successes

Ash Maurya, Lean Celebrity Advocate Photo Credit: Playing Lean
Ash Maurya, Lean Celebrity Advocate
Photo Credit: Playing Lean

Although laden with challenges, Tore points to seeing people playing the game and have moments where they clearly see how their last project went astray. “It’s not like reading a book. You have the euphoria from winning and the pain of losing,” says the millennial co-founder. Seeing those moments, Tore hopes that Playing Lean will save entrepreneurs tons of money and time in their business’s future.

Lean Advice

Looking back, Tore’s greatest piece of advice is:
Really challenge yourself. For example, if in the testing stage ask if what you are doing is the absolute MVP (Minimally Viable Product) or is there a way you can make it cheaper and faster to get that learning.
For more information on Lean Startup visit Eric Ries or Ash Maurya or buy the game from Playing Lean here.

Why Millennials Won’t Be Defeated

Today’s blog post is the 50th! And as a testament to the true mission of the blog, promoting snake people, I mean millennials, who are creating impact in our world, over the last couple of days there have been several articles that heaped on the fears and doubts if any millennial hoping to live a happy life. For example, this Vice News video does an overview of how our economy is changing. By the end of it, the expert panel paint a patchwork economy vastly different from the one we’ve prepared for. I closed the tab feeling a sense of dread for this “new” economy and fear that I have played all the wrong cards during my 20’s.

After taking a sip of my white wine and some deep breathing, I realized that the fear and panic I was experiencing  was inherited baggage from our older generations. The rate at which things are changing, it is absolutely terrifying and creating a panic across all of society. Think of it this way, 7 years ago the first Iphone was premiered and fundamentally changed the way we use phones. Now, everyone has a smartphone and are using them to make money. Millennials are perfectly poised to capitalize on all of these changes for the following reasons:

1. We are young.

Youth

Although I often feel as if I’m 45 and I’ve figured everything, there’s a greater sense of relief that I have at least 30 years to correct my life’s course. This also applies to my peers,  what ever past mistakes we have made we have plenty of time to make our way to a life that works for us. Having that much time is a very precious gift that our parents would often kill for. As my roommate always says, “Most successful people started from a different place than  where they are now.”

2. We are creative.

Creativity

Never have we had the opportunity to express ourselves in mediums beyond the classical arts. So keep working those Insta filters, embracing your creative side not only improves your mental health, but the future economy will heavily rely on out of the box thinking and doing more with less.

3. We’re resourceful.

Resourceful

Yes, the Great Recession was terrible, I lived in Florida at the time, I can tell you stories. The dramatic shift of a spend happy middle class to one losing houses and jobs which lead to feeling, and still dealing with, the pinch of stagnant wages and rising costs. Whether we’re building money saving apps or embracing the DIY instructions from Pintrest, we’re finding ways to save here and there.  Creating that kind of value is what our future economy demands, and millennials have completely embraced it.

4. We are thirsty for knowledge.

Knowledge

Cited as the most educated generation , our incessant consumption of media demonstrates leads one to believe there is a strong desire for knowledge.  According to this Entrepreneur article, millennials spend 18 hours consuming media material.

 5. We are strategic.
Strategic

With the rise of Postmates, Uber, Lyft and, others, millennials have found ways to create an income that funded by a variety of sources, and have time to socialize. Making the world work for us will be critical as we cope with this rapidly shifting economy.

The Takeaway?
So the next time you are faced with the inevitable millennial tear down, take the time to sit back and identify all of the ways you’re getting ready to handle the quickly shifting economy. No other generation will be ready like we are for this evolving economy, no matter what it ends up looking like.

Closing the Deal by Disrupting the Sales Community

“Take action! A small step is better than no step at all and you learn so much along the way. Take those steps.” – Ian Adams, Senator Club
Photo courtesy of Ian Adams
Photo courtesy of Ian Adams

Open up your newsfeed and you literally can’t escape the overnight success stories of today’s startup world. It seems like every enterprising millennial is solving a problem and in turn, making a six to seven figure payout. But, with our rapidly shifting economy those of us who aren’t giving up stability to pursue an idea, can be left in a vulnerable position. In a time where one is lucky to find a job, especially with benefits, figuring out how to stay two steps ahead to be ready for the next job isn’t a hobby; it’s a survival strategy.

Laying the Groundwork

No one has figured that out quite like Ian Adams, the founder of the Senator Club. Senator Club is a social club for junior sales professionals who want to get ahead. Inspired by the popular corporate sales incentive of President’s Clubs, Ian created a way to help junior sales people get the tools they need to meet or exceed their sales goals. Starting out as an informal meetup group, the Senator Club now caters to over 400 members. With networking opportunities and expert speakers, Senator Club has helped members find new jobs, develop new skills and simply get ahead. Focusing on the needs of this demographic has allowed Senator Club to develop a following beyond who goes to their events. A growing Twitter presence as well as being featured on Inc.

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Taking the Leap

Quickly, Ian realized that the heroic tales of overnight startup success couldn’t be further from the reality. For a year and a half, Ian watched his first two ventures fail and learned a wealth knowledge from it. The most important lesson for Ian was the importance of work/life balance. Ian had left finance to get away from the 60+ hour work week and working as a startup founder did not meet that goal.

Following the end of his second startup venture, Ian decided to look for work at an established company in sales. With his experience in the startup world and finance, Ian believed that his transition would be a smooth one. However, in the span of 3 months, Ian went to 27 interviews and received one job offer. Those odds left Ian shocked and decisive that he would not let himself land in that position again. Like many millennials, he found tight competition at every turn and tried to make a diverse work history fit a narrow job description.

Steli Efti for the Senator Club.
Steli Efti for the Senator Club.

Reeling from the  arduous job hunt, Ian realized he probably was not the only career changer to go through that experience. By establishing the Senator Club in July 2013, Ian has been able to build a growing and supportive community that has helped younger professionals strengthen their ties, close deals, and play a crucial part in their career development.

But, building a community of sales professionals is filled with its own set of challenges. First, and by far the most challenging,  is identifying a specific vision. At the beginning, clearly defining what resonates with his audience and creating value based upon those findings required a lot of testing and trying what worked best. Once Ian found that vision, conveying a relevant message that would have value 5, 10, 15 years from now became his second most pressing issue. Once, messaging and vision became clearer, Ian has been faced with managing business operations. These challenges allowed Ian to learn his greatest nugget of knowledge,”there is always more to learn, there’s never a point where you stop learning.”

Hiro Rodriguez at Senator Club
Hiro Rodriguez at Senator Club

While frustration may mount as Ian navigates the issues of early business implementation, his greatest success has been witnessing the genuine relationships that develop within the group. This was never more evident for Ian than when he was laid off from his first sales job. At the time Senator Club was just gaining traction. Let go from his job just days before the next Senator Club meeting, Ian shared with the group that he was back on the job market.  Within days a member of the club connected Ian with contact that lead Ian to find his current job. Witnessing the value Senator Club has provided to Ian and other sales professionals to the Bay area has made the journey all worth it.

From investment banker to founder to sales professional, Ian Adams has gained a wealth of knowledge and insight through his various experiences. His goal setting advice:

Really be clear in your big goal in what you want to accomplish, people fail get too into the details and not the big picture. When you keep an eye on the big picture the pieces will come together.

If you would like to connect with the Senator Club, you can check them out on Twitter, their website, and Youtube.

How Improv Comedy Is Changing Lives

Be Present. – Coonoor Behal

Photo courtesy: Coonoor Behal
Photo courtesy: Coonoor Behal

Some of the most iconic comedians to the millennial generation (i.e. Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, and Joan Rivers) have built incredible careers on their early careers in improv. While it’s most common use is to entertain in shows, like Saturday Night Live, one millennial has harnessed the power of improv to help her clients gain a more collaborative perspective on their work life. Improv comedy is centered on the ability to communicate and innovate with others. By learning how to accept the creativity in others and use it to build a story, improv comedy can often adjust the way we see working with others.  But how can improv principles be used build better organizations, better communities?

Mindhatch in action
Mindhatch in action

Meet Coonoor Behal, the millennial mastermind behind Mindhatch, an organizational and customer insights firm that is guided by the principles of improv.

Offering services in design thinking, innovation facilitation and organizational improv, Mindhatch is impacting the way team members collaborate with each other. She does this by walking groups through a variety of games and then moderates a debrief with the group. No session is ever the same as she tailors her workshops to the needs of each client.

Coonoor at Work. Courtesy of Mindhatch.
Coonoor at Work. Courtesy of Daian Glover Photography.

For Coonoor what inspires her most is seeing her clients’ moments of clarity, where she can see them actually shifting in their perspective. The most noteworthy moments have taken place during the games, “Yes, And…” and “Solution Circle.” Although each game has a unique approach, both games are used to teach  what happens when we justify other’s ideas. “Spoiler alert, everyone immediately recognizes that more ideas and more fun happen when we say ‘Yes!” Learning how to engage and support, even the craziest of ideas has allowed participants to experience a collaborative and innovative culture. That type of culture, often attributed to hip tech companies not non profits or traditional companies, can be applied to any work environment. As Coonoor demonstrates, it is simply a change in mindset.

The Prologue

But, Coonoor wasn’t always crafting improv inspired ways to foster collaboration. In fact, Coonoor started her professional path by searching for a way to impact the world. By obtaining a Master’s in International Affairs, Coonoor then chased her dream of creating change in the world with her first job at a non-profit. Stifled by the inflexibility that often comes with grant funded work, Coonoor left the non-profit world to work as a consultant with Deloitte Consulting.  Through a variety of projects, Coonoor grew within Deloitte and perfected her abilities in a variety of ways, specifically design thinking. Her most significant experience came Coonoor landed an opportunity to work with the Deloitte Global Innovation team. With Deloitte Global Innovation, she helped clients find the connections between business and creativity.

At the same time, Coonoor began taking improv lessons in her spare time. She quickly discovered her talent and passion for improvisational comedy. Inspired by improv and finding a market demand from her work at Deloitte, Coonoor began to feel like she was ready to start her own business. By “focusing on merging business and creativity through design thinking, organizational improv and facilitation” Coonoor was ready to launch Mindhatch.

Photo Courtesy of Mindhatch
Photo Courtesy of Red Turtle Photography.

With Mindhatch, Coonoor has built a diverse clientele list and creates unique tools for each one to help her clients address their most pressing needs through experiential learning. For example, one of her clients wanted to master the art of going “off script” at donor meetings. Using the principles of improv, together they were able to build up that’s client confidence in that skill as well as engaging in more informal conversations with donors. Another wanted to set the right foundation for her new team. Desiring a creative and innovative team dynamic, Coonoor designed a workshop that helped them set that tone. Through Coonoor’s work, her clients have been able to sharpen their abilities in connecting and working with other people .

Looking back, Coonoor’s winding journey had many stepping stones leading her to start Mindhatch. Like many millennials, she is driven by the need for impactful work that allows her to be challenged and creative. By starting her own business, Coonoor has been able to meet her professional needs and in turn , is creating value for communities actively looking to change things up.

If you want to connect to Coonoor and her team at Mindhatch, you can follow her on Facebook, Twitter or check out her website here.