MIndhatch’s Founder, Coonoor Behal, was a guest today on PeopleG2’s TalentTalk Radio show with Chris Dyer, a show that interviews top executives about leadership and talent development. She and Chris discussed improv, insights, innovation, and change.
Click here to or use the player below and fast forward to 23:05 to listen! Or read the transcript below.
TALENT TALK RADIO INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT
CHRIS DYER AND COONOOR BEHAL
Chris Dyer: Welcome back to the Talent Talk Radio Show! As a reminder, if you have any questions for our guests today, you can send them to us via Twitter using the hashtag #TalentTalk. You can also visit TalentTalkRadio.com and listen to all the past shows and as we mentioned before, find us on iTunes Podcasts, Android, use the Podcast app on your phone or tablet, I’m sure you can find it. Anyways, our next guest is Coonoor Behal, the founder of Mindhatch, LLC. So Coonoor, welcome to the show!
Coonoor Behal: Hi, thank you so much for having me on. I’m really excited to be here.
CD: We’re excited to have you. So, tell us a little about yourself and of course, your company.
CB: Sure, my name is Coonoor Behal, it’s worth repeating; it’s such a strange name, and I’m the founder of Mindhatch, which is a company that I founded after spending a few years as a strategy and innovation consultant at Deloitte Consulting. And so, at Mindhatch we’re in the business of business and customer insights for better business, more human-centered thinking, and design of solutions.
CD: So, maybe you can dive in a little bit more, so maybe a little bit deeper here on really what solutions then that Mindhatch is really trying to help companies to achieve.
CB: Yeah, absolutely. There’s three main ways that we kind of tackle the insight piece, and when I say insight, I mean kind of qualitative, human-minded insights, as opposed to kind of very data-centric, quantitative-centric methods that we tend to rely on as businesses now. So the three methods that we use really are based on the fact that we are serving humans, and we’re using humans to serve them. So our staff is surveying our human customers, so we do kind of three main services. The first is design thinking, which is actually a process for creative problem-solving and for creating innovative solutions, and a large part of design thinking is about pursuing empathy-style research of their customers, to really unearth and discover those really big nuggets of insights from your customers so that you can then be responsive to what your customers’ needs, wants, and emotions, etc. are. Another prime way to extract insights is through organizational improv training. Improv is becoming more and more popular as a business tool for training staff, but then also kind of as an ideation tool as well. So with organizational improv training, what Mindhatch does is kind of come in and work with a team and take them through a fun, memorable, sticky way of doing things, which is the method of improvisation, but to kind of get at the heart of “How can we work better together? How can we collaborate better? How can we communicate better when we’re pursuing solutions for our customers?”
CD: Uh, sounds like a lot of fun. I mean, regardless of maybe how effective it may or may not be, it’s just gotta be fun to do improv, right?
CB: Oh yeah! Yeah, and it’s very effective. I’ve been an improv comedic performer for many years now and I’ve definitely, there’s definitely a lot of benefits to your non-improv, non-professional life, but also your professional life as well.
CD: Yeah, I mean you just get people right away who will be engaged, so I’m assuming it will be very effective, but you know, for the average person, they may not know if it’s going to be effective or not, but what they do know is that a very fun way to do the exercise; you can have a lot of laughs, a lot of fun, and then suddenly that will turn into a lot more effectiveness as opposed to looking at some consultant’s 933-slide PowerPoint presentation, you know.
CB: [laughs] Yeah, I was guilty of that when I was in the world of consulting, but what you said is exactly right, you know, I use improv as a method and an approach to train people in the things that we all care about like leadership, customer service, communication, you know, public speaking. Those are all the skills that are always going to be necessary for success in a company. Improv is just like a much more fun, and therefore memorable, way of doing it, but the point of my workshop and training for companies isn’t to kind of get them good at doing improv, because that’s not your business, it’s more about learning those tried and true skills, but in a way that is going to be much more memorable, and then to give people those positive associations with behaving in the “right” ways that you want your staff to behave in.
CD: Right. I know you have quite an eclectic background ranging from strategy and engagement consultant to engagement manager. Of course talked about the improv comedy, so how did you come to want to start Mindhatch from all these different places that you’ve been and you’ve had a little bit of time with growth and development with yourself. How does that all kind of play into where you are now?
CB: Yeah, and it’s really interesting because I have certainly had several different careers happily, and I really view what I’m doing right now with Mindhatch as the culmination of every choice that I’ve ever made, however random they might have been in the past. So really the kind of dominant theme looking back on it, on my own is really just this undercurrent of change, like I’ve always been a very change-minded person, and even in my earliest jobs, I learned that I wasn’t going to be happy or performing at my best in organizations where change wasn’t appreciated. And that being said, I’m really not a person who likes change for change’s sake, so I have maybe a higher tolerance for testing things out and have never been a person to sort of view change as an automatic negative or you know, that kind of thing. So it took me a long time to kind of find a home because I was realizing that I was very caught up in, you know, how can I really effectuate change, positive change, whether for stakeholders or clients, or even just organizationally, for my peers. I was always looking for a way to feel connected to impact of some kind.
CD: Yeah, and you know I think it’s interesting. You take all of that and put it back into that improv component you’ve been talking about and maybe you could talk a little bit more about some of the fun things that you do with that, I mean, I immediately thought of that show that used to be on, was it Whose Line Is It Anyway, was that the one that used to be on with Drew Carey?
CD: I mean, is it like “Hey, let’s pretend we’re having like an average meeting,” and then you have people kind of start acting out an average meeting and people are laughing at it or is it something more abstract, you know, that’s really not so closely related to what’s happening at the company?
CB: It’s interesting, you know, Whose Line Is It Anyway is a fantastic kind of like touch point, or frame of reference for, you know, what improv is and what you see in Whose Line Is It Anyway is a lot of very highly trained, highly skilled people doing games and exercises and so in the training that I do for my corporate clients, they are very game- and exercise-based and I’m also a facilitator and innovation facilitation is kind of a third service that Mindhatch provides, and so what I do is make the workshops and the key take-away and the insight, there’s that word again, as task-able as possible. And so my goal is my method of doing that is putting my facilitator hat on and structuring and guiding debriefs after every exercise to really help people, as much as I can, on their own, come to realize what the applications are, how they can maybe change things, or keep doing the same kind of good, patterns of behavior and communication. So I really try to guide that every exercise is designed for an intention and a purpose, and then kind of guiding the group as a whole into discovering the applicability and why it’s kind of a beneficial approach to use moving forward after the workshop itself.
CD: I know that you’ve mentioned that you’re a lover of change and an embracer of failure so is that, is kind of those two themes, so is that what you’re really trying to work them through? Is helping them find those areas of change and also maybe kind of laugh at the things they’ve failed at doing?
CB: I haven’t used improv for a corporate client yet specifically around the topic of failure. Of course “failure” is a very loaded word, and it’s hard to get people to really admit to their failures, but you’re very spot-on to even ask the question because improv requires so much failure. Like, you are failing every other second, succeeding every other second when you’re on stage and that’s really just the nature of the game, and improv gets you really accustomed really fast at building that thick skin and failing because literally in improv, if you’re not failing, you’re not trying. You know, you’re not doing it right if you’re not at risk of failure. So it’s interesting, and so while I haven’t yet trained companies specifically around getting accustomed to failure, it kind of just comes with the territory when you’re doing an improv workshop because when you’re doing an improv workshop, even in the ones where I don’t kind of make the team actually do skits or actually ask anyone other than themselves, you know everyone is suddenly very vulnerable, and within the first minute of an improv workshop, people have let down their guard and are much more vulnerable in front of each other than they ever have been before so that kind of gets people queued and primed to be more and more vulnerable as the workshop continues, and then hopefully kind of establishes a tone for the team dynamic of “Oh, this is a safe place, where I can be vulnerable and even if that means being silly, or if that means being wrong, it’s something we can all own and find some joy in.”
CD: Well I don’t think people realize how important that kind of environment of safety and trust for people to give those very pure, honest answers. In many ways, that’s what improv is all about, you just keep trying things and then suddenly you’ll kind of find something, that’s a little bit, a little piece of magic, it’s a lot like being I think, a good comedic writer, is that they probably come up with 20 or 30 ideas that are terrible and then suddenly they’ll get a pearl that just is great.
CD: And that’s the kind of thing you need at work! You need to be able to sit in a room and say 20 or 30 really stupid things that aren’t going to work to work yourself through that process to come up with that pearl, but I think everyone’s too afraid to do that, or there’s not an environment to allow that, or you’re going to get judged for those first 19 things that really sucked, you know what I mean? And everyone wants to look their best and only say something that’s smart and it’s a really difficult thing that companies and sort of those little subcultures that particular managers that really struggle with that, you talked about kind of that magic that, some of those best companies have that magic to allow that stuff to happen because it’s just a part of their process.
CB: Exactly and it’s something that’s just innately human to that. You kind of described both sides of the equation, you know, there’s kind of the rank and file employee side you know, we’ve all been there. We’ve all wanted to feel safe enough to pitch our idea or put something forward. You know, we want to do that, and then on the other side of that coin is the leadership, the management, and if you’re a good leader or good manager, you want people to be bringing you the best that they’ve got, so at a lot of them, I’ll do exercises and workshops that are specific around “Yes, and” and yet while that is at heart, it can be about ideation and generation and kind of adding on top of each other’s ideas, a big part of the debrief that always happens in my groups is, “Wow, how can I do this more so that my staff feels more comfortable coming to me” Because the truth is that, once you get told “no” a half dozen times you’re less likely to bring something to your leader. If you’re told yes, but there’s no follow through, it’s kind of the same thing as a no, as an outright no. So there is this really delicate balance that’s achievable, kind of creating the space where people feel comfortable to come to you with their ideas or even their concerns and then kind of responding to it in an authentic way, without kind of sacrificing your ability to be a leader and just because you say “yes, and” you know that approach doesn’t mean that you’re a Yes Man or a Yes Woman and aren’t just kind obeying any idea that comes to you. It’s just making sure that every idea gets its day in court, you know, before being prematurely set aside as something that’s not feasible.
CD: I love that you talk about that because that’s something that I’ve talked about in some of the talks that I give is, saying yes, how important yes is to a company. It feeds into your positivity, it feeds into people giving you their ideas, and also really feeds into helping train people how to not only think, but to think in the way in which the company really wants you to be thinking and you know, so if they say “Hey, can we start selling bananas?” okay “Yes, but” or “yes and” whatever that thing may be, you need to solve these other problems first, you know, or let’s talk about what these problems might be to us selling bananas. You know, there are no bananas to buy, how do we get the bananas, you know, there’s this whole like process you can help take people through. You as the boss may know it’s impossible, you may know it’s already been thought about a thousand times but I’ve had instances where I’ve told people “yes but,” and helped them start to think about the things that needed to be solved and they went back and solved them all! And I had thought it couldn’t be solved and they went back and solved them and we suddenly had a whole new thing we could do.
CB: That’s so fascinating, another thing that comes up often in my kind of de-brief part of my workshop is that when you, you know when your gut instincts or your habits, whether it’s your gut habit or just a verbal habit of saying “no” first. The second we say no we immediately try to justify the no. It’s really interesting; it really inspires kind of “worst-case scenario” thinking. You know, by way of example, this is kind of like a crude example but in this exercise I’ve done before, I have people kind of plan their ideal vacation together in pairs and in the first round they kind of do a “no” box and in the second round a “yes” box and in the third a “yes, and” in observing a pair do this last year one woman’s idea was “let’s go to Florida on our vacation” and the person who responded said, “Oh no, but we’ll get skin cancer.” So to me that’s always an example of how saying “no” can really inspire worst-case scenario thinking and it inspires us to kind of invent obstacles that may be false. Like they may not even exist cuz the men can’t even justify why he said no.
CD: Right. It’s fascinating how just a small change and just one word versus another can really push the company in a different direction and your alteration of maybe two words “Yes, and” can really take you to another place but you have to be open, in management, leaders have to be open to this sort of exercise and have to be willing to be challenged and questioned and usually the best leaders are willing to be challenged and questioned and be to be wrong and to go new places and explore change. Our less exciting leaders, our less effective leaders are sitting or just say no. I know you’ve had some kind of opportunity to observe those best leadership qualities [CD: Yes.] and types of people. What do you really feel attributes to kind of setting them apart from the rest?
CB: Something that I’m reminded by hearing what you just said, improv as kind of a tool or it’s really kind of a practice. It’s not like you do a 2-hour workshop and then, boom, “I’m going to be a great improvisational leader or improvisational employee.” It really is a practice in a sense that yoga or brushing your teeth twice a day is you know, and what comes to mind is humility, I think a humble leader is the one who’s going to have no problem, you know, giving someone else’s idea a fair shake even though it’s not their own idea. You know, a humble leader is going to be able to say, “Oh, I don’t know the answer to that, let’s explore it, let’s go discover what the answer is.” So humility comes to mind a lot in leadership and what sets people apart, and the I think also, I’ve certainly worked in many different organizations where you can really tell quickly if it’s an organization that “walks the walk” you know. I think that type of authenticity and kind of “do what you say and say what you do and mean what you say” can also really set a leader apart a great deal.
CD: Right, authenticity, being humble, yeah those are some really important parts. It’s amazing how many leaders or how many people in leadership positions, I should say, aren’t able to do very well. So, I’m sure that with everything that you’re doing you must be always looking for that next thing or [CB laughs] or learning the next thing. You like change so much. I’m wondering if there’s a book you’re reading right now that you might share with us.
CB: You know to be honest, I hate the answer to that question because I’m not reading anything right now and I’m so ashamed by it because I’m a book lover [CD laughs] and I’m not reading anything right at this moment which is kind of rare for me. But you know the last book I did read was a memoir by Haruki Murakami, it’s called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and he’s a very famous, very prolific Japanese author and he wrote this memoir based on his entire decade long love affair with running. And it was just great, I’ve read his novels before, I’ve read his memoir as well. It’s interesting, I imagine that a lot of people you have on your show are currently reading business books or HR related books. I’m definitely more of a novel and fiction reader. As much as I really love the latest greatest business books, I’m very slow to get through them where as something that has like a really human emotional story, I can sit down and like read in two hours and just binge, binge on it because it’s so fascinating. So yeah, I definitely err on the side of novels and fiction more often than not.
CD: Well we definitely have a wide range, so that’s why we ask the question and you know sometimes it’s the business books the HR books, that’s maybe 50 percent but the other 50 percent is a made up of people who say they don’t read anything at all, they just read blogs or they read a lot of biographies, they like to learn, you know that things that are sort of history-related where they’re kind of learning through other peoples…you know it sounds like that memoir is very similar to that and then certainly a lot of fiction in there so whether that’s an escape or whether that’s another way to think about the human experience in a different context instead of you know how you’re dealing with it in a real-life day-to-day basis but you know, I think it’s all good. People who are engaged in reading and learning and having that experience, I think that’s why they’re in these positions of leadership, and why they’re helping people be their best selves, because they have that mindset and that’s why we love to ask the question because we just get so many different answers.
CD: If we just got the same three HR books every time, we’d stop asking, but we seem to get new stuff all the time.
CB: I can say I think I’m definitely like a fan of fiction and it’s so interesting in the past several months there’s been a lot of things being written about the value of things like emotional intelligence and empathy in the workplace and it’s so fascinating to start seeing studies come out that show that a really good way to develop a capacity for empathy is by reading fiction because you can step inside, into the shoes, of a different person, and I guess I find that really fascinating, like many things from my past that have seemed unrelated, they all kind of add up and amount to what I’m doing right now especially with Design Thinking which is a very empathy-driven style of innovation and research.
CD: Well, I recently have been suggesting to people who really enjoy fiction but maybe also want a little bit of a business idea, there’s no actual direct business book talk in the book but you certainly understand the themes, the book The Boys in the Boat is hands-down one of the best reads as far as an overall story and it’s a true story so you may enjoy that one. It’s certainly a lot of the themes of leadership are there and certainly working through hard times and if you know anyone who likes to complain that life is tough, we forget how much people went through before World War II in our country and some of the incredible stories of just survival, but anyway, it’s a great book if you’re interested in something like that.
CB: It’s great, I just wrote it down, so I’ll get a hold of it at our local library.
CD: So, how can people get a hold of you if they’re interested in learning more and possibly have you come and do one of your great improv exercises with their company?
CB: Oh, thanks for the opportunity to say this, well you can always email me at email@example.com and our website is also mindhatchllc.com and you can also contact us through the website. We’re also on Twitter and Facebook as well.
CD: Well we really appreciate you being on the show, I know we didn’t get to everything but we’d definitely love to have you come back at some point and give us an update on how you’re doing and continue to get more of your insights.
CB: I would love that. Thank you so much for having me, this was really fun.
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