The Importance of Mirroring

October 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

Improv Comedy has started to become an even larger part of my life and way of thinking, and I always love to see crossovers between improv and real life. Today, I’d like to touch on the concept of mirroring.

In an improv scene, mirroring quite simply means imitating the other person on stage – if they walk on holding a shovel, you walk on holding a shovel. If they’re giddy with excitement, you’re giddy with excitement.  This is one quick and easy way to show your relation to the other character. For example, If our two giddy shovellers come out on stage together and mirror each other, we can assume, even before dialogue begins, that they know and like each other, and probably have the same job. From simply mirroring the other person, we get a lot of information about the scene and about the interactions that will take place.

Turns out, a lot of information can be gained in everyday interactions as well. At a recent gathering of Startup Institute Alumni, we talked about effective communication, and how important it is to understand the type of people you are trying to communicate with. Are they introverts or extroverts? Big picture or attention to details?

The best communication is had when you understand the other person’s personality. As was pointed out, introverts will stop and think before responding to a question. If the questioner doesn’t acknowledge their need to consider the question and answer before responding, they may just continue talking to fill the gap and effectively bulldoze any answer the questionee was about to give.

If you know the personality of the person you are talking to, this and other tricks work great to make sure communications are open and clear. However, what if you’re talking to someone you’ve never dealt with before?

That’s where mirroring comes in. If a customer sends in a support ticket in a 5 paragraph essay, you should respond similarly, with lots of detail. If they send one sentence, your response should also be short and to the point. If a client calls you, you should probably not respond with an email or text. If your boss works 10 to 7 instead of 9 to 6, you may consider working a little later too.

While there are many other techniques to consider both in improv and at work, Mirroring is a simple way to get on a level footing when starting an interaction.

Thanks to Joanna, Sarah, and Caroline for the discussion comments at the Startup Institute Alumni Campfire on Wednesday which led to this post!


The Startup Institute Adventure

August 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

If anyone has noticed my LinkedIn lately, you will see that I left my job in Healthcare IT Consulting. The natural question is why, and what am I doing now?

Why I left: I’ve always been technically inclined. I was very lucky, as a liberal arts (Economics and German) major, to land an IT job. It aligned well with my desire to grow technically.

That said, there is a limit to how much SQL code one write before wanting to grow beyond that. There wasn’t much room to grow technically at my last job – if they had a higher tech role, they always looked outward; there wasn’t much opportunity to advance from inside.

Enter Startup Institute Boston. Here was an opportunity for people with some technical background to grow exponentially and become Ruby on Rails developers in the space of 2 action-packed months.

For those that don’t know much about coding, Ruby is a simple language to program, and Rails is a powerful framework that allows users to spin up web-based applications quickly. It’s a great jumping off point for building my developer’s toolbox.

Working alongside fellow new developers and the folks in the Design, Marketing, and Sales tracks for the past eight weeks has been a whirlwind and a blast. We learned to build applications and met some great people. The network from Startup Institute, between founders we’ve met and my fellow classmates, rivals that of business school in a fraction of the time and price.

On Thursday, the program culminates with our exposé. Every single one of us gets up on stage, for 60 seconds each, in front of 150 potential employers, to convince them to hire us.

Let me tell you, condensing your life story, skills, and what you want out of a job into 60 seconds is TOUGH. I could write a whole blog post about the 60 second pitch (and I probably will), but it is really interesting to see everybody’s pitches coming together, and what threads they choose to weave into their story.

For now, I’m off to tweak my pitch. I have one sentence left that I need to fix…

Entrepreneurship in the Windy City

July 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

I am a proud native of the greater Chicagoland area. I would say Chicago, but I grew up in the suburbs and “Real Chicagoans” get a little uppity when I say I’m from Chicago. Regardless, I love Deep Dish Pizza, Modern Architecture, and Long-Form Improv.

That said, there was something I was missing about Chicago, and that was job opportunities for young grads. After I graduated college, I moved back to Chicago because I did not have a job yet. I looked for jobs in Chicago, but the vast majority of them were with major companies who put my resume through Taleo, which, for those who don’t know, is an enterprise solution for talent recruitment. In other words, the equivalent of submitting my resume to a paper shredder.

Despite putting effort into the search, I did not find a small, dynamic company to work for in Chicago. All of the activity seemed to be on the coasts, and so I ended up in Boston.

Fast-Forward a year, and I am now at Startup Institute Boston, learning to become a developer, because I want to work for a small startup and be able to make a significant impact in a company. The startup scene in Boston is exciting, and I am looking forward to being a part of it.

That said, I was in Chicago this weekend, and I missed it. The deep dish, the improv. It was all so good. I wish there were opportunities for me to head back there.

Well, now there might be. Back in February, Tech Stars, a prestigious startup accelerator with locations across the country, announced it was moving in to Chicago. As of today, Startup Institute has also officially announced that they will be expanding to Chicago as well. This is absolutely thrilling, and I can see this catapulting Chicago to be a major player in the startup scene.

Chicago already has a great foundation, and is a great city for young people (the L doesn’t close at 12:30…). So now when I go home to Chicago, I can look forward to Pizza, Improv, and awesome new Startups! Very exciting indeed.

Now I need some Lou Malnati’s to celebrate.

The Philosophy of Improv

June 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

As you may or may not know, I quite enjoy improv theater and have recently been involved with Improv Boston – both taking classes and working as a lighting/sound tech.

My interest in improv goes way back, but the first class I took was 2 years ago in Germany (See my post about it).

What I enjoy most about improv is the philosophy behind it, and also the simplicity of that philosophy.

If you’ve ever taken improv (in the US at least), the first thing they teach you is the idea of “Yes, and…”
The idea is pretty basic when taken at face value – answer everything with the words “yes, and…”, however, it expands much beyond that. As you progress through the ranks of improv, it becomes a pattern of “offer – accept.” Anything someone else says or does is an offer, and you must accept that offer.

For example, your scene partner addresses you as “Mom,” you are now playing their mother. You’re not allowed to say “I’m not your mother” – that will derail the scene, and makes it much less fun to watch.

The natural extension of this is trust and support. You learn to trust your fellow actors to support you  no matter what crazy idea you throw out. It means you are never “wrong” because everyone else agrees with you. This is a two way street as well: you support them, they support you, everyone wins.

Now, this is all well and good on stage, but what’s the life lesson?

Quite simply, if you surround yourself with supportive people you can trust, you won’t “fail” – fail here is in quotes because you can, of course, do something that doesn’t really take off. What happens then? You go back to the people who support you, and try something else. The only failure, much like in improv, is not trying. Or half-assing it. That also doesn’t work, but that’s another discussion.

So, that’s why it’s important to build up a network. It’s not about finding a job, it’s about knowing good people who you can rely on.

And being someone who can be relied upon.


April 15, 2013 § 2 Comments

I haven’t posted on here in a while, and for that I apologize. I did want to comment briefly on the events of today surrounding the Boston Marathon. It is very shocking to have something like this happen in my own town, and I’ve had trouble wrapping my head around it. The rest of this post is from an email which I sent to my mom, and was my first attempt at discussing the events of today.
It is indeed a sad day in Boston’s history. I think the worst part of it is that it came at a time such great triumph both for the individual runners and the city as a whole. To have what is one of the greatest traditions in Boston be marred by such a horrible event is what gets to me the most. There are people who have spent their year if not lives preparing for this day, and to have it overshadowed by the actions of some evil person or group is it’s own terrible kind of tragedy. Add to that the fact that some of these people may now be unable to walk again and it really hits me.
The only real solace from this event is the number of people rushing to help, from the doctors in the audience who rushed to the medical tent to help triage the victims, to the google doc full of people who are offering housing to those displaced by the chaos. The outpouring of goodness from the hearts of Bostonians is more than enough to offset the malice of (what I assume to be) the individual responsible for this attack. For every evil person out there, there are thousands ready to jump in and help out their fellow man.
This event has cast a shadow over Boston’s proudest day, but no doubt, Boston will recover. Things may be different for a while though.
On a personal note, everyone that I know is ok. All Tufts runners and volunteers are safe; friends of mine who were running were stopped before reaching the finish line; and Mikey (my roommate), who was onsite spectating, was lucky enough to leave the area about 20 minutes before it occurred.

Life is Good

August 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

I wanted to post this as a facebook status, but then I realized the only people that would care are my family and my friends would just think I’m bragging (and I am a little bit). Regardless, life is good. I have a job that I enjoy and pays a great salary. My work both challenging and interesting; and I’m learning things I wanted to learn (like SQL). Oh, and my coworkers are fun people too.

Furthermore, I have a new car. Well, not really new. I bought it used a month and 2,000 miles ago. But even after the 2,000 miles I put on it, I still love it. It drives comfortably, has a good sound system, and can handle terrain and weather handily. For anyone wondering, it was an ’09 Subaru Forester.

And of course I finally got a paycheck after some administrative delays, so my bank account is comfortably positive. Although a big Thank-You is due to everyone who gave me graduation presents because they helped me get through the summer after spending most of my savings on the car.

The remainder of my savings was used as a deposit on an apartment, which is another big point I’m excited about. While the apartment its self is nothing super special, I will be sharing it with one of my best friends. We have already started planning what furniture we’ll buy, what groceries to stock and what we’ll cook and bake. Now we just have to get those matching aprons…

Anyway, life is going uncomfortably well right now, and I’m trying not to worry about the karmic catastrophe that is bound to happen to balance everything out again. I guess the downside is my other best friends are in other cities and I won’t get to see them as often as I would like, but that’s just part of life. And life is on the whole pretty good.

Driving in Boston

July 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

On Monday, I started my first full time real person job. So far it is great, but there is one downside: it is located in the suburbs of Boston where public transit isn’t as good. That means I get to drive to work everyday. Fortunately, I found myself a great car and the drive is only about 25 minutes, but now that I’m driving, I’ve noticed a few things about driving in Boston…

Forget Drivers Ed
Seriously. Every rule I learned in drivers ed pretty much goes out the window when driving in Boston. Lane markings, yielding, speed limits, whatever. Boston has thrown out the official “Rules of the Road” and created it’s own road culture with an entirely different set of rules. Read on for more information.

Suicide Left Turns
Sometimes when turning left and there is no arrow, people will go as soon as the light turns green, beating out the oncoming traffic. This only happens on occasion though, so the actual ‘rules’ surrounding are unclear (rules here referring to the driving cultural norms).

The highways are at least vaguely normal, but my commute is entirely on surface streets. Sometimes there are speed limits posted, but no one ever follows them. The basic rule seems to be go as fast as you can and be prepared to brake instantly. And then speed back up. and repeat.

Lack of Lane Markings
Many streets have no lane markings, other than the yellow line dividing oncoming traffic, however, there seem to be commonly accepted practices for each and every street. One street I drive on is wide enough to safely be two lanes but people treat it as one. Another street is barely wide enough for 2 cars side-by-side, but inevitably a left-turn lane forms with cars flying by with 6 inch clearance on either side. One intersection has two lanes, but it is unclear which is left turn and right turn and straight. As it turns out, custom dictates in one direction the left lane is straight and the right lane is right turn only, but in the other direction, left lane is left turn only and right lane is straight. You would only know this by driving but people get mad if you do it wrong.

People are Understanding
Even though Massachusetts drivers are commonly referred to as “Massholes” for their driving behavior, I’ve found some to be pretty helpful. If you have to make a left turn but there is a lot of oncoming traffic, people will stop for you (now, this is usually followed by another Masshole trying to pass them on the right so you still have to be careful). Even as a pedestrian people will stop sometimes.

WTF Intersections
Boston roadway engineers have some very creative ideas when it comes to intersection designs. I would say they are akin to this (stolen from XKCD)

Prank #11: Boston

In short, I can’t wait to become a Massachusetts resident and register my car here so my insurance rates can skyrocket accordingly. I just hope that having to spell “Massachusetts” without spell check isn’t a requirement of residency…