Designing Our Lives & Our Ventures at Emergence Baltimore

So much to design, so little time. How do we do it at Emergence? Some sticky notes, white boards, and good 'ole fashion creative collaboration. Read more to learn about how we designed our lives & our ventures this past weekend.
One of the best parts of life at Emergence is the conscious creativity that radiates throughout the space.

We have a house full of designers, artists, creators, and collaborators - all working hard on their own ventures while offering up their expertise to aid one another.

One of those brilliant designers/artists/creators/collaborators is the imaginative Jenn Greenstein. She's a MAMBA - simultaneously getting her Master of Arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA for short) and her MBA from Johns Hopkins University. And in all her spare time, she's laying the foundation for Jenny's Coffeehouse - a thoughtfully-designed, inclusive space that fosters productivity, inspires creativity, and adds new value to communities so individuals may connect, develop, and grow. Jenny's will be a sustainable social venture with the first location in Baltimore.

Jenn Greenstein in mid-sprint form

In our first few weeks together, Jenn has brought a lot of positive qualities to the Emergence Baltimore household - a genre-bending taste in music, top-notch memes/references, and the fluffiest pancakes you'd ever have the pleasure of tasting.

One of her other shareable skills is design facilitation. And that skill was brought to the forefront on last Friday afternoon. Jenn led our Emergence Baltimore cohort & team in a series of quick-hitting design challenges that encouraged us to think about how to design both our lives and our ventures. So ... what exactly did we do?


We started off the session with a dive into Ikigai, a Japanese concept that translates to reason for being. It's derived as a compound from two words - iki (生き) meaning "life; alive" and kai (甲斐) meaning "effect; result; fruit" and other similar meanings. All together, Ikigai as a philosophical concept is credited with finding fulfillment and purposeful living. Ikigai can also be implemented as a design technique in order to find our own personal overlap with four primary categories:

  1. What you love
  2. What you are good at
  3. What the world needs
  4. What you can be paid for

We started by listing individual examples for each of these broad categories. Jenn encouraged us not to think too hard before writing examples down. Let the filter flow. Whatever came to mind was good enough to put onto paper. Distilling these thoughts would occur later. So what do the intersections signify?

  • The intersection between what you love and what you're good at = your passion.
  • The intersection between what you're good at and what you can be paid for = your profession.
  • The intersection between what you can be paid for and what the world needs = your vocation.
  • The intersection between what the world needs and what you love = your mission.
And the intersection between all four of these categories?

That's your reason for being.

As someone who has never tried this exercise before, I highly encourage everyone to take some time to think about how these four categories fit into their life. Personally, I had an epiphany that I had a lot of overlap between what I love and am good at, but often times that didn't relate to what the world needs. For example, I love and am good at poker (and sometimes even get paid for it) - but does the world truly need more poker players? Probably not.

My Ikigai - a work in progress

I'm still in search of my personal Ikigai, but this exercise did help me to zero in on what it might be. As long as I can remember, I've enjoyed helping others to reach their goals. I derive fulfillment from knowing I was able to play a role - even a small one - in others' success. That's one of the main reasons I started my personal consulting company (Coach Carter Consulting) last month. So now I'm looking forward to get paid for it. I just need to take active measures in making sure what I do, whether through Coach Carter or Emergence, ties into what the world needs. And based on my portion of that diagram, it would be new institutions, more individual opportunities, and slightly more sanity.

Mind Mapping

After we had a chance to design our lives ... it became time to design our ventures. Jenn also took the lead on this exercise, using Jenny's Coffeehouse as a living example.

Now there are no shortage of ways to put marker to whiteboard and design your business concept. The method we used is called a mind map. A mind map is simply a diagram used to visually organize information. It starts in the center - the key word or purpose for the exercise at hand. The first step is to create those initial branches out from the center.

A mind map for Jenny's Coffeehouse

So let's take Jenny's Coffeehouse. At the center of the map is New Product Development. Jenn identified the following primary categories to branch out from this center:

  • Legal/Licensing
  • Operations
  • Finance/Accounting
  • Business Analytics
  • Business Model
  • The MVP
  • Identity/Branding
  • Sustainability

and, of course,

  • Money!

From there, she was able to visualize what subcategories needed to be nestled within these broader categories. For example, Money!, connects with funding needed to get the venture off the ground, which would involve paying off loans, building a team, and acquiring a physical space to launch the coffeehouse. But acquiring a physical space is not purely a monetary matter - it also involves the legal matter of purchasing real estate. Through this mind map, you can create connections between second and third level branches to better illustrate how all the seemingly disparate pieces of your venture fit together like an entrepreneurial puzzle.

Finally, after the mind has been sufficiently mapped, it became time to tag each of branches in order to make this whole map actionable.

For Jenn, she identified four categories that each branch of the mind map could be bucketed into:

  • I will do it
  • I know someone who will do it for me
  • Needs active mentorship
  • Need to find someone

Pretty simple, right? This color-coded illustration allowed Jenn to visualize the areas of the business that she felt competent in or could grow into. But equally as important, she was able to identify the areas of Jenny's Coffeehouse that would be better suited for someone else to manage. Going one step further, there were certain people that Jenn already had on board to help (the pink outline), but there were a handful of categories such as real estate and legal matters (the green outline) which still needed someone to take point on them.

The mind mapping exercise took the better part of Saturday morning, but it was time well spent. At the conclusion of the exercise, Jenn had a much greater understanding of all the components that went into starting a coffee shop, along with an identification of the areas she needs active mentorship or help in order to accomplish. As an entrepreneur it can feel like there are a million moving parts with your venture - and there absolutely are.

But taking a step back and visualizing all of these moving parts, in conjunction with how they move together or what is needed to make them move in the first place, is well worth the time taken to do so.

Simdi Onyilofor and Jenn Greenstein showing off their mind map creations

Stay updated with the Emergence Baltimore cohort going forward via Instagram (@EmergenceBaltimore) as we design our lives and our ventures.