Motherhood changed my perspective—and elevated my career

Back in January, I wrote about why I was ready to be braver this year. That post was me saying ‘this is going to be a big year for me.’ Ten months later, I can confidently say I was right. I transformed my coaching and consulting company, Kickass Enterprises, and it continues to transform my life. I reexamined many of the goals I held at the beginning of the year. Many of these have morphed as I’ve learned more about myself and connected more fully with my passion. I want to update you on that here and share some of what I learned from going all in and changing the way I do business.

My ah-ha moment(s)

My first son prompted me to leave my job as a professor at the London School of Economics and move my family back to California to return to my first love—working with startups (which I surprisingly found to be more friendly to women than academia).

This time motherhood prompted me to hone my focus even more.

As I was holding my three-week-old daughter, Arrow, in my arms in the middle of the night almost a year ago, I had a revelation. I was wrestling with the fact that I was already itching to get back to work, while I was simultaneously aware that every moment of that short newborn period is so precious and delicious that there’s nothing worth doing more than savoring and enjoying it. When you’re priorities are so clear, you achieve a preternatural insight into yourself and your goals. I remember thinking— “Whatever I choose to go back to doing, it better be f**king worth it.”

This post on Medium is written by another women in tech, who during her maternity leave also thought deeply about how she spends her time and how she wants to improve it. Maternity leave is not a ‘break’, but it is a big shift — a change in both your day-to-day and in your lifelong identity which creates a different level of perspective. You are forced by the nature of early motherhood to stay fully present. You must be tuned into your body and the emotions and needs of another in a complete way. This presence creates space to consider things in a new light. It helps you see opportunity, and engage in radical self inquiry. In fact, it forces you to do this.

Leaning into my strength

My mission is to help creative people and entrepreneurs bring their vision and ideas into the world. And, thanks to the perspective I gained during my maternity leave, I was able to realize that 90% of the value I was creating for clients was coming from about 5% of the time I was spending with them. Coaching was actually something I was sneaking in back door of my consulting practice at that point. I was doing growth strategy, and, upon examining my successes with clients, I found that the biggest business growth came when the founder was able to unlock their own potential, to explore their deeper fears, to lean into the most challenges aspects of their humanity and their leadership. It was time for me to take the advice I have given founders so many times and cut out the features that only diluted my offering, and reduce complexity in order to serve more powerfully. So, I decided to pivot towards authenticity: ‘What if I strip away everything non-essential and only do the 5% that creates profound value— the coaching?’

While I still do strategy and organizational design, I now do it through coaching startup execs and founders. Calling myself a “coach” was difficult as first. But that was silly, frightened, ego stuff. Worth feeling, but not being guided by. Because it’s only when the leaders I work with are open to deep personal transformation that any other strategies and tactics would make any difference. For most leaders, unlocking growth and creating an epic company that fulfills their deepest vision is not an A to B process, but rather a personal shift in perspective that allows them to unlock the creativity and courage necessary for them to catalyze business growth. Great work is a spiritual journey.

Find your passion

I am excited to introduce you to this new shift in my business. By deciding to be pure and honest in what I’m offering, I have been able to kickstart growth for my clients. And once I started doing this, growth started happening for me and for my business, too. Here’s a post about what happens when you connect fully with your purpose, inspired by what happened to me when I had the space and time to be fully present and achieve this. Check it out and see if it resonates with you. And if you’re interested in working with me to unlock your creativity and step into your full power, you can get in touch with me here.

Personal Idea Management: Nuts, Bolts and Apps

Hi Caneel,

In “How to Keep an Idea Log You Will Actually Use” you talked, in part, about rereading your archive of ideas every 3 months.  That is manageable, but I struggle with the revisiting of all the other information including: bookmarks, downloaded files, saved emails, hand written notes, etc.

I would very much like to know how you cope with the incredible amount of useful information at your fingertips.  How do you organize everything that you collect (in different forms)?  –Software Engineer

Hi Software Engineer,

I keep all of the data you’re talking about in simply structured (hardly tagged, mostly just thorough file names) folders on my hard drive.

I use Evernote for highly formatted reference materials I’ve captured (web pages, pdfs not associated with a project, etc), and Notational Velocity synced with my iPhone and iPad for reference notes to myself and reference lists (blog post ideas, books to read, cool companies, movies to see, etc.).
For big projects I keep a rich text running log of progress, steps taken, ideas, any thoughts or questions or concerns that pop into my mind, etc – and all entries are time and date stamped. I include visual screenshots of everything I’m talking about, and often links to the files.  I even timestamp my entries using a keyboard shortcut create using Smile Software’s TextExpander (I type “ttm” to get the current date and time, then follow it with a quick description of what I’m doing… it’s addictive!). For any one day working I would enter about four pages of notes, just to give you a sense of how stream of consciousness it all is.
I deal with everything as it comes and don’t revisit. My intuition guides my search for inspiration and ideas, my projects drive my search for everything else.
I believe in silence and randomness and fun, and I hate discipline and drudgery.  I have a million RSS feeds going into my Google reader and some into the Pulse iPhone app (also a reader), and I look at them when I am on the tube or hanging out with nothing else to do, but when I tried to keep “on top of everything” that came through my RSS feed, I noticed I was creating a lot less, “working” a lot more, and always felt like I had homework hanging over my head. Sort of like a drone.
So now I just do what I want and try to read books/long articles and write a lot. Most of us have too much electronic input these days anyway.

Current projects drive my search for new information and stimuli. I use Safari bookmarks for bookmarks but mostly for keyboard shortcutting the bookmarks menu (e.g., command-6 is “ it”, command-7 just became “Pinterest it”, etc.) but I feel no need to revisit most things.
I hope some of this helps. Please write back in the comments and let me know where you’d like to challenge me on the above.  It’s a super nerdy but obsessively interesting topic.  –the Caneelian

Seven Things I Want in a Job

As you know, I’ve been on the job hunt lately. Just like changing countries, moving apartments and other big changes, a job search forces you to get concrete about what you want your new life to be like. And because I love working, my job is a big part that vision.

  1. I want to make things with people who are energetic, smart, and unusually interesting.
  2. I want to be at a company that is clear about what it is, inspired by what it wants to become, and admired for being exceptionally good at what it does. (I’m anthropomorphizing. Forgive me.)
  3. I want to be able to dress like myself. Edgy and bold and professional. My workplace cannot require heels or suits (only my clients can); I live in the hills and I like to walk too much.
  4. I want to be respected for my ideas (ooh!), my rigor (hmm…) and my irreverence (gasp!).
  5. I want to use my skills as a social scientist to further a creative agenda of problem solving.
  6. I want to use my skills as a teacher, persuader and story-teller to lead challenging changes in how people work, behave, and think.
  7. White boards, sketchbooks and post-its are a must. I love my Macbook Pro to an almost fetishist degree, but for creative collaboration, nothing beats analog.

Some of these requirements (like the last) may seem mundane, but they are culturally significant: It’s important that my workplace that supports visual thinking, rapid prototyping, and collaborative problem solving.

And some of them are just things I’ve learned that I want in a workplace, time and time again. My former acting coach taught me that it’s essential to love using the tools of your trade. It’s important not to ignore those things.

So let me know…..  where should I work?  And what do you want in your next job?

Big Changes


I wanted to announce a few big changes in my life of late.


I’ve moved back to San Francisco to be closer to family and the amazing pulse of California life that I know and love.


I am now on indefinite leave from the tenure track at the London School of Economics. We are still working out the details, but I hope to keep working with the Department of Management in some capacity while I’m away, perhaps still teaching on some executive programs like our new Global MiM and the Executive Summer School.

I am also looking for ways to continue “teaching” here in the Bay Area, whether in a classroom or as an innovation coach like I did with Haas@Work. (If you have a need for a facilitator or guest speaker, I’d love to hear from you.)


I’m thrilled to get to focus on the design strategy work I love so much – I’m officially on the job market. (I’m having so much fun visiting friends of friends at SF’s most exciting design firms. Keep the leads coming!)

I am also getting to dedicate more time on my freelance organizational consulting practice, Kickass Creative. I have been involved in some very innovative projects lately, applying behavioral and social psychology research to making things and solving business problems through design (like at Nutmeg, an exciting financial startup I advise in the UK).


…but for different reasons than before. I’m a proud new mom of a delightful baby boy, born in London this past August!  I miss London (and going out) but couldn’t be happier to get to glimpse the world through my precious baby’s eyes. Going to bed early is the new sleeping in!

That’s the gist of it. I’ll keep you updated as my plans evolve…  in the meantime, if you’re in the Bay Area I’d love to hear from you!  – Caneel 🙂

How to Pick a Thesis or Dissertation Topic: Thinking by Writing

Dear Caneel,

Choosing a thesis topic is kind of crazy.  I feel like I’m committing to marriage or something. Is it the right one? Will I be happy? Will I get bored? Will it keep my interest? Is there something better out there? 

– A Masters Student

Writing at a Table (via Dylanfm on flickr)

Dear Masters Student,

I know, the decision can be crippling!!!  Don’t let it paralyze you.  The best way to pick is to write out your thought process.  Play with ideas.  Talk to yourself in your journal about the pros and cons of each idea that pops into your head, not worrying about the order.

Most importantly, free-write through your thoughts, feelings, fears, and fascinations relating to your thesis.  They are extremely relevant to your progress.  I like handwriting best as I have more access to my emotional evaluation of my ideas when pen touches paper. I go to a café where I can noodle in my journal without being lulled into the safe distractions of the internet.

THINK BY WRITING…  This is my biggest advice for the whole entire process!  15 minutes a day free-writing, every single day except Sunday. Let it flow, writing “I don’t know what to write” when you’re stuck – don’t wait till you know what you want to say. You figure out what you want to say by writing.

Feels disorderly?  That’s okay, and a necessary part of the process you need to push through.  Probably you don’t have a list of distinct dissertation topics or ideas that you could list and write pros/cons for at this stage.  There are probably many that are similar.  Or maybe you don’t have any ideas (or so you think!).  This method acknowledges that.  Instead, it allows you to investigate the blurry edges between ideas – the overlaps.

Don’t spend too much time on this process however (your subconscious wants you to procrastinate, waste time debating, because writing the dissertation is so much more threatening to the ego than indecision is… don’t give in to this temptation).  The best thing is to pick an idea and commit to it after allowing yourself a short while to debate. Any idea is always more interesting the more time you spend with it, making it yours.  So don’t worry too much about picking the right idea.

Remember the importance of constraints (the topic of my own dissertation!).  Pick a narrow enough idea that you can go in-depth in a way that is truly unique – there will be less reading to do and more room for your own creativity if you intentionally constrain yourself to a smaller scope.
A big hug to you, and best of luck!  Let me know how it goes and how/if this works for you in the comments section below.
While writing my dissertation, I joined the Academic Ladder Writing Club and found it invaluable. I also highly recommend the following books:
1. Destination Dissertation (Foss & Waters) walks you through the process from day 1 to completion, very concretely.
2. Completing your Qualitative Dissertation (Bloomberg & Volpe) walks you through what a dissertation should look like, and how the different sections should compliment each other and build on each other.
3.  Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day (Bolker) gives help with the writing process (and a reminder that the easiest and BEST way is a little writing of notes to self each day, BEFORE you are “ready to write”).


"Reading" by Fabio Dellutri

I often hear people say that they no longer read novels; that if they’re going to take the time to read a book, they want to learn something.

But “nonfiction” means neither objective nor important.

Fiction teaches empathy and truth about the impossible diversity human experience: This is NOT a waste of time.

Reading novels is both enjoyable and enlightening. Practice it. Allow yourself.

(And for some book-loving inspiration, check out my favorite tumblr blog, Bookshelf Porn.)