An Interview with Kalyani Mehendale, Senior Consultant at why innovation!

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An Interview with Kalyani Mehendale, Senior Consultant at why innovation!

Alice Yu Yuebo 2 min
An Interview with Kalyani Mehendale, Senior Consultant at why innovation!
How is it like to be a "cool mother"? Kalyani Mehendale, professional consultant and designer by day, mother of two beautiful kids and a drum player by night, shared with us how she's developed her professional career, and how she prioritises among the never-ending to-do list under multiple hats.
Tell us a bit about your journey to – and within – why innovation!.
I am a multi-disciplinary designer with a focus on human-centered approach to problem solving. At why innovation!, I focus on applying design and innovation practices in the digital space, to help companies in their digital transformation journey. 
How do you structure your day as a consultant?
As a designer, I am always mindful of what a particular product or service could have done better, to give me as a consumer and user myself, a more pleasant customer experience. I remember spending hours to get someone on the phone to solve an issue I had with my printer and it’s situations like these which reinforce the importance of focusing on value driven services in organisations. 

A large part of being a consultant is to be able to multi-task. My day usually starts by checking in with the team to align on the tasks to be completed for the day followed by updating my own task list. For me, regular checks on whether or not what is being developed is actually delivering value for both customers and the business, is very important.
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What do you like most about why innovation!?
My journey with why innovation! started last year, when I met one of the consultants for a casual chat. The casual chat led to a few more serious conversations with some other consultants at the company and before I knew it, I found myself becoming a part of the diverse, multi-talented team of experts. It was one of the fastest and easiest recruiting process I’ve come across – There weren’t any lengthy forms to fill, their response time was super and they were all really easy to talk to.

I soon realised that why innovation! walked the talk. I enjoy working in an environment that is diverse, inclusive and supportive of experimentation and learning. We are encouraged to take ownership of initiatives and reach out for support if required, to see them through. I believe that we focus on all the right things – human interaction, flexibility and the ability to adapt fast. For a mother of two little kids, with things to juggle at home as well as work, it helps to have a down to earth, no nonsense yet super supportive environment at work.
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How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I never really had a structured way of keeping track of my tasks (at home or at work) before I joined why innovation!. I used my own mind maps, Excel sheets, Google calendar or even things-to-do lists slapped on my refrigerator to highlight important tasks and events. They worked just fine until I discovered some cool techniques which would make my job easier – I now use Trello boards and Kanban to manage my projects at work as well as to plan my activities at home. I’ve even taught my seven year old how to plan her weekly homework using the Kanban method! She loves it – Everyone in the house knows what the homework is, can make changes to it and keep track of progress.

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Tell me about a day in your life—before and after the solution you chose.
I usually have my tasks for the day planned out on my Kanban board. Most often than not, something turns up, some unforeseen variable that needs immediate attention, and you have put everything else on hold. I remember I had put aside an entire day to work on workshop output synthesis when an urgent request to send out some proposals came in. There was no way I could continue my day as planned. I spent fifteen minutes to quickly reorganise my tasks and figured out a way to change the plan. I’ve had similar situations while working with clients as well, where we’re been busy working on a solution and we’ve got unexpected feedback from our customers. That’s when we’ve had to go back to our drawing boards to figure out another way to get to our goal. 
So for me, I’ve found that not everything goes as planned - not all the time anyway! As long as the team and I are aligned on our goal, how we get there will keep changing depending on many variables. With that mindset and having regular checkpoints, we are able to be flexible and adapt to changes fast and save a whole lot of time planning.
How did you balance being a mother and professional? What have you sacrificed (both personally and professionally) at each stage of your career?
Whoever said it was easy….well, I know that it isn’t. I am no superwoman and there are times when I question my own sanity. I am sure I speak for a whole lot of women when I say that. Being a mum of two, and having realised that having a career is important to me, I have had to think hard about what I want out of my life – personally as well as professionally.
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I have found that prioritising helps – figuring out what I value most and what I’m willing to compromise on. For example, I turned down lucrative job offers when my kids were babies, knowing fully well the impact it’d have on my career trajectory. But then, I was clear that I wanted to be with my kids full time, so I continued working freelance whenever possible. These smaller projects gave me the necessary experience and know how that was required to get me back into full-time work when the time came.
 
It’s impossible to please everyone all the time, but when you set goals, you can slowly and steadily work towards them. I have found great value in including family and friends in creating smaller but strong support systems that have given me much needed encouragement, motivation and assurance, to continue on my  own road map.
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What are some strategies you’ve learned that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?
Choose your battles – there are innumerable issues that we need to deal with as women even otherwise so it doesn’t help if you try and fight every battle you’re thrown into at work. Choose your battles wisely. Identify what is most important for you and what brings most value to your organisation. Work on those, leave the rest for someone else to worry about.

Be confident  – don’t be afraid to make decisions. Whether you’ve joined the workforce after a long hiatus or whether everyone else around you is half your age and twice as fast, don’t get intimidated. Use your strengths and your knowledge, work on your weaknesses, be confident of the value you bring to your team and your organisation.

Be comfortable – be comfortable with who you are. Don’t try to fit into a culture that doesn’t agree with you.  If you need to skip an office dinner because you’ve promised your kids a bedtime story, do it. Only when you’re comfortable with yourself, you can contribute sincerely to the work you’ve chosen to do.

Find a mentor – it always helps to find someone who inspires you, has extensive knowledge and expertise and is willing to guide you through difficult situations at work. That kind of objective and impartial support can really help in making important decisions. During my career, I have received sound advice and guidance from my mentors to help me make the tougher calls.

Ask for help – If you are stuck with something, don’t hesitate to ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness. There is a lot of value in getting different perspectives on a problem and letting people know that you are also human – not a superwoman.

Find something that interests you – it’s easy to lose motivation and run out of steam especially when you are juggling a whole lot of things at the same time. Finding something that interests you will keep you motivated to keep going. Look for an organisation that is inclusive and resonates with your work ethos, and is supportive of your goals. After all, it’s also about working with the right kind of people!
Looking out 3 to 5 years, beyond the obvious trends, what do you think will be the next big change in your industry?
Customisation - I believe that information overload will give way to people looking for more relevant and meaningful conversations with their products and services. The key will be to identify what matters most to them and use digitisation and technology to customise those experiences.
I remember when Facebook was new, anyone and everyone wanted to be on it,. Today I find more and more people getting off and creating smaller communities to have meaningful interactions with. This for me will be the most important social trend that will impact other areas of our fabric.
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If you had a list of ‘best-kept secrets’ [websites, books, coaches] you’d recommend, which would you include and why?
There aren’t any secrets really. I find inspiration in books, travel, my music and practically everything that I do. Like a whole lot of other women in the workforce who are doing magnificent work, there are two women in particular who inspire me the most - Indra Nooyi and her work as ex-CEO at PepsiCo. and Maaike Steinebach who is now GM at Visa Hong Kong. Closer to home, I am also inspired and fascinated on a daily basis by my team at why innovation! There’s a lot to learn from each one of them since they bring different skills and expertise to the table.
As for books, there isn’t the one I would swear by but I find myself reading anything and everything that interests me – history, design, branding, project management etc. There is a lot of online content related to my field that’s interesting to read as well. I also like attending events that are related to my area of expertise from time to time. 
How do you recharge or take a break from work?
I love the outdoors, so I go hiking whenever the weather permits. I enjoy cooking, trying out all kinds of recipes and inviting friends over to sample them.  

I play the drums and find it fascinating that even though each limb of your body performs independently on the drum kit, they all come together to create meaning for music. I find drumming therapeutic after a long day of work. 
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My kids love to get involved in everything I do, so we tend to do things as a family too. Spending quality time with them is my most favourite way to recharge.
List down 3 take-aways for your readers.
Have a goal –  have more than one if you need to, change them if down the line you realise that that’s’ not something you’d like to do.  

Prioritise – identify what’s most important for you. Priorities will keep changing at every stage in your life and that’s okay. The important thing is to set expectations right. 

Keep working at it – don’t give up. Find motivation in things to do, friends, family or whatever works for you to reach your goals.
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