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Listen To Mom: Authentic Stories And Innovative Ideas
Originally posted here on Forbes.com
The first voice we hear in life is our mother’s – and that’s great news for our brains.
As a ground-breaking study from the Stanford University School of Medicine reported back in 2016, the sound of a child’s mother’s voice engaged a much greater number of brain regions compared to sounds of other women. While scientists have known for decades that a mother’s voice is favored by their children, the study was the first to use MRI scans to understand all the various parts of the brain that are stimulated.
A mother’s voice is powerful, and to say that it is one of the foundations for the earliest inklings of imagination and innovation in our lives is not an overstatement.
But mothers’ voices don’t only promote social and emotional growth (and healthy brain activity) in their children. They also animate wisdom and inspire ideas with others through the stories they tell.
It’s that spirit that led Kanika Chadda Gupta, a journalist, digital entrepreneur and mother of three, to embark on the mission of sharing the wisdom of mothers in her role as the host and producer of “That’s Total Mom Sense” (https://kanikachaddagupta.com), a podcast that features an array of distinguished guests discussing one of life’s most difficult, yet rewarding, challenges: parenthood.
Kanika’s had a varied career as a storyteller: a former CNN anchor/executive producer who covered noteworthy news stories such as the Mumbai terror attacks and Slumdog Millionaire at the Oscars, she would go on to serve as a web content editor for fashion icon Vera Wang, and later became the founder of a digital marketing agency. She knows a good story and is a natural conversationalist. In setting up her podcast, she eschewed focusing solely on academics and parenting experts, and instead opted to pursue the lived experiences of working moms, many with highly successful careers, who have learned a thing or two between juggling the C-suite and Sesame Street.
I sat down with Kanika to discover what she has learned during her time as a podcast host; some of the memorable strategies in parenting and leadership her guests have imparted to her; the lessons in creative thinking we might absorb from our children; and what, in her role as a digital marketer and agency owner, she’s realized that organizations might use to break through and tell their own innovation stories.
Your podcast show called “That’s Total Mom Sense” is devoted to parenting strategies and guest interviews who are mainly public figures who are parents, more so than psychologists and PhDs. What led you to create it and keep it going?
Journalists are often pigeonholed by the beat they cover. I decided to create my own that lies at the intersection of lifestyle, entertainment, family life and human interest stories. These conversations are transformative because they involve those in the public eye breaking down barriers and getting real, which resonates on a deeper level. During my interviews with celebrities for television networks, I purposely avoided trite questions like, “Who are you wearing?” or “How are you feeling right now?” I found it much more enthralling to ask, “What challenges did you overcome to reach this point in your life? How have you grown?” These answers are far more compelling for the audience to learn from.
In that same vein, with my podcast, I keep my audience top of mind. By design, I invite industry leaders, trailblazing entrepreneurs, and bestselling authors who are also parents to extrapolate on, “What is your life purpose and the legacy you’re creating?” I believe parents are tasked with the biggest responsibility and privilege on earth. We are raising adults. Our children will go on to become the change makers and innovators of tomorrow. So it’s imperative that we impart our life lessons, be honest about our missteps, and have them understand the cards they have been dealt so they can forge their own path and build a better future.
I had my three kids (including twins) in the span of 18 months and listened to podcasts around the clock (while tandem nursing, doing laundry, and the many drop offs in our minivan!). I found the parenting space was bereft of a show that is I) informative, II) insightful, III) inclusive and IV) inspiring. These became the pillars of That’s Total Mom Sense and the spin-off series, What Matters Most with Maple, featuring my co-host Michael Perry, a tech founder and father of two. We encourage dads to pull up a seat at the table and discuss topics like infertility, debunking gender norms, dividing the workload at home, and the long term impact fathers have on a child’s personality and sense of self worth.
In seeking to shift the narrative of complaining and commiserating about mom life or delving too deep into the science, I wanted to hear perspectives on parenting from successful people and glean their problem-solving strategies to get through daily challenges as well as prepare us for the phases ahead. We all know there’s no rulebook to parenting, but now we are inundated by the dogma around umpteen different parenting philosophies. It’s overwhelming. My interviews are objective and aren’t meant to push any agenda, so as you listen to these raw and honest conversations, the idea is that a tip or anecdote will resonate and even elicit a change in you. What’s most important is that we realize that we were born with a built-in sixth sense – our superpower of intuition, which I refer to as ‘mom sense’ and ‘dad sense.’ You can learn from others’ experiences but at the end of the day, you should rely on your inner knowing to decide what’s best for you and your family.
What is some of the most unusual or innovative parenting advice or strategies you’ve encountered when talking with your podcast guests? Any nuggets of wisdom that really stood out?
I am very thoughtful about featuring guests who embrace their life purpose and their family values and are clear about their non-negotiables, i.e. where they feel they must show up.
Beauty industry titan Bobbi Brown shared that she was the PTA president for her three sons when they were in grade school. Though she spent a ton of late nights building her empire and her ongoing ventures as a serial entrepreneur (Jones Road Beauty, Evolution_18, The George), she knew she could use her strengths to create a positive impact on her kids’ lives by working with their principal and other parents to serve their community. She went on to say she was often found “at Michael’s on a Friday night” as she’d help her kids with their school projects over the weekend. More recently, she gave a powerful virtual commencement speech on iHeartRadio for her youngest son’s Class of 2020. She rallied, “Get over it, get over yourself and get out there.” Her message was that we can wallow in self-pity as we live this pandemic life, whether as a young adult embarking on a career or a burnt out parent navigating remote learning, or we can step up to the plate and do what we have to do. We have a choice. Bobbi knows to walk the walk as she created her own major while at Emerson University called “theatrical make-up” and committed hours to independent and practical study. The rest, as we know, is history.
Robyn Ward, CEO of FounderForward, an advisor to several tech accelerators, and devoted mother to her toddler son said, “Parenting is leadership.” You may be the CEO of your household, but if you have a vision for your family, you need your kids’ buy-in. You can’t simply dictate what you want from them. They’ll challenge you, negotiate with you, and may even blow you off. You need to treat them as part of the team as autonomous, individual thinkers. For instance, you can ask, “What would you do if you were in my shoes in this situation?” If you have multiples, you can have one child be the arbitrator when the others are having a disagreement. That way they learn to see both sides and develop ethical reasoning skills on their own.
“More than your ‘why,’ you should hone in on your ‘how.’ How can you serve your audience? How can you help them problem-solve and simplify their lives? How can you educate, entertain, enlighten and engage? Once you create an authentic way to give your people exactly what they need, you will stand out in a saturated market.” – Kanika Chadda-Gupta, TV Journalist, Podcaster, Entrepreneur
Designer, author, founder, podcaster and mom of three Rebecca Minkoff recounts that during her childhood, her family had an accounting ledger in their kitchen and she and her brother Uri were responsible for their allowance and savings. When she asked her mom to buy her a dress for a school dance, she said, “You can use your spending money to buy fabric and I’ll teach you how to sew.” Rebecca grew to love designing her own outfits from scratch, and that life lesson went on to become her passion, shape her livelihood, and has allowed her to leave her mark in the fashion industry.
One of my trusted mentors, Sarah Harden, mom of three and CEO of Hello Sunshine, which is the brainchild of Reese Witherspoon which is dedicated to championing female driven narratives across all media platforms and was recently acquired by private-equity giant Blackstone Group with a valuation of $900 million, shared that her mother was an instrumental force in her life and was incredibly kind, patient, and transparent with her kids. She was a single mom and worked for years as an intensive care nurse, decided to stay home with her kids when she couldn’t work nights, and later re-invented herself as a real estate agent living in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. She passed away from cancer at the age of 46, and told Sarah and her twin brother along with their siblings that their lifelong bond will see them through the good times and the tough ones. “You all are best friends and constant companions so whatever it is, you have to sort it out.” Sarah’s mom gathered her kids around the dinner table and went over finances when they were pre-teens. She’d say, “Here’s our household budget. She talked about how much money she earned, what our dad paid for, what it cost to rent our house, the choices she was making around whether we could go on a holiday. Those were the conversations we had around our table and I think what a gift it was. I’m so grateful to have had 23 years with this mother compared to a lifetime with anyone else’s.”
From your perspective, what can parenting and living with children teach us about innovation and creative thinking?
Children have an insatiable curiosity. They observe everything around them. It’s important for us to view the world in this way, where we pause to appreciate dewdrops on blades of grass or the vastness of the clouds in the sky.
Kids don’t know how to multitask. If they’re building a tower of blocks or coloring or playing a game, they are squarely focused on the task at hand. We should take a cue from their ability to be present and do one thing at a time, and do it well. Our phones are a preoccupation and younger kids certainly don’t understand what the fuss is all about.
Innovation and creative thinking is born from play. Play has been shown to release endorphins, improve brain functionality, and stimulate creativity. It can even help us feel young, energetic, and truly happy. Studies show that play improves memory and stimulates the growth of the cerebral cortex. We can incorporate play into our lives through outlets like sports, writing and singing music, dance, art. Whatever it may be, play rejuvenates us in a way that we become even more intentional about who we are, what we are passionate about, and what it means to live our purpose.
From your experience as the founder and CEO of a digital marketing firm, what do you see are some strategies that organizations may want to consider when telling their innovation stories? How can they position themselves to stand out in a field where there are so many narratives surrounding emerging technologies? What in your experience has been successful in helping organizations break through the noise?
Like with any novel, the most exciting part is the plot. That’s when the audience is captivated, dialed in, and wants to know more. Start there. What’s the problem? What are the gaping holes in your industry that you’re looking to fill? Then go and find the demo that is most affected by this conflict and be of service to them.
As the adage goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. (No offense to cats, of course!) If your company or brand is authentic in its approach, it will attract an audience that not only believes in your product or offering, they will feel compelled to share it with others. You can’t appeal to everyone. So be everything to your target market.
More than your “why,” you should hone in on your “how.” How can you serve your audience? How can you help them problem-solve and simplify their lives? How can you educate, entertain, enlighten and engage? Once you create an authentic way to give your people exactly what they need, you will stand out in a saturated market.