Coming to an Understanding

Research is organised curiosity. A deep need to understand the world is a core attribute of a great strategic consultant.

Consultant Leisha Kapor reveals how coming to understand her own mind unlocked the most exciting phase of her life and career.

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As a child growing up in Perth, I would describe myself as relentlessly curious. I wanted to know about everything. I still do.

I was told regularly that I had an ‘obsessive personality’. I never just liked something; I became obsessed with it. I fell deep into Harry Potter fandom, reading and writing fanfiction and teaching myself how to build websites so I could make one about Harry Potter when I was 11.

I would tell whoever would listen about the things that fascinated me. I think my deep love of books came from a powerful desire to understand things, then talk or write about them. It was always about words. Even my love of music is grounded in an emotional connection with lyrics, and I can’t resist a song with a clever turn of phrase.

While not always the most complex, it was the lyrics that turned my love of the band Green Day from a fledgling appreciation of the sound into a full-blown obsession. I still remember the first time I heard the album Dookie (one of the biggest rock albums of the 1990s) and it just clicked. It was everything my angry adolescent self needed at 14.

Five years later, I’d seen Green Day live 13 times in Perth, Melbourne and all over Europe, had been up on stage with them, and had matching tattoos with the friends I’d met along the way. And, of course, I was blogging about the experiences, trying to perfectly articulate what about Green Day was so special.

Now I know I was hyperfocusing on something that gave me the dopamine hit my brain struggled to release naturally. But I didn’t understand that at the time.

Game changer

I always struggled to get things done at school. I was in academic excellence classes and was smart enough to pass tests and get good marks, but when it came to homework or studying, I just couldn’t make myself do it. I slowly made my way through two degrees, in between spur of the moment trips overseas to see Green Day or go to Harry Potter fandom conventions.

Eventually, at 26, I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and my trouble with focus and my ‘obsessive personality’ suddenly made sense. Coming to understand how my brain works was an absolute game changer.

Most people think of ADHD as the boy at the back of the class rocking back on his chair, throwing things and getting in trouble for disrupting his peers, but that wasn’t really me — even if I did get in trouble for talking a lot.

I came to learn that ADHD brains regulate attention and emotions in different ways to neurotypical brains — low levels of certain neurotransmitters and impaired activity in four functional regions of the brain can impact our attention, organisation, impulse control, emotions and more. It can make it hard to pay attention on demand, or to break focus on something interesting.

This explained why I couldn’t stop thinking about the book I’d just finished reading, or why booking a four-day trip to San Francisco three days before flying out was an impulse I couldn’t control. Or why I wouldn’t start an essay until the night before it was due, because I had gone down a rabbit hole of research. I was so fascinated by the topic, in learning everything and getting it perfect, that the actual essay often wouldn’t get written.

It explains why there’s now 10 tabs open on my computer about the neuroscience of the ADHD brain and the difference between dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine.

Chasing interests

Well before I was diagnosed, my love of reading, writing and talking about my passions led me to a Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) at the University of Western Australia, where I discovered linguistics, fell in love with the study of human language and made it my major.

My first gig out of uni was as Print Design Multimedia Officer at United Voice (now the United Workers Union), Western Australia. I was designing, laying out and editing magazines and other printed collateral, and pitching in at rallies and interviewing politicians, union officials and members. The role was the perfect meeting of my interest in politics — having grown up in a progressive working-class family — and my ever-growing desire to understand how to best communicate ideas.

I eventually headed east to study towards a Master of Publishing and Communications at the University of Melbourne, complementing my classes with writing and editing work at a media content agency.

Somehow, I completed two degrees and started my career, all while struggling against undiagnosed ADHD. Imagine what I could do once I learnt how to combat it!

Being me

I was a freelance travel, lifestyle and entertainment writer living in Sydney when COVID-19 hit, but losing all that work turned out for the best when I landed the Senior Copywriter role at The Being Group in mid-2020.

It was the perfect job for me because there was always something new and interesting to research and write about.

Every new client requires a fresh, deep understanding of a topic you might not have known much about before. I’ve written about everything from audiology, cosmetic surgery and healthcare, to construction equipment, engineering and subsidence. Unsurprisingly, having been raised by a primary school teacher, I gravitated towards education work, and have now worked closely with MultiLit (a leading literacy instruction provider), the NSW Education Standards Authority and the NSW Department of Education.

I was able to apply my intricate knowledge of how language works to so many different formats, writing websites, blogs, marketing campaigns, brand personalities, reports and more. And I was able to use my hyperfocus, pattern recognition skills, love of research, and need for everything to be perfect — all thanks to my ADHD — to my advantage.

Finding the right words, strategically

As time went by, I started doing more and more strategic work. I went from determining how to best word an idea, to determining what those ideas should be.

I remember very clearly one day when our CEO was explaining to a client that our copywriters should almost be called copywriters/consultants, I thought: “Oh, I like that! Let’s do that.”

Siebert was incredibly supportive and within a few weeks I’d moved across the office to the consulting team. We’d already been working together closely on a large e-learning project for the Australian Cyber Security Centre, one where I spent months researching and planning before the actual writing began. I was doing the work of a consultant and I absolutely loved it. (I made a card game!)

Knowing how to write and having such an intricate understanding of language (thank you linguistics and editing classes) has been invaluable for consulting. So much of our strategic work hinges on finding the right words to influence and inspire change and follow through. Now it seems like this part of my career was inevitable.

Focus, baby

If 25-year-old me could see me now, I don’t know if she’d believe it. I’d been at BEING for 15 months when I had my son. I was the first BEING employee to go on maternity leave, so I think everyone was a little unsure how it would go.

I got really bored on mat leave and I came back to work completely invigorated and excited about what I was doing. I was more focused and able to channel my attention in new ways.

Of course, having a child is a difficult juggle but everyone who has one does it. I think I’d be bored if parenting was all I was doing, which is probably a controversial thing to say. I hate being away from my son, but I want him to be proud of me and what I’m doing.

What would I like to be doing in five years? I’d like Siebert’s job! Not CEO of The Being Group, but perhaps helping to run the consulting team. I assume I’ll still have that relentless curiosity to learn and write and talk.

If Leisha wasn’t a Consultant at The Being Group, she’d be running a gin distillery and ginger beer brewery — and saving up for another Green Day tour.

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