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Mia Blume: Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life

An Interview With Jake Frankel

Relationships are everything. Find a natural (and introverted) way to build them.

Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their lives. Jeff Bezos worked on Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50s.

How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?

In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mia Blume.

Mia Blume is a design executive coach living in San Francisco.

A former design leader at Pinterest, Square, and IDEO, Mia started Design Dept. in 2016 to help transform the way creative leaders work. Through individual coaching, workshops, and customized workplace learning and development, Design Dept.’s guided experiences foster creative leadership.

In 2017, Mia founded Within — a collection of experiences for women in design leadership.

She founded Design Dept. to transform the way creative leaders work through individual coaching, workshops, and customized learning and development programs.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I always joke that my sister and I are a clear result of our parents. My father was an engineer in a management position for most of his career, and my mother was an interior designer and artist. Interestingly, they created an architect (my sister) and a product designer (me).

While the influence of the intersection of art and technology may have started there, my teenage years were certainly formative. I grew up with the early internet, and I really fell in love with it. I was one of those stereotypical “early internet kids” who built my own first computer, made Winamp skins, and learned how to code in middle school. But I was also going to art and creative writing classes, so it’s not surprising that I ended up at the intersection of art and computer science. And have remained at this intersection throughout my career.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

If I could ever commit to getting a tattoo as a designer, I think I’d get: Design, or be designed.

“Being designed” means letting the technologies and norms around you dictate how you live and work, losing sight of what matters. It’s a very reactive state.

“Designing,” by contrast, is the conscious act of owning your time and how you show up in that context, whether that’s at work or in your personal life.

This motto has not only become a personal guiding reminder to be intentional in how I show up and in my choices, but it’s also become the backbone of a lot of the things we teach at Design Dept.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Curiosity has helped me be open to exploring new opportunities, like my recent AI blog which has turned into new training opportunities.

Discipline often has a negative connotation, but I think the ability to stay aligned with our values and intentions takes a lot of effort. And even when I veered off track, my ability to get realigned quickly has helped me move forward more quickly with less detours.

Systems thinking is a core to my discipline as a product designer, but it’s extended into many other aspects of my work like building a robust customer experience through several different applications and tools, or creating frameworks that help people navigate through complex processes or concepts.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?

In my first chapter, I was a designer and design leader at IDEO, Pinterest, and Square. As a trained graphic designer turned product designer, I really enjoyed exploring complex problems and creating new things.

And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?

I really enjoyed many aspects of my first chapter, but after burnout from leading teams at back-to-back hyper-growth startups, I found myself wishing for more intentional experiences around leadership, community, and learning. I’d spent years trying to lead in a way that aligned with these corporate environments, and sometimes it aligned with my leadership values… but not always. And often, as the only woman in the room, I was feeling quite alone in facing those realities.

So I built the experiences I wish I’d had: facilitated, intimate conversations with leaders across companies to hikes in the desert for women in leadership. It was creating and organizing spaces (or designing them) for learning and growth to take place.

And that continues today, as I build Designing with AI, which is all about curiously exploring the intersection of design in AI. In some ways, it allows me to combine my two chapters — the art of making (now in a new way) with all that I’ve learned about building educational experiences for my community.

Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?

It’s funny, when I worked at Square, I learned a lot about what it takes to be a business owner from the people who used our products. I recall thinking to myself at some point that I’d never own my own business. It was too hard, and I wasn’t that brave. I saw their headaches and heartaches closely through our user research and beta programs.

So my second chapter required me to face that. To figure out what it means to run a business my way. And of course, that required a lot of growth.

I wanted to build a way of working that was more aligned with my values. That included things like a four-day work week. Or team events that combine connection and making.

And it seemed like the only way to do that was to build my own from scratch.

What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?

I’d gone through stages of realizing I’m no longer building the product, but now a team, and then an organization. And this was almost like the final stage of designing a business and all of those things at the same time. So I knew I had the core skills, but it was definitely a stretch that required a lot of growth. I’d been a leader, but being an executive and entrepreneur at the same time is different. So I kept reminding myself, any task at hand was simply a design challenge. And that helped a lot. But that doesn’t mean it was easy.

How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.

It’s an exciting (and fast-moving) time. I’m really enjoying combining my depth of experience as a design leader with the emergence of AI. Recently, I launched a resource for design leaders called the AI Playbook for Design Teams to help frame this unique moment for our discipline. It contained both research from our community, my own mapping of the technology landscape, and a depth of training material from years of teaching… providing an informed pathway at this unique time.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There’s so many, but I have to give a lot of thanks to Mike Buzzard and Margaret Lee. They were leading Google’s UX Community and Culture team when we met, and they both took a huge leap in bringing me on as a partner to develop the curriculum. And then later, as sponsors to our leadership retreats for women called Within. Margaret supported our work and partnership for over five years, and was always a huge advocate for the impact we were trying to create, and today she’s one of our leadership coaches at Design Dept. I’ll always be grateful to them both for believing in me during such a huge transition in my career.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

Last year, I began some experiments with AI and started a blog about them this year. My goal was to remove my own hesitations about bias and such to better understand the potential. But the thing I didn’t expect was for AI to spark creativity in me. I haven’t felt this creative in a long time. So once again,‌ technology and creativity align in this new chapter, manifested in a new way.

It was through this self-discovery and reconnection to my creativity that I realized there was great potential for AI to change design, for the better.

Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?

Every day. It’s not that I don’t believe in myself, but it’s more that I hold a lot of limiting beliefs that make it hard to fully trust myself sometimes. It’s as simple as “I can’t do that, I’m not credible enough” to “It’s just not good enough” with pretty much anything I try to achieve. But as an executive coach, I have all the tools to deal with those limiting beliefs, so it takes a little personal coaching (or time with my Executive Coach, Jane Tight) to address them. It’s really about slowing down, acknowledging them, and rewriting the narrative that is more true. Like that I may not have the time to get to the quality I want right now, or that I have a huge learning curve I need to plan for to achieve that quality.

In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?

I honestly didn’t do a good job of building a support system before I moved into my own chapter. I think that’s because I initially ran from something, rather than running to. It took me a little time after quitting my job to figure out what was next for me. It was through that exploration that I started to find ‌people who were already in my community that could use my support, or share their experiences. But I quickly realized how important all the relationships I’d built over the years in my previous chapter were to my new one. And I’m so grateful to my past self for building good relationships with people in the design community.

Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?

I think I really enjoy making new things, which pushes me out of my comfort zone all the time. And because I’m also a life-long perfectionist, the thing that helped me take these leaps and stay out of my comfort zone was embracing experimentation. I knew that I couldn’t build or create what I wanted at first, and that I’d have to work towards clarity and quality over time. And experimentation really helped me take leaps without the fear of failure. Because the goal of experimentation is learning, not succeeding. So every failure turned into a learning, and that felt far more intentional. I still embrace this every day, particularly now as I’m working on developing our AI curriculum and membership experiences. While I’m leaning on a lot of things I’ve done for years, I’m doing it in a new space with new tools. So every day is its own form of experiment.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started” and why?

  • Relationships are everything. Find a natural (and introverted) way to build them.
  • It’s really hard to be a CEO and a manager at the same time.
  • Force majeure clauses won’t really protect you.
  • There’s no such thing as 100% authentic when there’s bias.
  • Work really isn’t everything, even if it is something you value.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Right now, I have a lot of concern for the design community and discipline. We’re in a really tricky place coming out of tech layoffs and reductions and the emergence of AI. It’s like this perfect storm of things happening, which is really making it such a critical time for how we show up. And that’s really inspired my latest chapter of building the Designing with AI community — trying to help designers overcome the fear and overwhelm and embrace their curiosity so we can experiment and move forward together. To actively engage in shaping our discipline, as technology evolves. To embrace collective curiosity.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂

Kara Swisher, because she calls it exactly as she sees it and has no problem pushing back on the troubling tech execs and their behavior. She seems to be truly herself, say exactly what she believes, and doesn’t worry about implications. That’s powerful.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow my AI explorations ‌on Substack, or join me and a community of creatives learning AI at

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Mia Blume: Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.