Mark McGuinness is an executive coach based in London who specializes in working with artists and creative professionals and who writes regularly at Wishful Thinking. He's also the most tech-savvy coach I know, and he's found a number of innovative ways to integrate technology with his interpersonal work. As another fan of technology who happened to spend two years in art school as an undergrad, I was thrilled when Mark agreed to do a Three Questions interview with me--thanks, Mark!
1) You describe yourself as "a poet and a business coach," but which came first? Were you writing when you saw an unmet need for coaching among artists and creative professionals, or did you begin to write as a form of personal expression to complement your coaching practice?
Poetry came first. And it will last longest. I never planned on being a coach, I just wanted to write poetry. I got interested in hypnosis as a way of tapping into creativity, and as I like to do things properly I trained as a hypnotherapist. I found myself being consulted by writers who were stuck on their latest novel and actors with stage nerves - they were great fun to work with, and of all the clients I worked with they seemed to get the most out of the sessions. So I started looking for ways of working with more artists and creatives, and developing it as a niche. Most of them weren't really looking for therapy, just a way of kick-starting their creativity, so I started offering professional coaching instead of therapy.
After a few years another coach invited me to do some work with him at Vodafone, which introduced me to the world of coaching in business. One assignment led to another and I ended up doing a lot of work with various organisations, mostly helping managers to become better coaches for their teams. After a few years of that, I decided to put the creative and business coaching together and focus on companies in the creative industries - advertisting, marketing, TV, computer games, web development etc.
I felt reasonably confident of my coaching skills, having been doing it for around 10 years, but I wanted to get more of a sense of the big picture of the industry sector. So I took the MA in Creative and Media Enterprises at the Unversity of Warwick, which was a fantastic course - we studied the usual core business topics like strategy, marketing and organisation theory, alongside intellectual property law, theories of creativity and theories of the creative economy. A great mixture of inspiration and business knowledge, that made me look at my business and my poetry in a different light.
2) Your recent e-book on Creative Management for Creative Teams does a great job of explaining coaching, but I'm also curious about how working with your particular clientele affects your approach. What do you think you might do differently as a coach because of your focus on creative people?
Well two things I might do differently are not to wear a suit and not to call myself a coach! It's probably no surprise that creative types don't feel comfortable with suits, but I discovered through my work and via my MA research dissertation that a lot of people in creative businesses really don't like the word 'coaching'. They associate it with corporate management-speak, so the image doesn't work for them at all. But when we get down to work, the label doesn't matter, we're too absorbed in looking at the situation and finding new options.
Image aside, a lot of what I do with my creative industries clients is no different to what I would do with any other client. People are people after all. There are a lot of issues around communication, collaboration, teamwork, management and generally dealing with other people that are the same, whatever industry you're working in.
The obvious area that is different is working on the creative process, which we can approach from several different angles. Sometimes we focus on fine-tuning creative thinking strategies. Sometimes people have difficulty getting into the right state of mind for creative flow, so with my background in hypnotherapy I can help them find the right triggers for a particular emotional state. Time management doesn't sound like a particularly creative topic, but I show people that if you don't manage your workload it can play havoc with your creativity. Other times we might focus on the craft element - using your critical faculty to appraise and revise your work. And for me the creative process doesn't end until you've reached an audience with your work, so sometimes we're focused on presenting it to others (boss, client, public) in an engaging way.
Another nice thing about working with creatives is sharing what I've learned from my own practice as a poet. I find that a lot of clients are quite intrigued by poetry, so it can be very fruitful to look for the common ground between poetry and graphic design or singing opera or writing a film script or whatever it happens to be. Clients seem to find that helpful and it's fascinating for me - I get a window on all these creative worlds that I can never enter properly, but I can have a look inside as a visitor and see some of the amazing things people are doing.
3) One of the reasons I've enjoyed your work is your effective use of technology--photos from Flickr, a Facebook group, a Tumblr link blog, prominent links to your feed, etc. I wish more people in the field did the same, but I know that many coaches and consultants are daunted by the prospect. How do you decide which new tools are worth using, and how do you implement and support them?
I discovered blogging by reading Seth Godin's e-book Who's There? (PDF, 2MB) and it was such an exciting idea there wasn't a decision to make - I was going to do this and I was prepared to learn all the techy stuff I needed to get it up and running. So I immersed myself in the blogging world out of sheer enthusiasm, reading sites like ProBlogger and CopyBlogger and devouring what they were teaching.
A lot of the other tools came about by seeing cool things on other people's blogs and thinking 'How do they do that?' and investigating from there. These days time is a big factor for me. E.g. I wanted to do a links blog for a while but looked around for something that wouldn't add to my workload. I was already bookmarking pages on Delicious, so I wanted a Firefox extension that would allow me to simultaneously post to Delicious, my Tumblr links blog and StumbleUpon - I found the Mahalo share extension [for Firefox] which does a great job. It means I'm creating a whole new blog without any extra work - result! [On a related note, see Mark's e-book on Time Management for Creative People.]
If you're thinking of taking the plunge with blogging and social media, the key thing to remember is that it's not about technology, it's about people. That's why they call it social media - the tools are designed to connect people and they do a great job, I've met loads of great people since I started blogging, and the tools are getting more user-friendly as they develop.
Bonus Personal Question: Your first New Year's Resolution for 2008 was maintaining a daily meditation practice. How's it going?
So far so good! I've settled into a rhythm of meditating first thing in the morning for 15-20 minutes and now it feels like the normal thing to do. I'll admit there have been a few days I really didn't feel like sitting, but I found myself thinking 'Well, you promised your readers you would do it - what are you going to tell them?'. And sat down. So there you have it - the power of blogging!