Lunch with Mark McGuinness, a Fearlessly Resilient Mind

Lunch with Mark McGuinness, a Fearlessly Resilient Mind
By Ed Roberts

Virginia, my beloved grandmother, drove me to the School of Design on the campus of North Carolina State University in the winter of 1987. I remember wearing the same black suit I wore to my very first interview—at McDonald’s. It was hard looking into my grandmother’s face because she was beaming so brightly with pride; it was like looking into the warm sun.

The NCSU School of Design had a very well-respected, extremely rigorous and competitive design program. I had been attending my father’s alma mater and decided (one month into classes) that I wasn’t going to receive the type of education I needed to become a graphic designer, my biggest dream.

So I bucked family tradition and secretly applied to the School of Design. That day Virginia and I were partners in crime, a crime that broke our family’s collegiate traditions.

I sat in my grandmother’s back seat next to a gigantic portfolio absolutely scared to death. I was interviewing for one of 90 spots in the design school and heard that the professors were really tough on students. I feared my logos created in high school along with my sketches and paintings were going to be criticized and I would be rejected straight out of Brooks Hall. Three hours later I emerged from my interviews victorious, winning one of those coveted spots. I left feeling absolute joy and completely resilient!

Last summer I met and had dinner with speaker Mark McGuinness at the HOW Design Live Conference in Boston. Mark recently published a book about criticism, rejection and the power of resilience. I hope you enjoy my lunch (across the pond) with Mark McGuinness, a fearlessly resilient mind.

Congratulations Mark on publishing your new book “Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success!”

Why is being resilient important to someone who works in-house?
I work with a lot of in-house creatives who tell me one of the biggest challenges is having their work rejected or critiqued by bosses, colleagues and clients who don’t have a creative background. Sometimes the feedback they receive can be brutal! In-house creatives need to build a level of resilience to handle feedback, stay motivated, and engage their co-workers to get the best possible outcome.

Are in-house creatives more prone to rejection and criticism?
Rejection and criticism are particularly tough for creative thinkers—or anyone passionate about their work—because they identify so strongly with the work. When they create a design, write an article or generate artwork, they’re pushing themselves into judgment. As Yeats wrote, “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams!”

You’re a psychotherapist, visionary coach, lecturer and poet. What are you most passionate about and what fuels your dreams?
Poetry is my favourite art form and the kind of writing I’m most passionate about. I also get excited by working with creative professionals across a whole range of disciplines both artistic and entrepreneurial. These people are passionate about their work. It’s hard not to get enthused after spending time in their company.

What interests you about visionary minds?
The passion is infectious. I’m in a very privileged position as a coach, when clients tell me how they dream up their creations, it’s like entering a different world. I find it fascinating to see different types of creative thinking in highly-skilled minds.

You live and work in the UK. Where do you go for lunch and what do you typically eat?
I work from home writing and coaching clients via Skype. I’m experimenting with a low-carb diet and avoid bread at lunchtime. Lunch is most often spent in the kitchen looking out into the garden. I typically eat a bean salad with tuna or my wife’s delicious prawn curry with vegetables.

What is the first creative work that blew your mind?
Children’s picture books like “Where the Wild Things Are” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” were mind-blowing and made a powerful impression on me growing up. I still get excited when I read them to my children today.

Why are many graphic designers fearful of formally presenting their work?
Designers are most comfortable behind a MAC or in the studio than being in front of an audience. Many creatives in general are natural introverts. When we present our work for critique, it feels like we ourselves are being judged.

What key steps can help graphic designers deliver impactful and fearless presentations?

  1. Begin at the end. Ask yourself, “what do I want people to do as a result of listening to me?” And make sure you tell them!
  2. Spend time planning the structure of your argument. Boil it down to three or four key points.
  3. Tell a good story that dramatizes the problem or solution you are presenting. Make it engaging, meaningful and memorable. You will capture the audience.
  4. Forget about being confident and focus on your enthusiasm. When you’re passionate about a topic, you’ll automatically become an engaging and persuasive presenter. Enthusiasm is infectious and your audience will relate that enthusiasm to confidence.
  5. If you decide to use slides—and it’s a big if—don’t use bullet points! Remember Seth Godin’s rule of “no more than six words on a slide.” Incorporate arresting and relevant images into your presentation.

What obstacles did you encounter in writing and publishing your new book? How did you overcome any of the fears, criticisms or rejections encountered?
The main obstacle was carving out time to write the book while serving the needs of my clients and the demands of my family. I’d been blogging for seven years, which meant I was used to dealing with criticism. So the actual writing process was fairly straightforward.

One of the things I’ve heard readers say most often is that it’s helpful that I share stories about challenges I experienced. Like my adventures in cold calling. Starting out I didn’t have a clue about marketing. I found clients by dialing through a list of HR directors. It was one great way to develop a thick skin!

In your book you mention the term Threshold Guardians. What are Threshold Guardians?
It’s a term used by the mythographer Joseph Campbell to describe archetypal figures who appear in many stories. The Threshold Guardian’s function is to test the hero, to see if he or she is ready for the ensuing adventure. In my book, I say rejection and criticism are like two demons at the entrance of a Japanese temple, you need to face them if you want to achieve your ambitions.

Public or private criticism?
None of us like to be criticized in public, it makes the sting twice as sharp. If you’re a manager critiquing someone that could improve, do it in private. That way you help them to learn the lesson without losing face in front of others. The flipside is that when you’re giving praise, do it publicly as well as privately.

Can resilience help make an in-house corporate creative successful; are there components of rejection and criticism that can also help them become more successful?
Yes to resilience! Some of the most inspiring stories are those of people who bounced back from failure to achieve great success—Steve Jobs being one of the most obvious examples. Rejection and criticism can help you become successful if you look at them as learning opportunities. They are never going to be enjoyable but they can teach you a lot if you stop and ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” That’s the basic question I address in the book.

Mark McGuinness is a business coach and trainer specializing in work with creative professionals and innovative companies. He is the author of Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success.

Twitter: @markmcguinness

Ed Roberts is Creative Lead at ElectriCities of NC, Inc. and manages a team of creative superheroes. Follow Ed (@InHouseObs) on Twitter for more inspiration and insight.