Poet and creative coach Mark McGuinness brings you inspiration and practical guidance for your creative career or business, and interviews leading artists, creatives, entrepreneurs and other outstanding creators. Take part in the weekly Creative Challenge for your own personal development (there are prizes as well).
Episode 50! Avoiding the Advice Trap with Michael Bungay Stanier
Today’s guest on The 21st Century Creative is Michael Bungay Stanier, a returning guest whose interview way back in Season 1 proved very popular. And his book The Coaching Habit turned out to be even more popular, as it went on to sell three quarters of a million copies.
Michael is back with some excellent advice on avoiding The Advice Trap, which is also the title of his new book. So this is a great conversation to help you become a better communicator or leader – whether or not leadership is in your job title.
This is the final episode of Season 5, which means it is also Episode 50 of the podcast. So in the first part of the show I reflect on what I’ve learned and the relationships I’ve made in the course of making 50 episodes.
It’s been a lot of fun and I’m very grateful for all the support I’ve had along the way, from my amazing guests and the 21st Century Creative team – with design from Irene Hoffman, music from Javier Weyler, who also does the sound production, with Alejandro Lovera, at Breaking Waves, and transcript and show notes edited by Alexandra Amor.
And I also want to thank you, for listening (or reading the transcripts), sharing and reviewing the show, and for supporting the show on Patreon.
If you want to be kept informed of progress on Season 6, I’ll be sharing updates from behind the scenes with the Patreon members, so you’re welcome to join us.
In the coaching segment of this week’s episode, I issue a warning that will hopefully prevent your next brilliant idea from vanishing into thin air: ideas are leprechauns.
Michael Bungay Stanier
Michael Bungay Stanier was one of the very first guests on the 21st Century Creative podcast, way back in Season 1, when he shared insights on how to be a better leader and coach for creative teams, based on his book The Coaching Habit.
In turn, the book was based on the many years that Michael and his team at Box of Crayons spent helping companies use coaching to transform their culture and unleash the creativity of their employees.
Michael had published The Coaching Habit himself, having failed to convince a string of publishers to take it on. Well, there must have been plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the offices of those publishers, when the book went on to sell over three quarters of a million copies!
It’s now firmly established as a modern management classic, and it’s one of the books I buy regularly for my coaching clients who are creative directors or agency owners.
Michael has now followed up with a new book The Advice Trap: Be Humble, Stay Curious & Change the Way You Lead Forever.
In this one, he tackles one of the biggest obstacles we all face when we try to help someone else: The Advice Monster.
This is the part of us that can’t resist jumping in and offering well-intentioned advice, before we’ve fully understood the problem, and which is oblivious to the effect it can have on the person we’re supposed to be helping.
In this conversation Michael explains why the Advice Monster is such a problem and how it not only disempowers and demotivates people around us, it also creates stress and overload for us too.
If you’re the leader of a creative team you’ll find this interview an invaluable source of insight and practical advice on getting out of your own way in order to serve your team better.
And even if you’re not in an official leadership position, you will gain some important insights into how to change a habit that doesn’t serve you. Michael’s words may also help you discover more opportunities than you had noticed to step forward and lead people in a more creative direction.
For a questionnaire on how to identify your Advice Mon...
The 21st Century Illustrator with Krystal Lauk
Today’s guest on The 21st Century Creative is Krystal Lauk, an illustrator who took an unconventional path by creating illustrations for tech companies, and founded a studio that counts Google, Uber, Facebook and The New York Times among its clients.
It’s a fascinating story of discovery and enterprise at what Krystal calls ‘the intersection of delight and clarity through illustration’.
And she gives us a peek behind the curtain at what it takes to land big name clients for a small creative studio. So if that’s one of your ambitions for your business, pay close attention to what Krystal has to say on the subject.
In the first part of the show I share with you something I’ve found myself saying to coaching clients many times over the years, that has helped to relieve a lot of frustration and anxiety on the journey to completing a big creative project: every creative project is a revolving door.
When we think of illustration, probably the first thing that comes to mind is a children’s book - and we have already featured a wonderful children’s book author and illustrator, Nadia Shireen, back in Season 4 of The 21st Century Creative.
But my next guest has found a very different canvas for her work as an illustrator - Krystal Lauk is the founder of Krystal Lauk Studios in San Francisco, and her illustrations can be found on the web pages and apps of Google, Uber, Facebook, Intercom and other tech companies, as well as in publications such as The New York Times and Fast Company.
Her work has been recognised by American Illustration, the Society of Illustrators, and 3×3 magazine.
Operating at what she calls ‘the intersection of delight and clarity through illustration’, she and her team help to communicate complex ideas and brand values in an attractive and engaging way.
For example, they help their tech clients make their products and platforms feel more human and user-friendly - using illustrations to enhance the look and feel of websites, apps, and internal communication systems.
Krystal is really opening up new territory as an illustrator, both creatively and in terms of business opportunities. She’s a great example of taking a traditional artistic skill and applying it in new ways.
So I invited her onto the show to tell us about her journey as an illustrator and creative entrepreneur, from developing her artistic style, through happening upon her first clients in the tech space, and eventually founding her own studio to fulfil her ambitions and serve her clients on a bigger scale.
The result is a fascinating conversation about her journey of discovery, where she explains what illustration can do that other media can’t when it comes to humanising technology.
She also gives us a peek behind the curtain when it comes to landing big-name clients - so if that’s something you would like to do, listen out for Krystal’s advice, and I warn you, it takes a bit of courage!
Whatever your own creative discipline I’m sure you’ll find plenty of food for thought in this conversation with Krystal about carving out an original path as a 21st century illustrator.
You can follow Krystal’s work on her website and on Twitter and Instagram.
Krystal Lauk interview transcript
MARK: Krystal, when did you get seriously interested in illustration?
KRYSTAL: I think from the very beginning, when I was a kid. I was always really fascinated with children’s books. I was drawing all the time. So I think I just knew from the beginning that this is what I wanted to do. Obviously, there were a lot of twists and turns. At one point, I wanted to do anthropology. At one point, I wanted to be a writer but it always came back to illus...
Writing a World-Changing Book with Cynthia Morris
Today’s guest on The 21st Century Creative is Cynthia Morris, a coach for creatives who shares insights on the book-writing process, based on her latest book The Busy Woman’s Guide to Writing a World-Changing Book.
So if you are contemplating writing a book - whether it’s your first one or your twenty-first - there is a lot of insight for you in today’s interview.
Even if you’re already a published author, there is plenty of advice and wisdom between its covers. I’ve written 5 books myself and I found myself stopping and making notes as I read through it, of insights that should make writing my next book easier.
And even if you’re not a writer, when I listened back to the interview I realised a lot of the advice applied to pretty well any kind of self-started creative project that involves a lot of dedicated practice. So whatever your creative discipline, I think you’ll find Cynthia’s story and what she has to say about creativity inspiring.
In the first part of the show I share with you a recent experience I had with my language studies, that reminded me of an important principle about creative work – you have to be bad to get good.
Cynthia Morris is an author and a coach for creatives.
The Busy Woman’s Guide to Writing a World-Changing Book is for ‘busy women immersed in running businesses, building careers and caring for loved ones’, so she doesn’t just help you with how to write a book - she also addresses the big challenge of how to find time to write the book, in the midst of everything else in your life.
The book is based on many years of writing and helping others to write - Cynthia has written 8 books herself, including a novel. And she has been coaching writers, artists and entrepreneurs since 1999. So there’s a lot of accumulated wisdom between its covers.
Cynthia and I met virtually on the internet years ago and recognised we were on a similar path professionally. We’ve occasionally collaborated on audio recordings together, and we got to meet in person a few years back when I was coaching delegates at the 99U conference in New York.
She’s someone who really gets creatives and their motivations, and I always come away from our conversations with fresh enthusiasm for writing and creating.
When she sent me a copy of this book I asked if she would come on the show and share some of its insights with you - because I know there are a lot of writers and aspiring authors in the 21st Century Creative audience.
The result is a great interview in which Cynthia talks about writing a book as a relationship, and as a dialogue or a conversation with your deeper, wiser self. She also introduces us to a surprising way to counterbalance the influence of your Inner Critic.
Towards the end of the conversation, she shares some some great ideas on how to prepare for the launch and marketing of your book while you’re actually writing it, without adding to your workload.
Whether this is your first time writing a book, or whether you’ve written a few and you would like the next one to be easier than the last one, you’ll find plenty to inspire and encourage you in this conversation with Cynthia Morris.
Cynthia Morris interview transcript
MARK: Cynthia, what was it like when you wrote your first book?
CYNTHIA: I wrote my first book back in... I think I was writing it in 2002, and it came out in 2003. And it was called Create Your Writer’s Life: A Guide to Writing with Joy and Ease. And I didn’t think I could write a book because as a coach all of our... the main thing that I was trained with is asking powerful questions, good inquiries that help people discover their own wisdom and their own way of doing things.
The Adventure of Writing with Emily Kimelman
Today’s guest on The 21st Century Creative is Emily Kimelman, a thriller author who has travelled the world in a boat and criss-crossed the USA in an Airstream trailer while writing and publishing her books, and selling hundreds of thousands of copies in the process.
Emily’s adventurous spirit shines through in her writing as well as in her approach to travel and entrepreneurship. And she gives us a really inspiring interview about her journey as a writer and creative entrepreneur.
To me this conversation is a real breath of fresh air, especially at a time like now when travel is a distant memory for most of us.
I should mention that like most interviews this Season, we recorded this one pre-Covid, but it’s not hard to join the dots and see how the principles Emily used to creative a business that she could run from the road or the high seas can help us in an age of remote working.
In the first part of the show I suggest that if you want a constant stream of new ideas, you should practise the art of overhearing yourself.
Emily Kimelman is an author and traveller who has written from all over the world including the beaches of India, the jungles of Costa Rica, and the islands of the Caribbean.
She spent many years working while travelling, firstly sailing the seas in a boat, and later criss-crossing the United States in an Airstream.
In childhood she lived in Soviet Moscow, where her father was a correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer. While living under communist rule, the KGB sprinkled her entire family with ‘spy dust’, a radioactive compound that left a glowing trail so they could track them …which she says, might explain where some of her ideas for spy thrillers come from!
There are currently 13 titles in her Sydney Rye series, and her other books include a series of Romantic thrillers co-authored with Toby Neal. With hundreds of thousands of books sold, she has an army of readers eager for each new release.
I met Emily in 2016 when she asked me to coach her, and I had the privilege of working with her for 2 years while she was travelling in her Airstream and transforming her business, from working as a solo author to expanding her team so she could delegate a lot of the business tasks and focus more on her writing.
I was really impressed by Emily’s independent-mindedness, enthusiasm, and dedication to carving out the life she wanted for herself and her family. So I asked her to come on the show so you could her her remarkable story and experience her creative and enterprising attitude for yourself.
In this conversation she talks about how she got started as a writer in spite of not being able to read until the age of 10 due to Dyslexia, and went on to find success as one of the early writers to self-publish via Amazon’s Kindle.
She also tells the story of her journey as an entrepreneur, from running a glass-blowing businesses, through to applying her entrepreneurial skills to the business of authorship.
If you like to travel, and you’re pining for distant lands with the current travel restrictions, you’ll also enjoy her stories of balancing work, family and travel, by air, sea and land.
Finally and in my view most importantly, she talks about the mental game of authorship and creative entrepreneurship - which is the part that makes the biggest difference over time.
If you’re the kind of creator who values quality of life as much as money or fame, and you want to succeed on your own terms, you’ll find plenty of inspiration in this conversation with Emily Kimelman about the adventure of writing.
Emily Kimelman interview transcript
Naomi Dunford on Marketing for Creatives
This week’s guest on The 21st Century Creative podcast is Naomi Dunford, a contrarian marketing guru who has been ‘helping weirdos sell things on the internet’ for many years. So if you’re the kind of creator who loves making your work but hates the very idea of marketing, then I recommend you listen to what Naomi has to say on the subject.
Even if you’re fairly experienced at putting your work out into the world to grow your business or move your career forward, I think you’ll get plenty of insight from listening to what Naomi has to say about marketing for creatives.
In the first part of the show, I update you with some new events and projects from former guests on the show: a virtual poetry masterclass with Mimi Khalvati this Thursday 30th July; a new podcast about work in the age of Covid, Work, Interrupted by Christina Patterson; Jarie Bolander’s new podcast for entrepreneurs, The Entrepreneur Ethos; and Freelancing.eu, a new website from Robert Vlach for European freelancers, and others outside of Europe who want to work with European clients.
In the coaching segment, I seek to persuade you that systems can set you free – no, really.
Naomi Dunford has been a source of unconventional marketing advice for unconventional business owners since 2006 when she launched her blog at Ittybiz.com.
As the name suggests, she was writing for the owners of very small and unusual businesses, making marketing comprehensible and doable for them.
I first encountered Naomi as a reader of Ittybiz, where I was entranced by her irreverent style, the fact that she managed to swear a lot and make it sound elegant and witty, and also that she could solve marketing problems while making me laugh at the same time.
Since then I’ve hired her as a consultant and experienced first-hand how good she is at finding creative solutions to problems faced by unusual business. And also how much she genuinely cares about her clients.
In this conversation Naomi tells us how she got started as a writer and marketer, and how she repurposed some of the timeless principles of classic marketing for the digital age at Ittybiz.com
And if you are the type of creative who thinks you are no good at marketing, and/or that marketing is the spawn of the devil that has nothing to do with your creativity - then Naomi has some surprising and empowering things to say.
She also talks about content marketing overload, with the tsunami of content we’ve been experiencing for the past few years. So if you’re worried that it might be too late to start attracting an audience and too hard to cut through the clutter online, then you’ll be pleased to know she has a very interesting and hopeful viewpoint on this.
And if you’re further down the line with your business and your online presence, and maybe feeling a little jaded and weary, Naomi has plenty to say that should help you reignite the spark of enthusiasm for your work.
As she says in the interview, Naomi has recently retired from running Ittybiz, which is now in the capable hands of Kris Faraldo. So we are extra lucky that I managed to coax Naomi out of retirement to talk to us. But if you want to follow Naomi’s further adventures, she has recently launched a new blog at: xxnaomi.com
Naomi Dunford interview transcript
MARK: Naomi, when you set out on your career, how did you think it was going to turn out?
NAOMI: This is the question you lead with? No pressure! How did I think it was going to turn out? When I was very small, I assumed I would write because I didn’t really know how to do anything else. And that situation seemed to sustain itself for quite some time. Eventually, I figured out how to do a few other things, but I couldn’t really find a way to make money at any...
Making Music Sustainable with Steve Lawson
This week’s guest on The 21st Century Creative podcast is Steve Lawson, a musician described by Bass Guitar magazine as “Britain’s most innovative bassist, no contest”. Instead of playing in a band as part of the rhythm section, the way bass players are supposed to, Steve is a solo artist, who creates what he describes as “melodic, ambient, wonky electronica”.
And instead of chasing a record deal, stadium gigs or millions of stream on Spotify, Steve deliberately keeps his audience small and intimate. He releases several albums a year via an innovative subscription model, which frees him up to make music on his own terms. He’s here to talk about his unusual path as a musician and how to build a sustainable career as an independent creator.
In the first part of the show, I reflect on the Black Lives Matter movement, and the importance of diversity for our creativity, for the health of the arts and the creative industries; as well as some thoughts about the interview I recorded with Monique DeBose for Season 4, where she spoke powerfully about her experience of growing up mixed-race in the US.
In the coaching segment, if you have a love-hate relationship with your phone, or if you’re feeling your anxiety stoked by the stream of bad news and social media outrage at your fingertips, then I invite you to pick up a poem instead of your phone.
If you talk to most musicians about the state of the music industry, you will hear a tale of woe - no one buys music any more, piracy and streaming are killing music, it’s impossible to get a record deal any more, and even if you did, it wouldn’t be worth it, and so on.
But talk to Steve Lawson and you’ll hear a very different story.
He experienced early career success in what now feels like the ‘good old days’ of the music business, getting regular gigs as a session musician and touring with the likes of Howard Jones and as the opening act for Level 42.
Steve has played headline sets at festivals across Europe, and recently he has also collaborated in the studio with artists including Reeves Gabrels and Jason Cooper of The Cure, and Mark Kelly of Marillion. So he knows what it’s like to play for big crowds and with big stars.
But Steve decided to take a very different path.
As an experimental solo bass player, he occupies what by any stretch of the imagination is a pretty specialist niche in the music scene. Described by Bass Guitar magazine as 'Britain’s most innovative bassist, no contest', he creates otherworldly cinematic soundscapes, improvised live, in his own words, 'with nothing but a 6-string bass guitar, an MPC-style MIDI controller and a bewildering array of pedals.'
His music has also been regularly played on BBC Radio 3, 6Music and numerous stations across Europe and the US. And he has been written about in The Times, The Guardian and The Independent.
Steve takes an equally unconventional approach to the business side of his music.
Most musicians bet their career on chasing the numbers - previously with the goal of having a hit record and filling stadiums, more recently getting millions of streams on Spotify and Youtube. But Steve has opted to build a strong relationship with a small but very dedicated following who really appreciate his music.
So you won’t find his music on Spotify or Tidal. Instead, he makes most of it available via an annual subscription in Bandcamp - for a one off annual fee you get all the music Steve releases in a year, which is typically several albums’ worth, plus his entire back catalogue.
He calls this Steve’s Ever-Expanding Digital Box-Set and for his listeners, it’s an incredible bargain, when you explore the volume and quality of its contents.
Customer ReviewsSee All
My favorite podcast about creativity
Every single episode of this podcast contains at least one life-changing insight. Mark invites the most fascinating, wise, and interesting guests, inspiring them to share lessons that have the potential to truly help creators in any field. He's also an excellent listener and interviewer, balancing his own experiences and knowledge beautifully with that of his guests. In short: this podcast is a tremendous contribution to artistry and to artists around the world.
Entertaining, insightful and actionable! 🔥
Whether you’re well established as someone who can translate creative energy into the impact you want to have on the world, or just getting started as a catalyst for change - this is a must-listen podcast for you! Mark does an incredible job leading conversations that cover a huge breadth of topics related to the ins and outs of building a thriving enterprise and creative life you can be proud of - from leaders who’ve actually walked the path. Highly recommend listening and subscribing!
Very well done
I’m a creative in Los Angeles and found this podcast some beautiful way via Google...I really appreciate Mark’s insight and style. The show is well produced and every second is valuable & thoughtful. I’ll keep listening!!