It’s not every day that you get to connect with an ex-Disney brainstorming professional, so I’m really excited about bringing you this week’s Seller Spotlight. McNair Wilson first got my attention with his colorful yet informative emails to us here at Selz, and I quickly cottoned on to the fact that this was one interesting fellow indeed. He talks to us about passion, mismatched socks, and crazy ideas. So check out his story and take some inspiration for your creative self. As McNair would say, “Onward!”
Who are you and what do you do? What’s been your journey to get to this point?
I’m Mcnair Wilson, and I’m currently a creativity consultant to corporate and non-profits, individual coach, and private coach to other professional speakers on all aspects of public speaking and teaching. I’m also a writer, and my current book “HATCH!” is the first in a four book trilogy on creativity. The second book is being written and designed now. I’m a life long cartoonist, graphic designer, writer, actor, playwright, and director.
Our users are creators who are juggling their creative work with a full-time job. Have you been through that yourself, and what advice would you have for making the transition to doing what you love full time?
The UCLA Medical School’s Real Age project has determined that pursuing your life’s passion or passions, even as a hobby, can add up to six years to your life. They also believe not pursuing or practicing your passion can shorten your life by the same measure. I have always pursued my passions—since before starting school. I was blessed that both of my parents were professional educators, They understood and practiced the necessity of encouraging me, not just saying, “Well ..if that’s what you like …but DO YOUR HOMEWORK FIRST!” They treat my brother the same way in the pursuit of his interests. He was not an artist.
As a ‘creativity consultant’ to everyone individuals to churches and Salvation Army to Apple, Inc., Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, and the Chick-fil-A executive staff at their Atlanta headquarters, I believe I must “preach only what I practice.” This means living my passions, daily and demonstrably. A couple of practical examples of that is the integration of several parts of my life: I use my theatrical skills in keynote presentations and corporate seminars as well as using my graphic design skills and cartooning LIVE during those sessions. I also have my own illustrations in all of my books. I also coach other professional speakers, CEOs, and famous authors in taking their speaking to the next level …and the next. The third book in my current creativity series will cover a good bit of my communications coaching. More than a little of what I teach is contrary to the “conventional wisdom” on speaking. But those that try it NEVER go back to their old, less effective habits.
The biggest challenge I have is that at least 30% of my professional life is about creating the other 60%. Nearly everyday I am contacting former clients, creating new work, and keep my social media sites active with creative ideas, inspirational pieces I write or draw, providing resources, and new angles for publicizing and selling books and other resources I create.
My current book ‘”HATCH!: Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Designer” is self-published. This after my literary agent presented it to nearly 20 publishers. Four editors liked “HATCH!” a lot, but could not convince their marketing and/or sales geniuses to give it a green light. “HATCH!” has been in the top ten of two Amazon.com lists, “brainstorming” and “theme parks” for several months and Amazon is not the only source for people purchasing “HATCH!”. My new Selz store has had a good initial response. My task is to drive business to the store by encouraging current “HATCH!” readers to purchase signed & personalized copies for friends, co-workers, the boss, that family member who has not returned your copy of “HATCH!” they “borrowed” weeks ago.
I am also working every day on the second book in my “four book trilogy” on creativity. The next book is where I make the case that everyone is creative. We are all born with a factory-installed creative spirit that we can use every day in our personal and professional pursuits. This next book is based on my popular keynote presentation, “Recapturing Your Creative Spirit.” There is a YouTube version of my TEDx, Denver presentation to educators. There’s a link to that video in the “What’s Brewing” section at the top of my blog: www.TeaWithMcNair.com
This presentation was originally developed to respond to the scores of Disney executives who were in my brainstorming class at Disney University and would say, “I understand your process but, I’m not creative.” I knew everyone has a creative spirit but had lost it over the years. Time to get it back, to hit the reset button. This book. I believe, can do that—for those that are ready.
You look like you have fun! How important do you think having fun is to creative work and what do you do to inject fun into each day?
My life is one of great fortune, blessings, fabulous experiences, grand friendships, fascinating travel, and enormous challenges. According to my mother, I have never been bored. I have been and still am challenged by bouts of frustration: creating work, making ends meet financially, and wondering if what I’m doing, live and in print, is good enough. This pushes me to press on, work harder and smarter and never settle for “enough”. I am determined to have fun every day, where ever I am, and whatever I’m doing, even going through security at airports. To do that I make eye contact with every TSA agent and law enforcement person I come in contact with and – my secret weapon – I wear un-matching socks every day of my life! Only one in ten TSA folks will comment, but when they do, the fun begins!
Do you think there are certain people that are better at brainstorming than others? E.g. introverts vs extroverts, men vs women, children vs adults?
The categories you mention are not the issue. The key trait is to not care whether your ideas are good, do-able, or make sense in the initial going. The main objective is to “hatch” lots of ideas, tiny, huge, impossible, silly, wild, expensive, impossible…even ideas that are embarrassing to say out loud. The key is to get out of the way of our critical thinking, self-censoring, analytical, trying-to-figure-it-out minds. Critical thinking, a.k.a focusing and deciding, must be a completely separate activity from creative thinking, even if there’s only an hour to create, decide, and plan.
As for introverts, some of the best and most actively creative team members I have worked with at Disney Imagineering, and private corporate clients have been card-carrying introverts. The trick is to notify them in advance of the target topic so they can think, imagine, ruminated for a few days before the first creative thinking session. At Disney Imagineering I would meet one-on-one or small group lunch of 2 or 3 with every team member a week in advance of our first session. In between sessions on big projects I check-in with extroverts for a 5-10 min chat in their workspace to keep them thinking and creating.
As for age and male/female concerns, I have had brilliant brainstormers of both sexes, and from 5 to 80+ years in age, literally. A key to this is that during creative thinking if I am facilitating, I am constantly, affirming all participants verbally, “Great idea …Wonderful ….I like THAT …Brilliant …That’s hilarious …GENIUS …YOU can stay for lunch …YOU can come back tomorrow.” This sort of feedback stirs even the shyest, most uncertain, why-am-I-here team member to keep speaking up. On the other hand, if ideas are met with “Huh? That won’t work. What are you thinking?! Now THAT is really dumb” etc., even the most enthusiastic extrovert will eventually shut down and clam up under negative, abusive conditions—even if the negativity is sarcastic and meant to be playful.
There’s an entire chapter in “HATCH!” about no blocking – ever – during CREATIVE THINKING. “Blocking” is to criticize, ridicule, question any contribution no matter how simple, small, unlikely, crazy, expensive – and there’s a fine for anyone called for blocking.
I have to ask about working for Disney. How did you become a Disney Imagineer and what was it like working there? What kind of people did you come across there?
Being a Disney Imagineer, a theme park thinker-upper, is “the hardest fun I’ve ever done”. That was a casual comment I made in a big corporate meeting one day and it ended up in a big recruitment brochure and campaign when Imagineering was expanding from about 800 to a staff of over 2,000. I was also quoted, frequently by Disney CEO, Michael Eisner, in speeches, press conferences, and his letter to shareholders in the Disney Annual Report. Being a Disney Imagineer was thrilling, exhausting, and about the most rewarding work I have ever done. To this day, I can visit Disney parks and resorts around the world and see guests enjoying projects to which I contributed.
Every time I visit “Tower of Terror” as the elevator is making its final drop and guest are screaming, I recall, vividly, the day that I asked four senior Disney engineers if we could take an elevator car OUT of the shaft and down the hall. They said, “Yes.” And they said it quickly and easily without very little thought. After more storytelling, they asked me, “How are you going to get guests back down to ground level?” I took the salt shaker I’d been using to represent the elevator car, moved it off the edge of the table, paused …and dropped it. The rest is theme park history—and described in more detail in my book, “HATCH!”.
Walt Disney Imagineering may be the single most high-level collection of talented, creative, playful, exceptional people in one “place” on the planet. I was proud and honored to be a part of the work we created. Even Summer interns were embraced and thrown into the deep end of the pool with the very senior Imagineers. One of my best friends there was Claude Coats who had started at Disney Animation 50 years before I arrived! Claude did the architecture for Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and background buildings and circus tents for numerous Disney feature animated classic films. To have met a childhood hero like Claude would have been enough, but to become a colleague and personal friend is the experience of a lifetime. My years at Disney held scores of such experiences.
So, brainstorming is one thing, but what steps do you take to put those ideas into action?
You can use the same steps that CREATE ideas – the “7 Agreements of Imagineering” – to design and hatch plans and strategies to bring ideas into reality. There’s an entire chapter on a great planning tool, storyboarding, that has its roots in classic comic strips. Whether you are building a $1.3 billion theme park or a children’s summer camp in Texas, you dream, plan, prep the site, draw up plans for construction, build, design & fabricate special elements, landscape, install equipment from kitchen equipment to bunk beds, screw in the light bulbs, fill the pool / waterfall/ water park, and open the front gate.
In “HATCH!” I show how the development and great expansion of the fairly small pirate walk-through display that became the massively popular “Pirates of the Caribbean”. It inspired a camp director to dream huge. Then, when the budget was too small, I showed them how to brainstorm ways to get everyone to see his vision and make it a reality. “The W!LD” camp opened in Huntsville, TX, in Summer 2012 and has sold out every week for two Summers.
How has being online changed the game for you as a writer? What opportunities does Selz provide you with?
I wish I had had the internet when my first book came out in 1983. The variety of social tools and apps has been a boon to sales, consulting, and my desire to inspire as many people as I can to recapture their creative spirit.
When it comes to Selz, having my own, easy to access store by visitors to my various sites has allowed me to provide signed & personalized copies of my book “HATCH!” that many who have read the book to give to friends, co-workers, family, and that person who “borrowed” it and won’t give it back. In the future, I can imagine using my Selz store to offer specials, especially as each new book in my creativity series is released, and to bundle books together at a cheaper price than buying them individually.
The simplicity of the site makes having it far less of a headache than I imagined it would be. In fact, it could NOT be easier, but I’m sure I will think of a couple ways to make it richer. It’s only been two weeks. There’s nothing I am involved in for which I do not imagine new possibilities. Including airport security.
If you want to purchase your very own signed copy of “HATCH!”, head on over to his Facebook page and click on the purple store tab. You can also read more about McNair on his blog http://www.teawithmcnair.com/