Heidi Cohen Interviews Daniel McGinn
New book: Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed
Q: What’s your best piece of advice for readers looking to improve their marketing?
More than most professions, marketing requires people to perform in high-stakes settings, such as pitch meetings or crucial sales calls.
In my book, I argue that people should learn to prepare for these meetings the same way athletes prepare for competition—by having a process of mental preparation that puts them in the right mindset to perform.
Q: What was the inspiration for Psyched Up?
I played football and basketball in high school. I wasn’t very good at either sport, but I became fascinated by the pregame process—the rituals, the music, the pep talks, the focus on rivalry—the teams would use to psyche themselves up.
When I became an adult, I kept running into former athletes who now worked as professionals—accountants, surgeons, ad executives—who used these processes themselves. I wanted to explore the research to find out what techniques really work, and how people can learn to utilize in their work lives.
Q: What is the key concept behind Psyched Up?
The premise of the book is that if success at your job requires you to be able to bring your A-game during certain moments, you should create your own process to ensure you can do this. The book has chapters on choosing motivational music, giving pep talks, techniques to reduce anxiety and boost performance, and using ritual and superstition to increase performance. People are idiosyncratic, so not all of these techniques will work for everyone; the trick is to find the right mix that work for you.
Q: What do you want readers to take away from your book
Instead of fidgeting or standing around being nervous before they give a TedX talk or walk into a final-round job interview, I want people to have a pre-performance routine that helps them feel confident and powerful—and helps them bring their best self during their time on the stage.
Q: How do you describe yourself professionally?
I work as an editor, journalist, ghostwriter, and speechwriter. I spent 17 years at Newsweek, and the last 7 years at Harvard Business Review. As a reporter, I enjoy digging into an unfamiliar business to understand how it works and conveying that to readers; as an editor, ghostwriter, and speechwriter, I love assisting c-suite executives to tease out their best stories, clarify their message, and figure out the most compelling way to communicate it.
Q: What are 1-3 books that inspired your work/career?
When I went to college I intended to work on Wall Street, and I majored in finance. My freshman English teacher—his name is George O’Har at Boston College—convinced me to do a double-major in English, and I started working on the school newspaper, which led me into business journalism.
So the books I read in that freshman English course were important, in that they led to conversations that shifted my career goals. Among them, I especially recall Raymond Carver’s Where I’m Calling From, and stories by John Updike. (My favorites are The Maples Stories.)
I’ve never aspired to write fiction, but writing about this fiction is part of what pushed me to become a writer. Today I read mostly nonfiction. I’ve especially admired Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit.
Q: What is the biggest challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your life or career?
I’ve been really fortunate in my career—lots of little setbacks and ongoing challenges, but nothing cataclysmic. Probably the biggest challenge I have faced—one that is ongoing—is the changing landscape and economics of magazines, and making sure I’m able to keep adding value to my employers (present and future) as their business models shift from print to digital.
Q: What’s something unusual or fun that most people don’t know about you?
I am a graduate of HBS—that is, the Harvard Bartending School—but due to lack of practice, I can’t make a good cocktail to save my life.
Q: Is there a piece of marketing content that you’re particularly proud of?
We obtained blurbs from Katie Couric, Arianna Huffington, Charles Duhigg, and many others. The book has been tweeted about by Dan Pink and Adam Grant.
This is my second book, and each time I do one I am struck by how the marketing and promotion takes as much energy as the reporting and writing, but I’m especially pleased by the marketing efforts for PSYCHED UP.
Q: Is there anything else that we haven’t covered that you’d like to share?
One of my favorite blurbs for the book came from Brad Feld, a prominent venture capitalist. He said: “This book is a gift for entrepreneurs or anyone else who pitches ideas for a living.” Since that group includes marketers, I hope they will take Brad’s advice and sample PSYCHED UP.
Thank you Dan.
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