It's National Magic Week. I’ve been a "professional" magician since I was about nine years old, and I firmly believe that nothing in my training or background (except my mother's raising me to have a level of ridiculous confidence which was utterly disproportionate to my actual looks and abilities) has had a greater impact on my success as an entrepreneur than practicing magic for my peers and their parents. Every prospective entrepreneur should have to learn to perform and "sell" a dozen tricks to an unruly crowd. The lessons learned are good for a lifetime.

Frankly, the kids in the birthday party audience were always easy to control and to fool--the parents (especially those paying me to perform), not so much. They always insisted on seeing how the tricks were done, and, as everyone knows, a good magician never tells. Managing the adults and telling them "no" was a learning experience that was at least as valuable as learning how to deal from the bottom of the deck or pull a sickly little rabbit from a hat.

And the truth is that, as much as people ask you for the explanation, or to "tell them the truth," they actually all prefer the magic of the illusion to knowing how the effect was accomplished. They just don't realize it until it's too late. Because once we know how a trick is done it loses all its power to amaze, inspire, and confound us. No one really wants to see how the sausage gets made.

If this is starting to sound a little like the daily reality for an entrepreneur, that's not a coincidence. Selling yourself and your team and your investors on your dream every day is itself a magical act. Starting a new business is a triumph of imagination over intelligence, and passion over experience. Because, as I always say, if any of us knew how long and hard the actual process was going to be we probably would never have started down the path in the first place.

What, exactly, do startups have in common with magicians? Three things come immediately to mind:

First, both rely on masterful storytelling. When you look closely at a magician's performance you realize that the power and the passion are in the dramatic way that the trick is performed and the story is told. The effect (the action) is just a technical process that is more about engineering than emotion. Capturing and conveying the excitement and enthusiasm at the heart of their businesses is what the best entrepreneurs do every day.

Second, startups involve the willful suspension of disbelief--at least for a while. We don't believe for a minute that the woman is going to be chopped in half, but we go along with it anyway, our hearts racing as the blade descends. Setting off to change an industry, invent a new way of doing things, save thousands of lives, etc., aren't things that happen every day, but they will never happen if we don't believe they can, and work to turn that belief into reality. Feasibility will compromise us all in the end, but we have to believe in our dreams--however impossible they may seem--and never let the turkeys get us down.

And finally, we are blessed to be living in an age of amazing new technologies available to millions of people across the world. The truth is that any sufficiently advanced technology is basically indistinguishable from magic anyway. If we continue to create and capture the multitude of opportunities out there today to combine our vibrant imaginations with these powerful new technologies, we can all be magicians in our own right. If you can dream it, you can do it. Because, as they say at Disney, the magic's the magic within you.

Published on: Oct 28, 2014
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