I've always loved magic. For me, it went beyond entertainment; it was an intellectual endeavor. I enjoyed trying to figure out how an illusion was done. The actual solution didn't matter because it was the process of thinking about the effect that I liked.
When I was younger, there was a TV show called, Breaking the Magician's Code. Each week, the "masked magician" revealed how some popular tricks were done.
On the show, which is now on Netflix, he first performs the illusion as the audience would see it. Then he would do the trick again, showing how it was done. I would watch the show and pause after he performed it the first time, before the reveal. I would then write down all of the different ways I think he could have done the trick. Only after I had at least one solution, I would watch how it was done. The reveal typically involved showing the trick from different camera angles. In doing this, the solution becomes obvious.
My love affair with magic started when I was a young kid. Over the years, I've found that magic and innovation are close cousins. Although there are many more parallels, here are three concepts I learned about innovation by studying magic:
1. The brain can't be trusted.
Magic is so impressive because the brain doesn't always process everything it sees accurately. It takes shortcuts, makes assumptions, and (often incorrectly) fills in gaps. When we see someone go in a box to conceal their body, only revealing their head and feet, we automatically assume that the feet are from the same person whose head we are looking at. But what if they aren't? With innovation, our brain is also often fooled. We take shortcuts and fill in gaps, leading to incomplete solutions. Be sure that any time you develop a new idea, you look at it from multiple perspectives. What are you missing? What assumptions are you making? Just like the reveal, you need different camera angles.
2. Start with the illogical.
Although this may seem obvious, magic tricks must appear impossible. Something must be done that appears to defy the accepted laws of the universe. Cut someone in half without killing them. Make someone disappear. Read our minds. Magicians make the impossible possible. Compare this to the world of innovation where we're typically only looking to make the possible possible. How can we learn from this mindset? When looking for solutions to a pressing problem, ask yourself these starter questions: What would be an impossible solution? What is the worst solution? What solution might get us arrested? Then ask, what are the attributes you like about these "crazy" ideas and how can you leverage them to find an unusual yet workable solution?
3. Performance is as important as the method.
Anyone can perform tricks. But real magicians know there is much more to magic than knowing the secret. On Britain's Got Talent, one of the finalists performed a trick I bought years ago for about $20 at a local magic shop. It is simple to do. When I perform it, it is mildly entertaining. When he performed it, it was a minor miracle. With innovation, the performance is as important as the solution. New technology is great, but you need to back it up with excellent human support. The experience your customers have with your new innovation is as important as the innovation itself. Technology can easily be replicated by your competition. However, a good performance is much more difficult to copy.
I was recently at a convention with 500 magicians. Given I'm a magic geek, I loved it. But over time I've come to realize that the real magicians are the hard working people in companies who are trying to make the world a better place through innovation. And when we view innovation through the lens of magic, it can even make it more enjoyable. Or as Walt Disney once said, "It's kind of fun to do the impossible." Now go make some magic!