If you are a creative professional, you may be more of a magician than you realize.
Stage magic, tricks, illusions, sleight of hand… they are all the products of intense planning and practice, not otherworldly forces. For the budding creative professional, the person who practices lateral action, the magician is an excellent role model and source of inspiration. Let’s have a look at a few professional magicians and see what we can learn from them that we can apply to our own creative work.
1,000 magic tricks.
Just ponder that for a moment.
How many ways can you levitate people, cut them in half, pick out a mystery card, or make something disappear? Most of us can’t do any of these things (at least, not on purpose). Many magicians probably learn five or ten ways to do each of these common tricks.
Stewart James, on the other hand, had seemingly limitless creative ability. David Ben wrote about James in his book Advantage Play: The Manager’s Guide to Creative Problem Solving. Ben wrote that James invented more than 1,000 magic tricks in his lifetime. Ben examined James’s methods for developing magic tricks and concluded that James was “the most prolific inventor of magic in the 20th century”.
How does one person create so many magic tricks? The answer might surprise you.
If you’ve guessed that it didn’t really take magical powers to invent all of those tricks, you’re correct.
The part that might surprise you is that the magician’s creative process probably isn’t that different from your own if you’re a writer, artist, or performer.
The Magic Is in the Mundane
David Ben describes a series of problem solving techniques in Advantage Play that incorporate idea generation and development. Stewart James used these techniques to create so many marvelous magic routines.
Techniques? Routines? Wait, isn’t magic… well, magic? Hocus pocus, wave your wand, and all that? This all sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it?
The book’s subtitle incorporates the phrase ‘creative problem solving’ for a reason.
Problem Solving and Lateral Action
Consider the following examples of illusion and daring:
Harry Houdini – Houdini started out doing card tricks but became most famous for his death-defying escapes from “certain doom” from drowning while bound, shackled, and sealed up in various containers, including milk containers.
Dai Vernon – this clever magician, a master of card tricks, became the man who fooled Houdini when he stymied the great escape artist with a simple card trick.
David Copperfield – perhaps the most famous illusionist of the 20th century, he was famous for performing amazing magic routines on television, like making large (no, huge) objects disappear or flying around his stage.
Obviously they started with an end in mind. Houdini knew that he wanted to perform amazing escapes. Dai Vernon focused relentlessly on mastering card tricks. Copperfield knew that he had to make something big disappear.
Principles of Practical Magic
Despite the amazing ease with which these professionals carried out their magic tricks, there’s no evidence to support the ideas that they are capable of using magical power or creating true illusions. Instead, the success of the modern magician depends on several key concepts that any professional can use to do amazing work:
Research and Experimentation
You need to know your subject matter thoroughly, perhaps even better than anyone else, in order to understand what you need to do. Read broadly and deeply about your subject matter. Ask questions. Interview experts. Find case studies that illustrate how success was achieved.
Did you know that David Copperfield has one of the largest collections of information about magic in the world? He has spent millions of dollars acquiring that knowledge over the years.
Fortunately, there’s a lot of free information on the Internet these days and, in many professions, people are willing to spill at least some of the beans.
Once you’ve done your research and you have a well defined concept of what you want to do, find out what resources you need to get the job done. Broadly speaking, there are five resources, besides information, that you need to do great work:
- People – the combination of knowledge, talent, and attitude
- Money – while this isn’t always mandatory, you often need to invest some money to perform creative projects
- Time – sacrifice is part of creativity; time is something you must give up to do great work
- Materials – paper, pens, drawing materials, glue, costumes, music, photos… whatever it takes
- Equipment – computers, offices, drafting tables, bulldozers, cameras… you get the idea
You’re better off up front knowing what you need before you get started. A great magic routine, or creative project, requires a well-equipped team (or army) to get the job done.
You need to determine the necessary tasks that you need to do in order to complete your project. Sequence them in order – what must be done first? Look for lead times – will it take two days or two weeks for the new PC to be delivered? Finally, assign resources to each task. If you need physical labor, scientists, camera operators, lighting experts, graphic designers to create magic, they’ll all need instructions.
Practice, practice, practice. Work, work, work. Get the job done. You might be creating prototypes or detailed outlines if you’re creating a tangible product, but you need to build skills and get foundational work in place in order to make magic.
Do it. Profit from your preparation and practice. Get the job done. Astonish the audience by sawing a woman in half, publishing a book, or putting on a play.
What do You Think?
Are magicians great role models for creative professionals?
How important are technique and preparation to your creative magic?
How closely do you guard your tricks of the trade?
About the author: Mark Dykeman is the founder and editor-in-chief of Thoughtwrestling, a blog devoted to helping you wrestle ideas to the ground, overpower problems, and become the champion of your great ideas. He is an IT professional who has been blogging since 2007. He is the author of the award-winning blog Broadcasting Brain. For more creative magic, follow Mark on Twitter @markdykeman.
Photo of Harry Houdini via Wikimedia Commons.