Magic and Innovation

Magic and Innovation – An Analogy

“Logic only gives man what he needs…Magic gives him what he wants.” – Tom Robbins

Magic defies the law of logic.

Logic is common sense. Through our common sense, we form a perception of how things should be, which in turn, shapes our basic expectation of how things should become. When things turn out the way they were meant to (in accordance with our own set of universal logic), common sense prevails and our expectations are met. So, if our intention is to not match but exceed expectations, then changes must be introduced to break or disrupt the pattern of logic and common sense.

People like changes; this is inherent in our nature. We enjoy things that are new and fresh, things that are different and exceed what we would normally expect. People like surprises. These are some of the reasons why magic is such a popular form of art.

So is Innovation a form of art or a scientific subject? The debate is endless. There are numerous ways to define and describe Innovation, and however it is explained, it surely has to involve the element of change.

Magic and Innovation are similar in many ways and both share many characteristic and descriptive. The main idea behind Magic is to surprise by presenting the unexpected. This is the same for the concept of Innovation. Innovation requires the outcome to be different, original, to shift away from the norms. It would be contradictory to claim an idea to be innovative when everyone knows what the outcome would be.

Another key feature both Magic and Innovation shares lies in the significance of the presentation. For all his fame and reputation, the tricks/effects performed by David Copperfield (perhaps the most wellknown magician/illusionist) are not very different from what lesser known illusionist others can do. The key difference is in the way David Copperfield presents his magic, in the form of storytelling combined with music and stage lighting. The same goes for Innovation. When a new idea is launched, the way it is package and presented will hugely influence how well it is accepted by the market. Sometimes, an idea can sell by itself, other times, it needs something extra to push the idea.

Here is a list of other similarities Magic and Innovation shares:

1. ‘I can’t wait to see what is going to happen!’

Magic and Innovation get people excited because they are focus on the creation of something new. The though of experiencing something never seemed before excites people. The further the gap is between current reality and perceived change, the greater the excitement level. Remember the buzz the first Apple’s ipad creates before it was launched? Everyone was raving about how it would look like, what it can do and of course, how cool we will look carrying one around.

What really gets people excited is not so much the actual change, but, the gap between the now and the unknown future. Truth is, be it a trick or an innovative idea, the excitement only goes as far as the moment before all is revealed, when the unknown becomes the known. After a short while, everything becomes status quo. This is why it is more important for organizations to build an innovative culture rather than an innovative idea.

2. Everything is possible! (Well, sort of).

‘‘When you think differently, magic happens’’ – Anonymous

In magic, everything is possible. Humans can fly and paper can turn into money. To innovate, we too need to start with a mindset of ‘everything is possible’. During the exploratory stage of any Innovation process, it is crucial that all ideas are considered as possibilities. Judgment has to be suspended, assumptions of how things usually work have to be challenged. By adopting an open mindset, we will allow ideas of all kinds, no matter how ridiculous they might sound, to generate, grow and synergize. At the end of the day, idea generation is a numbers game; the more ideas there are to work on, the higher the chances for success.

3. They are deliberate, it doesn’t just happen!

By deliberate, we mean intentional. In other words, any trick starts with a magician wanting to perform a trick first and foremost. Without this intent, no trick will ever happen. Driven by intent, the magician will then work through the process of getting the trick ready.

Similarly with Innovation, all the most original ideas we have ever seen are not nature’s creation but are put together by people who want to contribute towards a novel ideal. Innovation does not just happen, it is driven by those who wants it. But, good intention alone is not enough. Innovation is too important for modern day organizations to leave it to just thoughts and desires. Intention must translate into action in order for ideas to materialize. Central to this transition is the Innovation structure used to facilitate the process.

4. “One man’s magic is another man’s engineering’’ – Robert A. Heinlein

As much as Magic sometimes appears to be spontaneous, they are not. All tricks are carefully designed, calibrated and put together. In other words, they are by design and not by chance. Before a trick is performed, a magician goes through a 6-stage process, which consists of preparatory work and post performance review. Here is an overview of the process:

1. Established performance type – ‘What do I want to make appear, disappear or change at the end?’, ‘where and who am I performing for?’

2. Environment and equipment check – ‘Is the stage big enough?’, ‘Do I have the necessary equipment to perform this trick?’

3. Planning – ‘How am I going to piece the performance together?’

4. Practice and rehearsal – Dry-runs after dry-runs to perfect the performance.

5. Actual presentation – The ‘Live’ performance.

6. Post performance review – Identify area for improvements.

Likewise, Innovation is not from the sprinkling of magical dust, it is a process driven concept that goes through stages that are similar to Magic.

1. Objective setting – What do we want to change or improve?

2. Resource management – What kind of resources are available for us to work with?

3. Planning stage – Now that we know what we are doing and what we are working with, how do we go about with the change?

4. Development of idea– The process of modifying, adjusting and fine-tuning the idea.

5. Implementation – Executing or delivering of the idea to the users.

6. Feedback from users – To further improve the idea.

Seeing Innovation as a process allows us to approach the concept with a systematic point of view. By breaking the concept down into a series of sequential stages, it can better facilitate Innovation as we are able to move one step at a time instead of attempting a giant leap, which the word Innovation sometimes appear to suggest. And also, should things not go according to plan, we can trace through the different stages to identify where remedy is required.

7. Harry Houdini was not born a Magician!

“Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.”- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Some of us might come into this world with characteristics that all fine Magician posses (e.g., nimble fingers, natural flair in entertaining, witty sense of humor) but no one is born with a card trick in his mouth. All Magicians, no matter how good they are, goes through a learning journey. Some find it easier, while others struggle. Whatever it is, the tricks and traits of any Magician can be acquired.

The same goes for people whom we considered to be Innovators. They are not born with a gamechanging, revolutionary idea. They most likely go through a learning journey that span decades, filled with plenty of trials and errors, possibly met more failures than success, before achieving something that make us ranked them as a true innovators. The point here is, Innovation is a proficiency that anyone can have as long as they are willing to learn

8. ‘This trick looks familiar, haven’t I seen it before?’

There are many ways to learn Magic tricks. One of the most effective ways is to learn directly from others and from there, make it better than the original. So, instead of reinventing the wheels, we strengthen it.

Likewise, innovative ideas do not have to come from a complete novelty; it can come from the redevelopment of a current idea. We can either take a vertical approach by improving or refining the idea (doing it better), or, we can adopt a laterally approach by applying the principles of one idea to another seemingly unrelated idea (doing it different). Take a moment and think of the 3 most innovative ideas you have ever come across. Chances are, they have their roots in some earlier innovation.