How learning magic helps CEOs run their businesses

In a weekly interview series with business leaders, the New York Times posted a video of Daniel Lubetzky, C.E.O. of KIND, where he talks about his early influence of learning magic and how it impacted him as an executive.

The learning process was an effort that “helped me for the rest of my life,” says Lubetzky. He mentions the skills he developed while learning magic that have been applicable for him in the business world. Lubetzky touches upon several topics that I speak to groups about during my workshops and gives crystal clear examples that any business owner can connect to.

The article mentions other executives who have been influenced by magic.

When asked about her leadership roles as a youth, the C.E.O. of Supplemental Health Care, Janet Elkin, mentions her experience as a magician. “It teaches you to have presence.” Aaron Levie, co-founder and C.E.O. of Box.net, also focuses on the external performance of magic in his interview. “It’s all about getting in front of people and telling a story… It’s all about capturing people’s imaginations and getting them excited about what’s possible.”

When you begin to learn magic you realize quickly that the magic doesn’t happen in your hands, but rather in the audience’s minds. The ability to see things from the audience’s point of view is critical to any magician and is an extremely useful tool to any marketer, manager or C.E.O. Great leaders consider not just the reality of a situation, but how it is perceived by employees, customers and the media. Shaping those perceptions is akin to shaping the audience’s perceptions in a magic trick.

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What I liked about the video interview with Lubetzky is that he reminds people that learning magic means mastering both the external perceptions and the internal reality. He mentions both the “on stage” requirements of having a successful performance — courage and presence to present yourself in front of others — and also the “behind the scenes” work that magicians plan for — the practice and discipline that is required.

Lubetzky also mentions the creative thinking that magic pushes you to do. He says that magic helped him “be a creative person in life.” Trying to create magical solutions comes from learning magic as a kid, discovering “how to surprise and delight people with what they were not expecting.”

These are all great lessons and it makes me excited to see these analogies being made. In my keynote speech, Think Like A Magician™, I discuss the internal and external world of the magician and how the tools magicians use can be applied by people in their personal and professional lives. I am currently finishing a business book with the same title, which is divided into three sections that I have found to be most applicable to people in the business world.

  1. Lateral Thinking

  2. Perception Management

  3. Social Intelligence

All of these topics are mentioned by these executives in one form of another and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Learning magic teaches you about psychology, emotions, social dynamics, how to relate to one another and how to make an impact on your audience — whether it’s one partner, ten managers, or one hundred employees.

As a magician, I’ve been speaking to business owners, executives and managers about what it takes to Think Like A Magician™ for over ten years. While I’ve been making the connection between magic and business from a magician’s point of view, it’s an absolute delight to see the same exact connections being made from the viewpoint of a business leader.