David Blaine: How Acting Like A Magician Can Improve Your Organization

Abraham Van Helsing: “I want you to believe.”
Dr. John Seward: “To believe in what?”
Abraham Van Helsing: “To believe in things that you cannot.”
—Bram Stoker, Dracula


We’ve written about the power of magic and mystery.

At The Cult Branding Company, we are fascinated by magic. In fact, BJ Bueno and I met over 20 years ago through our mutual love of magic and sleight-of-hand.

Watching David Blaine—with whom we recently completed some design work—on David Blaine: Beyond Magic this past week, I was struck by how much the creative process magicians use informs the processes we use at The Cult Branding Company and also how much it can benefit creative processes in all organizations.

Many organizations are starting to understand that the top-down processes and accountabilities they used in the past are no longer sufficient for solving the challenging problems in the current business ecosystem. Instead, processes to solve these problems—something we started writing about a decade ago in Creativity In The Workplace—are likely to include cross-departmental teams with members from different levels of the organization solving problems of mutual interest and where the team as a whole has accountability.

Magicians have done this for a long time. We call it sessioning. A group of magicians gets together and share tricks, some of which are a work in progress. The magicians give advice and go through rounds of trial and error, all in service of making the trick better. It’s not uncommon to hear someone suggest that they should send the trick to a magician not present as he has some ideas that may work. If the trick ever sees publication, everyone gets credit.

This method is a much more natural and productive way to work than occurs in most companies where “management” dictates agendas and people come to a meeting trying to prove their points to make themselves appear valuable. Not only does this mode of behavior not serve the company, it also doesn’t promote individual growth.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that magicians—people tasked with making people believe in the impossible—have naturally used the sessioning model as a process to solve problems.

The inclusive and goal-directed nature of sessioning was especially apparent during one moment in David Blaine: Beyond Magic this past week: Blaine was trying to figure out how to turn his stomach into an aquarium to produce live frogs from his mouth—a trick that is currently trending heavily on Facebook. Blaine and one of his head magic advisors Danny Garcia were trying to figure out a way to make the trick a reality. After several iterations, they realized they would benefit from an expert sword swallower to help figure out a method. Obviously, it worked.

In a conversation BJ Bueno had with David Blaine’s advisor Danny Garcia about the creative process earlier this week, Garcia said:

We have a conversation where there is no fear of being wrong. Everyone in our creative session influences what we do. Each person has a key to that door. Each person brings a lifetime of experience. By sharing with different people, each person has their own key to jamming: “What if we run with this.” It’s a bunch of “what ifs.” Then, you start to trust the people. Some of my friends come up with cool ideas but have no idea how to do it, but they start to help you in a direction. The outsider view has strength because you can see a challenge, but when you see it too long you start to have the same ideas from the same viewpoint and you lose the ability to see it anew. If you look at Apple computers, they started to use magicians’ principles from magic to hide the thickness. Each magic trick for me works at evoking a feeling.

Magicians solve problems without their egos getting in the way, where everyone has an equal say, where everyone has diverse backgrounds, and where everyone has an interest in the problem. And, the solving the trick fails or succeeds because of the whole group.

How can you bring the magic of sessioning to your organization?

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