How much do I want to read more? 7/10
I don't know how to explain it, but I find illusion and magic fascinating.
Isn't it surprising to reveal the difference between reality and what we perceive?
We are not aware of this gap in our everyday's life, just like we get trapped into the illusion of a Magic trick.
It's fascinating to see the world from a different perspective and in a more creative way.
Introduction: The Business of Illusion
Many magicians pretend to have superpowers.
Often they claim to have extrasensory or telepathic abilities. Not all illusionists play these games, however. There are those—far fewer in number—who freely acknowledge that their powers are the product of tricks and of years of study. I fall into this latter camp.
On the contrary, I understand and insist that magic actually takes place in the mind of the spectator.
My foremost advantage as a magician is that I’m always one step ahead (or two or three or four). My hand is quicker than your eye. I know what you’ll notice, and what you won’t. I employ science to conjure feats that only appear impossible.
The ability to hold a royal audience spellbound often led to political power. The sorcerers’ currency was awe, and their audiences were willing to pay dearly for it.
As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Our lives today may appear to be dominated more by global technology than by royal sorcerers, but illusion still plays a fundamental role in all human thought.
Some CEOs, such as Kind Snacks’ Daniel Lubetzky, Aaron Levie of Box.net, Supplemental Health Care’s Janet Elkin, and Tony Hsieh of Zappos, literally performed as magicians before entering the corporate world.
They understand how the human brain is wired to fill the gap between seeing and believing—and they take advantage of that wiring for their own purposes.
they can be game changers for you in any arena—political, corporate, technological, even in your social life.
You know how cutthroat the world is today. Everyone is trying to land a better job, obtain the green light for their project, attract more customers, clients, and friends. Everyone wants to get ahead—and everyone is trying in the same way. That’s their problem. But the principles of illusion will give you a different approach to sell your idea, product, or skills, making your best shot better than everyone else’s.
Let me be clear: I’m not going to teach you how to perform specific magic tricks. For ages, the best of these acts have been handed down from masters to apprentices, from fathers to sons through generations of family trade. This practice is considered so sacred that, for lack of a suitable heir, the pioneering Austrian magician Johann Nepomuk Hofzinser actually ordered his own priceless library destroyed upon his death in 1875.
The reason for this secrecy is simple: Knowing exactly how a trick works undermines the illusion.
It wrecks the trade. And it ruins the mystery.
On the contrary, I want to emphasize that the more you make your audience believe, the greater your responsibility becomes for the effects of that belief.
On the other hand, if you use illusion as a tool to legitimately educate or assist your audiences, then you’ll deserve to be regarded as a hero. Consequences count.
Magic asks you to question what you see before you and envision what can’t possibly be there. To harness the power of the magical gap between what is and what could be, for your own ethical purposes—that is the real business of this book.
What I will reveal to you are the seven essential principles that form the foundation for illusion in magic and in life.
- In Mind the Gap, you’ll learn to recognize and employ the perceptual space between your audience’s ability to see and their impulse to believe.
- In Load Up, I’ll help you prepare to amaze your audience.
- In Write the Script, you’ll discover the importance of shaping the narrative that surrounds your illusion.
- In Control the Frame, we’ll explore the real-life value of a magician’s best friend: misdirection.
- In Design Free Choice, you’ll learn the illusionist’s technique of commanding your audience by giving them agency.
- In Employ the Familiar, I’ll show you how to take secret advantage of habits, patterns, and audience expectations.
- Finally, in Conjure an Out, you’ll learn how to develop backup plans that will keep you one, two, three, or more steps ahead of the competition.
1: Mind the Gap
The puzzle master was gobsmacked! My hero, the encyclopedic guru of all things enigmatic and puzzling, couldn’t figure out a single one of my illusions.
This was the moment when the ultimate value of magic crystallized for me. My skill was like a secret key. Magic made me impressive and memorable, just as it had Michael Scot. It garnered interest and respect, even from the most exalted of audiences. What I’d glimpsed was the inherent power of illusion as a force for personal command.
To be sure, magic typically distills this power into an art form that impresses in order to entertain audiences, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that illusion exerts its influence over virtually every field of human activity, from politics and religion to science and industry. So success in any field requires mastery of the principles of illusion.
The Perceptual Gap
Instinctively, we humans believe what we observe with our own eyes. We trust our senses and our powers of perception. We assume that we’re smart and alert enough to distinguish the real deal from the phony, and we have faith in our ability to tell a smart idea from a stupid one, an upright citizen from a cheat, a genius from a wannabe. Seeing is believing. This equation guides our choice of friends and mates, of our most trusted employees, advisors, and leaders. It helps us decide where to live, how to vote, and what to buy. It’s in our DNA.
If we weren’t wired this way, we couldn’t function. We’d have no ego, no self-confidence, no courage. If we didn’t trust our senses to guide us, we’d probably never get out of bed. But while our faith in our own perceptiveness allows us to act decisively and take calculated risks, it also leaves us vulnerable to illusion. That’s because our perceptions are riddled with blind spots—gaps that our mind fills automatically with assumptions that can be logical, or magical, or as misleading as a mirage of water shimmering over a desert highway.
Consider the simple flip, or “flick” book, which was a precursor to animation and film. A series of pages are drawn to show a progression of images, like Mickey Mouse in “Steamboat Willie.” Then the drawings are bound so the pages can be flipped to create the illusion of a single, seamlessly moving picture. The illusion works because our brains fill the gaps between the pages, allowing our minds to “see” more than our eyes can.
The same wiring allows us as kids to “see” the suggested picture even before drawing the lines in connect-the-dots puzzles.
It also allows us to read by bridging the gaps between letters to form words, between words to form sentences, between sentences to “see” larger ideas, arguments, and stories. Without your brain’s natural aptitude for illusion, this page would simply appear to you as a bunch of black squiggles on a white background.
A magician, however, would know that it’s also possible to position two dogs (perhaps even more) behind the tree, or maybe two stuffed half dogs. This same magician could then blow your mind by “stretching” the dachshund to a seemingly impossible length, or by “cutting the dog in half,” all by exploiting the gap between what you truly can see and what you assume.
The upside-down triangle does not exist, but your mind perceives a solid shape even though there are no enclosed spaces. The Kanizsa Triangle is emblematic of Gestalt psychology, which centrally holds that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In other words, in this chaotic world where we are bombarded by visual stimuli, our mind organizes perceptions into meaning. Thus, where there are incomplete objects, we see them as whole. Where there are gaps, we fill them with contours to create shapes we can recognize.
When we listen to an orchestra we hear a single unified piece of music, rather than sixty separate instruments.
When we take a bite of yellow cake we register the overall taste of cake, rather than the separate flavors of salt, flour, eggs, butter, milk, vanilla, and sugar.
The larger general impression quickly overwhelms any notice of the individual component ingredients—unless you happen to be a connoisseur like some culinary taste testers who have trained themselves to notice the micro flavors within the macro.
Aaron Levie, who was a kid magician before he founded the online file storage company Box.net, suggests, “Look at the organization and figure out what’s missing. Ask, where are our gaps? Where are our weaknesses? And then, how do we solve for those things?”
The mistake many companies make, he says, is to concentrate exclusively on their strengths. While it’s important to identify your strengths, to develop and invest in those areas, “it’s really important that you constantly know why you wouldn’t succeed, and what you need to do to change that.” Don’t get trapped, in other words, by the illusion that you’re bulletproof.
Instead of being blindsided by the gap between assumptions and facts, illusionists of all stripes, from magicians to savvy politicians to visionary entrepreneurs, take advantage of this fundamental human reality. They use it to impress, persuade, motivate, and lead their audiences, to shape what other people think they see, and to direct what they feel and believe.
British illusionist Derren Brown is totally up front about this. “Much, if not all, of conjuring relies on the performer creating a false trail of events that clearly leads to a particular climax,” he explains. “The magician creates a very strong sense of A leads to B leads to C leads to D, where A is the start of the trick and D is the impossible climax.”5 But that causal connection is not necessarily real. Although it’s been engineered by the magician, “it exists only in the head of the spectator.” Which is to say that magic takes place between what’s known and what’s believed.
Daniel Lubetzky, CEO of Kind Snacks, is another entrepreneur whose leadership practices are influenced by his history as a teen illusionist. “The thing I love the most about magic,” he says, “is that you’re creating something new, something surprising, something different. . . . You learn so much about fundamental human relations and how to relate to one another, and how to get them to pay attention to what you want. . . . We try to create magical solutions and think outside the box in everything we do at Kind. It really follows from, as a kid, learning how to surprise and delight people with something that they were not expecting.”
Over the ensuing semesters I learned that the special relationship between illusion and the power to direct emotions and beliefs extends far beyond flip books.