Magic and the CEO -- Applying Lessons Learned From the Stage
Upon seeing a magic trick for the first time, a child is filled with awe, wonder and excitement and left thinking about greater possibilities. That's because a magician knows exactly how to draw people in and engage and encourage them to believe in what they saw.
Selling a belief is at the core of magic, as it is in business. Prior to my becoming the CEO of Perfecto Mobile, I worked as a magician. The many tricks and magical acts that I performed in front of a wide range of audiences provided lessons about being a leader, a presenter and getting people to believe.
In many ways, running a startup company requires these traits, too. I often draw upon them as I navigate today’s challenging business environment while at the helm of my company. Here's are four insights from my varied experiences:
1. Focusing on the audience.
The most essential part of performing is having an awareness of the people in the audience. Their enthusiasm, engagement and reactions drive each performance and require that a magician tailor his message and approach. Different performances will resonate with different audiences. While it may be a card trick that impresses a child or a mentalist's act that captures the attention of an adult audience, selling the impossible is always what's entailed.
Years of adapting my performance as a magician has helped me tailor my message as an entrepreneur, depending on whom I’m meeting: a customer, a partner, a venture capitalist or even an employee. It's important that I go into each meeting understanding what will be mutually beneficial to both parties and perform accordingly.
A customer might want to hear about how the magic of the company's technology will solve his or her problem. An investor might wants to understand the strategy for growth and what that means for a return on investment.
2. Invoking the power of persuasion.
A magician has a very tall task -- to convince an audience that the seemingly impossible is, in fact, possible. After all, everyone knows that people don’t just step into a box, get sawed in half or have 15 sharp swords inserted and walk away completely unharmed.
Just like magicians who perform an illusion that pushes the limits of the human mind, business leaders need to persuade others to believe in their vision, strategy and product and follow them.
Successful companies provide a solution to a problem or challenge that consumers may not yet have experienced. A true leader and visionary might try to convince customers to make a purchase perhaps even before they fully grasp how they might need it or understand how to implement it.
For example, remember when the iPod first came to market? The best magician in business was Steve Jobs who was quoted as saying, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” People did not realize they needed (or wanted) music in their pocket. But, Apple sold 600,000 iPods from its introduction in 2001 through 2002.
3. Making it personal and relevant.
An important element in magic is the very mystery involved, such that an observer might watch something happen but might not know how something is done. In business this mystery, or secret sauce, is referred to as a company’s value proposition or key differentiator. What can Company X do that no other business can? Or if other corporations do it, how does Company X do it better?
Similarly, a successful magician never discloses how a trick is done and will continuously evolve by adding new tricks into the repertoire to keep the act from growing stale or mundane. Companies must do the same, constantly improving, innovating and pushing the envelope to create new barriers to entry in their market and further distance themselves from competitors.
As important as change and evolution are to success, customization is as imperative. Performing magic taught me that the value of a personal touch is immeasurable and invaluable. Seeing the look of amazement on the face of an audience member or making eye contact with someone at the magical moment when the impossible occurs is priceless.
Now as a CEO, I bring that same passion for personalizing service into all my customer and prospect meetings. I understand that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for every problem and to best serve my customers, make them happy and solve their complex problems, I need to work closely with them to provide a unique solution tailored to their specific needs.
4. Sharing a magical moment.
When the tiger appears in the empty cage, when the magician disappears into thin air in flames, when David Copperfield flies above the audience with no strings attached -- that's the magic that everyone responds to. After residing in both worlds, I can say that the startup environment is very similar.
There is nothing quite like the moment when a customer suddenly understands a product and gives that nod, signaling that the entrepreneur has impressed him (or her) or when the investor suddenly sees the light, the business potential in an idea, a dream, a technology or an execution. And there's nothing like that feeling when a business leader realizes an audience has just experienced that magical moment.