When a magician is on stage, they are the most honest person you’ll ever meet. They tell you they are going to fool you, and then they do.
This is the observation of the famous stage magician James Randi, who has made a career out of exposing con-men and “quacks.”
In a new book “Spellbound,” magician and puzzle master David Kwong explores the ideas of illusion and persuasion, and gives the reader tools with which to help them get ahead in their lives. However, he is clear from the beginning that it is not a handbook on how to deceive people.
“I think these principles can be used in a dark way,” Kwong told Business Insider. “And I try to arm the reader against con-men like that.”
Whereas fortune tellers, tarot card readers, and evangelist prey on people’s emotions, Kwong aims to show that there is a way to do everything above board, without lying and cheating.
“I hope people can use these principles to increase their own control in their own lives to get a few steps of everybody else,” he said.
There are several ways the tactics of a magician can be used in your career to get ahead. Kwong had a chat with Business Insider about how you can do this and gave us 6 pieces of advice. Here they are.
1. Don’t box yourself into one outcome.
If you’re about to do a presentation at work, Kwong suggests thinking about having five different versions of that presentation. That way, you can base how it goes on the feedback and response from the people in the boardroom. You’ve given yourself a “tree of options,” by giving the illusion of free choice.
“A magician does this all the time – we don’t tell you what the end of the story is going to be on the outside,” Kwong said. “If we were to do that, we would be boxed in, so this allows us to take different options to get to the most impactful ending for the performance.”
There are many tricks that Kwong performs that have a dozen different endings based on the card that somebody says, or based on the word that somebody gives him. For example, he once hid 52 cards in a colleague’s garden for a trick, because he knew nobody would suspect that he’d gone to that much trouble.
“It might flicker in their minds – maybe this magician came to our house and hid 52 playing cards – but who would be so crazy as to do that?” he said.
2. Choose which secrets you want to keep.
Whether you disclose that you were over-prepared or not is up to you. If you keep it a secret, then you may be applauded for such a successful presentation. However, you could also choose to tell people you prepared for five different outcomes, which will give you a different sort of credit. If you choose to keep your cards close to your chest, this is similar to the art of misdirection.
“During the presentation, you are able to seamlessly move through the presentation as if there were only one outcome,” Kwong said. “Magicians never tell you I’m going from point A to point B. We never limit ourselves to a single path. We start at point A and we say something amazing is going to happen, but we never tell you what that amazing thing is going to be.”
3. Load up.
Magicians over-prepare to the extreme. David Copperfield, for example, is known for spending two years perfecting a trick that only takes a few minutes to perform.
“We might spend a thousand hours on a set of hand moves for a trick that only takes ten seconds to perform, but to us, it’s worth it,” Kwong said. “We will go to such extreme lengths of preparation because the audience will dismiss it as the explanation.”
In the magic world, this is called “loading up,” which originally meant when magicians would stuff their pockets full of props and have strings running up and down their sleeves. Kwong says you can use this tactic in your careers, such as if you have a job interview coming up.
“You’re loaded up as you walk into someone’s living room to work miracles, but nobody is aware of what you’re loaded up with,” he said. “In a job interview, you can read all the books that may have influenced your interviewer, and you can research their favourite scotch, you can know all of these things going into it.”
4. Remember you can catch up.
A story which inspired Kwong to write Spellbound was how Richard Branson started up Virgin Airlines. It involved something called “sleight of time,” which basically refers to how magicians extend themselves and take risks, while all the time knowing it is something within reach.
Branson was flying to the British Virgin Islands but the flight was cancelled. Instead of going home, he got ahead of himself and hired a plane from a charter company. Then, he borrowed a chalkboard and started selling one-way tickets to the stranded passengers at the airport for $39. He made the money back, and so caught up to the initial risk.
“This is something that magicians do all the time – we know we’ll be able to catch up,” Kwong said. “So I might claim that a trick is finished before it’s actually finished, and I get you all to believe that something amazing has happened, and then as you are all applauding my success for pulling off a feat, I then finish the trick.”
Similarly, the CEO of Walker & Company Brands Tristan Walker emailed Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley eight times when he was looking for a job. Crowley finally agreed to meet when Walker said he would be in New York the next day. Little did Crowley know Walker hadn’t actually bought a ticket yet.
5. Command attention only when you need to.
Magicians command attention during on-beats and off-beats, Kwong said. On-beats are when they want you to watch the trick, such as when the bird appears or the card changes from one to another. The off-beat though, is where all the secret moves happen. “The offbeat is when I look up and relax my shoulders, or I tell a joke, or I go and get a drink of water from a glass on a table,” Kwong said. “This is in between the tricks, but this is when all the side moves actually happen.”
In business, you can imagine executing your secret moves when no-one is paying attention. For example, your off-beats could be while you’re at home at the weekend, when you decide to do the heavy lifting of an assignment, and come back to the office and appear to finish the project in a very short space of time.
6. Inspire action with empowerment.
Famous CEOs and leaders like Elon Musk, Tim Took, and Warren Buffet are people who know how to command people’s attention. They also know how to get people to follow them.
Kwong said they know how to get their employees to willingly and happily participate towards the end goal, and they do this by empowering them.
“When you can empower the person on the other side of the table in a negotiation rather than strong arming them with a hard sell, or forcing them to make certain decisions, you’ll have more success,” he said. “They’ll be more obliging, and they’ll be more emotionally invested in the outcome of the product. And I think these are very positive uses of illusion.”