Every manager would love to have a wand and make things happen magically. Although this vision is only a dream, managers do have a lot in common with magicians. Both the manager and the magician aim to create the world different from the one we know. Both the manager and the magician construct a new reality; the magician uses the stage, and the manager uses the workplace to frame their performance. Another similarity is that many magicians carved out a market in the corporate sector by providing entertainment at Christmas parties and similar occasions. But the similarities don’t stop here.
As an amateur magician, I collect academic journal articles about conjuring and found two interesting papers exploring the similarities between management and magic.
The magician manager
… a wand and make things happen magically.
David Pollitt described how the management team of a large retailer was invited for a magic show as part of their professional development. Magicians follow rigid procedures to create the illusion of magic, and the management team were encouraged to do the same to achieve results. Magician Richard Pinner performed a Russian Roulette inspired trick to illustrate that in customer contact there is only one chance to get it right.1
Professor’s of management Joe Dobson and Terence Krell published a paper on how to use magic tricks to teach organisational behaviour.2 They use magic tricks in the classroom to show that withholding information, like a magician withholds the methods from spectators, can create a power difference. So-called forcing techniques commonly used by magicians are an illustration of the fact that our free will is more often than not bound and limited by the context in which we operate.
Perception is not reality
Although a magic wand is not a reliable management tool, these examples from the academic literature show that professionals can learn from magic as it provides valuable lessons in psychology.3 Most importantly the magician’s ability to distort reality is a reminder that our perception is fragile and that we should always find out the facts, rather than rely on perception. The biggest difference between a manager and a magician is that a magician manages perception to create the illusion of a new reality. Managers focusing on perception, in reality, will find that they are creating an illusion.
If you like to know more about magic tricks, read my book Perspectives on Magic.
Pollitt, David (2006). ‘Communication campaign conjures up success for Homebase: Magician theme makes for a memorable launch of guides’, Human Resource Management International Digest 14(5): 38-39. doi: 10.1108/09670730610678271. ↩