Figuring out how to do something , how to hide it , and how to sell it are much easier said than done . Even the best professional magicians will often struggle for months ( or years ) experimenting as they pursue one dead end after another before arriving at a solution that works . But the important thing is that they don ’ t passively wait for some sort of divine inspiration or Eureka moment . Instead , they actively think , experiment , and constantly iterate . The following tips and practices can help considerably in that process .
Intend to Innovate
Many people have a romantic notion of innovation . They think it arrives serendipitously – Sir Isaac Newton sitting under a tree when an apple falls . Although serendipity often does play a role , the truth is that innovations simply don ’ t come out of nowhere . You have to intend to innovate . That is , you can ’ t just desire to solve a problem ; you have to intend to solve it by going beyond any obvious , cookie-cutter approaches . And you have to practice to get good at that . But exactly how are people supposed to accomplish that , especially when they have little practice in doing so ? Consider that most employees go to work in the morning knowing perfectly well what they have to do in their daily jobs , and that knowledge makes them feel comfortable . But now if the organisation suddenly adds “ innovator ” to everyone ’ s job descriptions , employees are likely to become anxious because they ’ re no longer sure exactly what ’ s expected of them . So to encourage people to leave their comfort zones , companies have to be sure to amply reward the desired behavior , sometimes even when it results in the failure of a project . Remember that , at its very essence , innovation is all about successes and failures – experimenting with different approaches to find the one that ’ s most effective .
Prototype , Test , and Revise
Magic is strongly linked with the concept of practice and successful magicians are those who have learned the value of that old saying , “ practice makes perfect .” From an early age , they recognise the need to rehearse regularly . They ’ ll repeatedly perform a sleight-of-hand maneuver for countless hours in front of a mirror until they ’ re satisfied that they ’ ve worked out all the kinks . And while they ’ re practicing , they ’ ll also experiment with different ways of doing something in order to find the optimal technique . This process reveals what is visible to an audience from different angles and what will need “ hiding ” during a performance . As much as creativity underlies the invention of new tricks , it is the discipline of experimentation that drives this innovation process 9 . Specifically , when developing a new trick , the best professional magicians will always build prototypes , which they ’ ll test , revise accordingly , test again , further revise , and so on . The secret to that iterative process is to experiment both frequently and early in a project . Likewise , businesses that excel in innvation tend to run myriad tests as far upstream as possible in order to avoid expending considerable resources pursuing a potential solution that will ultimately lead nowhere .
Prime for Progress
The left hemisphere of our brains ( popularly known as the sequential , logical side ) perceives and processes the world in terms of its parts and their descriptions . In contrast , the right hemisphere ( known as the emotional , holistic side ) sees the world in terms of shapes , images , feelings , and impressions . The problem is when the left part is allowed to dominate the right part , it can be detrimental for innovation . To avoid that , we can engage in specific activities that purposely “ prime ” the right brain before attempting to solve anything that is particularly difficult . Techniques range from copying an upside down drawing , or writing with the non-dominant hand , to assembling a puzzle minus the “ inter-
9 . Stefan Thomke , Experimentation Matters , Harvard Business School Publishing , 2003 . nal talking ” or without directions . With both hemispheres contributing , the brain has its best chance to be more creative .
In addition , one should always allow for difficult problems to “ marinate ” before trying to solve them . In the development of new magic , progress doesn ’ t always come in an upward linear fashion . It arrives more like a step function : for long periods of time you won ’ t appear to be making any progress but then , seemingly out of nowhere , you ’ ll make a leap forward . You might , for instance , have an “ aha ” moment after struggling with a problem for months . This process is very difficult to predict and stands in contrast to traditional engineering , which might have some uncertainty but is much more predictable : you ’ ll typically have some ups and downs but you ’ ll tend to make steady progress . Even in emergencies , pilots are trained to “ wind their watch ” so they don ’ t rush into solving the wrong problem . The gain in effectiveness from contemplating a situation usually outweighs the loss of a few moments of action .
Practice the Art of Toggling
There are two very important roles in innovation : creator ( to brainstorm new ideas ) and critic ( to decide which of those ideas are worth pursuing ). The problem is that most people are in the habit of critical thinking – when they hear a new idea , they immediately think of its flaws , inconsistencies , and problems . But this can then squelch the creative process before it even has the chance to get fully started . To avoid that , the trick is to toggle between creator and critic . Otherwise , if you try to perform both roles at the same time , the critic will usually silence the creator . In addition , innovators also need to toggle between the top-down and bottom-up approaches to innovation . In a typical project , people know what they want to accomplish and they know the specifics of their profession ( the tools , techniques , and so on ), but they ’ re frequently unsure how to use the latter to arrive at the former . So they need to toggle between the two and allow sufficient time for that process to converge . They should also toggle between the “ big picture ” perspective ( what problem am I really trying to solve ?) and the procedural view ( how to do , hide , and sell it ), particularly when they ’ re stuck on a project because that process will force them to re-examine and check all their basic assumptions .
The Question Is the Answer
It ’ s amusing to consider that the starting point for innovation is often similar to the starting point for comedy- “ dissatisfaction ”. As such , innovators shouldn ’ t necessarily ask what new product will get customers to open their wallets . Instead , they can ask what customers don ’ t like about a current product . By identifying such “ pain points ,” they can then start to figure out how best to improve something and design a solution that customers will eagerly adopt . More- over , it ’ s not only crucial to ask the right initial question , it ’ s also important to follow that up with the proper exploratory queries . We call that the power of “ else ”: What else ? When else ? Where else ? What else ? Why else ? How else ? Who else ? One of the secrets to innovation is to ask the right questions . Great magicians always ask themselves : “ What else can I add to an existing trick to make it an exceptional audience experience ?” For example , “ The Trick That Fooled Einstein ” is a well-established mathematical effect usually performed with a bowl of coins . Ignoring the coins , the magician might ask , “ Utilising the same principle , can I perform a better effect with , say , postcards , marbles , or cookies ?” In our opinion , the one difference that separates great innovators from others is the ability to ask much better questions .