Stay in the Room
According to Woody Allen , “ 80 % of success is showing up .” We ’ d go a little further than that and say , “ In order to succeed you have to do more than just show up . You have to stay in the room long enough .” Persistence is the key to success in virtually all aspects of life , and that ’ s especially true in innovation . Take , for example , the early manufacturers of MP3 players . They helped develop impressive technology but they didn ’ t take it far enough . They exited the room much too soon or stopped trying to ask the next round of innovation questions , leaving Apple to reap the benefits from recognising that the crucial thing wasn ’ t just the device itself but the magical way in which the entire music industry could be transformed with the electronic delivery of digital content . And thus was born the wildly successful iTunes platform .
Many people assume that persistence is an inborn trait , more nature than nurture . But the truth is that persistence can be practiced and learned . The trick is to increase your attention span by constantly pushing yourself past your comfort zone until failure . Some of Houdini ’ s feats combined with , say , bridge jumping or negotiating a river in winter , required not only advanced escape skills , but the real ability to withstand extreme levels of physical and mental discomfort . Such levels that can only be reached through persistent practice , which in Houdini ’ s case included agonising periods of breath holding , muscle contractions , and sitting in bathtubs filled with ice .
Bringing Magic to Innovation
Being a world-class professional magician requires much more than just dexterous hands and an entertaining personality ; it also necessitates a variety of skills for innovating . In fact , much of the job of a top professional magician is creative problem solving – something that managers in business must
34 do on a daily basis . Yet although magic books might teach aspiring magicians the techniques of their craft – how , for example , to palm a card or coin – they don ’ t provide very much guidance in how to be more innovative . Similarly , business school courses might teach students the fundamentals of finance , marketing , strategy , and so on , but they have traditionally given the topic of innovation short shrift . Fortunately , the principles of innovation are universal ; we have seen that managers can learn much from the field of magic . And perhaps that , in a nutshell , is one of the most fundamental lessons of innovation : Sometimes you need to search way outside the normal sources of knowledge to discover true magic – an unexpected but invaluable new approach to framing , understanding , and solving a problem that previously seemed hopelessly intractable . ■
Stefan Thomke , an authority on the management of innovation , is the William Barclay Harding Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School . He is a widely published author and has taught and chaired numerous MBA and executive courses on innovation management , R & D strategy , product & service development , and operations , both at HBS and in individual company programs around the world .
Jason Randal ’ s magic and mentalism has proven to be a favorite among his core clientele of senior level executives . Randal holds a PhD in social psychology and is a member of MENSA . With over a hundred television appearances , he has been a regular on David Letterman , Ellen DeGeneres , and Craig Ferguson shows . On stage , Randal has opened for comedians Jerry Seinfeld , Don Rickles , and Dennis Miller , and has per- formed before twelve heads of state . Among his many talents , he is a master flight instructor and spent ten years as a Hollywood stuntman . Thomke and Randal have been working together for five years .
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