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Arup’s Jen Emery on making change magical

By | Change management, Food for thought, Leadership, Learning and development, Storytelling, Team, What's new?

Jen Emery brings magic to the world in many ways. She’s a leader, a thinker, a writer, a speaker and Global People Leader at Arup. Jen’s professional passion is unlocking the potential of people to help them flourish. 

This is a conversation we had with Jen in November 2020. Naturally we spoke via Zoom as much of the UK was back in lockdown again.

As with all of our conversations, we ask the audience a question before we start chatting with our guest. Given the nature of the conversation he was about to have with Jen, Rubens asked: How do you feel in a space of change and transformation? 

Back came the typed responses: challenged, inspired, frightened, out of control, anxious, worried… Most people were certainly not positive about the concept of change. 

Then we started chatting with Jen:

Where does the passion for working with change come from and how do you link what you do with magic?

The answer to that is in the response of the audience to your question… There’s such tension in the concept of change; there’s fear, negativity and resistance. But there’s also great potential, the scope to unlock something positive and magical. I found that, in every aspect of what I was doing professionally and personally, I was dealing with change. And I actually find change hard, I’m hopeless at endings. I almost cry if someone leaves the room, never mind emigrates or leaves my life in some way! I’m also someone who worries about every possible permutation of what could go wrong. I grieve in advance for stuff that might never happen. Yet I am also someone who loves unlocking potential, moving people and organisations. 

How do we grapple with the complexities, tensions and dilemmas inherent in change? How do we ensure we have a relationship with change that is productive and positive? Where’s the magic in that?? Well, magic is about changing things from one state to another – visible to invisible, black to red, square to round. And in the same way that magic needs spells, rituals and stories, change needs stories, patterns and rituals to work.

What’s the secret to making change magical?

The first thing to acknowledge is that change is scary. Your brain makes no distinction between the uncertainty that comes from a change in social status or what’s expected of you professionally, and a tiger chasing you down the street. In your brain, it’s all real and it’s all scary. The neuroscientist, David Rock, has an acronym that I find useful – SCARF. It’s a reminder of what happens to us when we’re uncertain or afraid:

S = status changing
C = certainty
A = agency
R = relationships
F = fairness

(You’ll find the TED talk at the bottom of this blog 👇)

Before you can get to the magic of change, you first have to put those things on better footing. If something uncertain is happening, how can I give people the status and standing they need? How can we create even a little certainty and give people agency? How can we keep people in good relationships with one another and make sure what we’re doing is fair, and that people understand it? You can play away the fear and then supercharge some of that. Then you can make relationships central, give people confidence and agency. To do that there are three things you need to give people. And we need to talk about this over and over again…

  • Great leadership: authentic, wholehearted, sleeves up leadership
  • A clear sense of purpose: knowing where you’re going and why – individually and collectively
  • Storytelling: make it magical of course!

What’s the power of storytelling in change?

I love words. Like you, I used to be a lawyer. Lawyers use words for precision and to make things happen, you write detailed words on a page and stuff happens in real life. Now, I write poetry and the use of words there is different. It is about precision, but it’s also about beauty. I keep a list of words that I want to use because they sound beautiful. Nimbus, subterranean, polarities. I’m going to try and get all those words into poetry soon!

But in business, we do the opposite. We so often use bland, abstract language – process, systems, programmes, talent management, governance. At best it’s uninspiring. At worst, I don’t think it’s benign because it keeps us unquestioning and compliant. Storytelling cuts through all that. It gets rid of all the jargon, the nonsense, the obfuscation and hiding. Stories move us beyond the surface, beyond the rational part of the brain that we want when working on change at work. Stories actually move us pre and post rational because they ignite the animal part of ourselves – our passions and fears. They also ignite the spiritual part of our brain – what are we here for, what inspires us, what’s our purpose. Stories engage at a different level. They need you not to be a dispassionate observer. What stories make happen in the brain is quite complicated. There’s plot, different perspectives, empathy, cause and effect, implications. All that triggers cascades of perceptions and motivation that enable change to happen in a way that legal rationale doesn’t. And that’s the power of storytelling.

What blocks change from happening?

Not very much, but the blockers are disguised. Sometimes they look like process, governance, resources or money. But really, the two big blockers are fear and greed. We’re scared to change, which makes neurological sense. We understand and weigh up the potential losses and downsides of something. It’s much harder to imagine what the future upsides are, the gains we haven’t seen yet.

As for greed and power – if the current way serves you well, you want to preserve that. There are always winners and losers, in transactional terms anyway. So, to enable change means seeing what people are afraid of and addressing that. If they stand to lose something, address that too. Then things like due process, governance, etc, tend to fall into place.

How do you align process and belonging, and why?

Every organisation is its people. It’s more obvious in professional services – law, consulting or engineering. There we sell time and expertise. However great your tech or your brand is, you only have your people. Purpose is why we’re all here and we get out of bed in the morning. Meaningful work, feeling that what we do matters, being able to put our shoulder to the wheel in service of something. That’s what ignites us. I keep talking about the brain don’t I, as well as the heart! When you trigger those pathways, it enables people to make discretionary efforts. And that’s what will help us, our businesses, and the world flourish. So you need to talk about purpose for people.

But purpose isn’t one single thing – it’s like a Russian doll. There’s a big, broad corporate purpose. There’s the purpose in relation to the particular change you’re trying to effect or the project you’re working on. Then there’s my purpose or your purpose, which will have some relation to the wider purpose. But it’s also for me. What’s in it for me, what am I learning, where am I growing, what are the relationships I’m in that matter, what’s my sense of reward from this? Purpose matters in all those ways and that’s intrinsically linked to motivation.

Belonging is slightly different. There are many longitudinal studies, which show that belonging – far more than weight, age or general health – is a predictor of longevity and health. We’re made to be in relationships with each other. In a corporate business context we forget that. We undervalue the importance of making people feel that they have an identity vetted in the corporation, that they have relationships at work that matter to them and that they’re part of a tribe. These things help your people and your business flourish. But it’s also how you build loyalty. It’s how people accept accountability, take risks on your behalf, make decisions and effort. It’s not about aligning everybody like droids or robots, all preaching the same thing, with the corporate purpose planted into their brains! It’s about harnessing all the motivation that comes from people when they belong and have a purpose.

Arup's leadership team

Arup’s leadership team

What’s your approach to change and how has the pandemic affected that, what still works and what doesn’t?

At times, particularly at the start of the pandemic, I felt that it was like launching a fast horse the year the steam train came out! To have written a book about how to ‘do’ change before the pandemic… unfortunate to say the least. But, if I can get my own ego out of the way, it’s been the richest learning experience ever. Looking at what I believed, studied and held onto, and what I thought held water… then working out whether it does now. The changes I talk about in the book were largely self-initiated, so somewhat in my control. Take something like a big merger. Every person in the company might not control it, but it is a human-initiated change. But it’s certainly not on the scale of a pandemic.

The central thesis of the book is that change can be good. Not because it takes you from a bad place to a better place. But because the change period itself can be rich, productive, full of growth, learning, added value, and so on. I talk about all the ways that can manifest. Building greater belonging and confidence. Creating energy. Enabling things to be done more simply and people to be more agile. But it depends on those three conditions I mentioned earlier. Great leadership. A clear purpose. And great stories. So, that’s the premise of the book.

I do think those three basics work though, they’re still 100% right in the pandemic world. What we’ve desperately needed, in business and in life, has been great leadership. A north star, a unifying sense of direction and purpose. And sense making – understanding what the heck is going on and what will the future look like. We need the opportunity to evolve and simplify.

What did I underestimate in the book? I used the word energy rather than resilience. I wanted it to feel positive, that change can be a generative experience. You get to grow and spark ideas off each other. But the pandemic has taught us that protracted change of this scale – with this amount of uncertainty and lack of control – is so draining and so hard for people. Thinking preventatively, how do you build resilience and wellbeing to enable any change? A second edition of the book would reflect that – I’d put in more about wellbeing and resilience.

How do you create space in the change process where magic can happen and people can flourish?

What should leaders do? It’s been hard. Over the past few months I’ve been working closely with our senior leaders at Arup. They feel overwhelmed, there are so many things they have to do. Leaders aren’t just leaders at the moment. They’re parents, doctors, teachers, counsellors and coaches too. We’ve been distilling it down to what they really need to do to create this magic space. So, what does being a great leader in this moment mean? It’s about creating a context for your people where they can make sense of what’s going on, for them. It’s about giving people a vision – help them tell their story, elicit what their purpose is and explain the corporate purpose to them. It’s also about creating a place where action can happen – where people feel they can act and are trusted to act. There are three great gifts leaders can give to people.

  • Attention: show up for people; be there, be present
  • Permission: tell people it’s ok to take a break and role model that by looking after yourself
  • Trust: empower people to act and make decisions; show you believe in them to act in the best interest of the organisation

How do we change the nature of leadership given so many operate in a top-down manner?

One of the things the book has a go at tackling, and that I’m constantly thinking about, is advocating a shift in the leadership paradigm. A shift from top-down, paternalistic, shouting loudly and resisting change. Instead, embrace uncertainty and show a degree of vulnerability. That shows courage because you’re prepared to admit you don’t know everything. Co-create solutions and listen to other people. That’s a big shift in paradigm.

But how do you do that? With time, development and support. And to some extent a change in the actual people. Role model to show people that better results do happen if you step into things. Listen and create with people from the periphery of your organisation who have the knowledge you need. Cut through the BS and the façade to what people are afraid of. Show up as a real human. Address everyone’s status, their relationships, what they need to protect. And highlight where they have agency and choice.

We always finish our conversations with three magical questions…

What’s your superpower? 

An encyclopaedic knowledge of random pop lyrics, mostly from the 80s and 90s. And the ability to inject them into any conversation! More seriously though, I have the ability to synthesise. I see patterns and make complex things simple. I can tell a story back to people. I love to do that.

Tell us a secret…

I have four kids and we had mugs made with their initials on them. Only two mugs are left, one with an F and the other with an E. In my head that means friend and enemy. When I make cups of tea for people, I give them the mug I’m in the mood for. So, if they’re annoying me I give them the E mug, for enemy. It’s so unbelievably petty!!

If you had a magic wand, what would you change?

I’d enable us to have better conversations with one another. Remember the Tower of Babel story from the Bible, where people talk different languages? I’d reverse that so we can all connect and truly understand each other across every border that exists. It could be so beautiful if we took the time, insight and capacity to understand each other better.

💖 Thank you so much to Jen for taking the time to talk to us. We’re sure you’ll agree there’s a lot of food for thought here and well managed, there certainly can be magic in change! This conversation is also available as a podcast

Want to bring magic and storytelling to a change process at your company?

Get in touch

A look back at 2020

By | Belief, Curiosity, Food for thought, Leadership, Learning and development, Magical Moments, Magicians, Team, Wonder

In November we took a trip through a virtual maze to look back at 2020 together as a team. Here’s what we found on our way to the heart of the labyrinth…

2020 started normally. Refreshed after a break, we were looking forward to what the new year would bring. In early February we looked into our crystal ball. “It’s time for a team get together – a week in London, all together, to make plans and strategise“, said someone. It’s almost as if we knew what was coming…

That same week we took the opportunity to launch our magical magazine, The World Needs Magic, at Mama Shelter. They’ve never had so many magicians in their bar. Ever. We lost count of how many playing cards appeared in unexpected places that evening. Later in February, the magicians travelled to another dimension, aka the Blackpool Magic Convention. Who knows what they got up to, but they came back with new tricks up their sleeves. We then delivered a couple of Open Workshops and we worked with Sony, and Netflix.

“An excellent start to the year”, we said. “Can’t wait to see what’s next…”

March 2020

Coronavirus hits the UK and everything changes.

Our team was already partially remote so that aspect of lockdown was less of a shock for us. Nonetheless, it was the start of many challenges for Abracademy, personal and professional. The immediate hit for us was not being able to deliver sessions in person and clients cancelling workshops. Overnight, everything fell off a cliff.

We had to completely re-think what we do. How do we pivot? How do we deliver what we do online and still make it magical, meaningful, and engaging? We had already been contemplating online delivery, but now we had to figure it out. Fast.

Spring 2020

Step 1 of pivot. We adapt one of our most popular Magical Moments – Unleash Imagination – for online delivery. We test it in a virtual Open Workshop. And it works! Participants stay engaged and we get great feedback, which, of course, we use to refine and improve the session.

Online events started popping up like bunnies out of hats. Rubens takes part in a House of Beautiful Business event and does a talk at FCB Brazil. Never ones to lag behind, we also launch our webinar, The World Needs Magic. Taking advantage of our talented network, Rubens invites a weekly guest chat with him. We want to highlight the magic of people, showing how resilient and adaptable we are when we need to be. Like now…

Meanwhile, we polish up another session for virtual delivery, Raising Resilience this time. It felt very relevant, something almost everyone needed more of. And we deliver our first client workshops, for Thomas More University and Echo in Belgium. The university, like many institutions, had shifted all their learning programmes online. They felt a need for creative sparks and ways to brainstorm together, online. We ran Unleash Imagination with them – the perfect session to unlock creative problem solving.

In May, we said goodbye to Julie and we decide to let go of our office at Containerville. Sad times, but we bid both a fond farewell and embrace the good times we’ve had.

Summer 2020

No basking in the sunshine for us! Well, a little bit of outdoor working perhaps 👆

In June, we organise a team day. We’ve been in firefighting mode since March so it feels like a good time to pause, reflect and plan. Katy and Priya put all their energy into strategy, structure and process. We establish monthly quests to stay agile and responsive, given all the uncertainty.

The Magic of Teams is ready for online delivery – ninja L&D skills from the learning design team! We deliver Raising Resilience to Start It KBC in Belgium. Having benefitted so much from that programme, it was great to give them something back. We also start planning Bridging the Impossible – a symposium combining the science of magic and wellbeing (with Goldsmiths / Magic Lab).

July was unexpectedly busy, but some of us manage staycations. Rubens delivers a talk to a huge university audience in Brazil. We deliver to Netflix again, yay! They introduce us to SumUp (who we eventually work with in November). And we start working with Unilever on Unite4Growth, an internal innovation programme. We also pitch to Montezuma. Time for some sweet, sweet magic…

In August, we take advantage of a little down time to make podcasts from the webinars. We also challenge ourselves with a design sprint for a scalable product. And last, but not least, we deliver a session to Civicus in South Africa. They’re a human rights organisation doing incredible work (check out how you can support their campaigns).

Jules’ gorgeous new kittens 👇

September 2020

Our lead generation campaigns pay off! Lots of potential new clients are conjured up, including Spotify. We do workshops with the students at The Farnborough Academy. Our friend and frequent collaborator, Sonia Benito worked with us on those. She’s a dynamo, an inspiration and brilliant with young people.

Rubens took part in an EduJam, we delivered to Netflix teams around the globe and held a couple of Open Workshops online. We also did our first sessions with Spotify. Not just one session mind you. Five sessions, delivered simultaneously to five teams! 😲 Ta-da!

Did we take on too much this month?! Maybe, but it was amazing and sometimes you do your best work when you push yourself out of your comfort zone.

👇 That’s Katy’s Faces in Magical Places

October 2020

October is Mental Health Awareness month and we had the great pleasure of working with Mind again. We also started workshops at Carthage College in the US – supporting student wellbeing. Continuing the theme, Geoff MacDonald was one of our fantastic webinar guests this month. He talked very frankly about his own mental health journey and Minds@Work. Listen to Geoff’s full conversation – it’s very moving.

We also worked with the London Business School again. It’s great to work with clients on a longer term basis and see the growth in people. We deliver to the Spotify Soundtrap team. And Rubens does a talk at the Brazilian Space Agency 🚀 Our crystal ball definitely didn’t see that one coming!

Three big future-facing things happen too: 1) we ignite the hiring process for a new team member, 2) we pitch to Google and 3) Miro champion the boards we created for online sessions. As well as being in their Miroverse, we’re also featured as Miro Experts. We are beyond delighted! Miro’s helped us bring our online sessions to life in a whole new way.

👇 Our map of 2020 magic

November 2020

November brings another major lockdown. It’s not great for anyone’s mental health, but luckily client work keeps us busy. A project with Spotify NY starts, and we work with two more great organisations, Young Scot and SumUp (we were introduced to them by our Spotify client 👌 – new business at its best). We also continue to work with Unilever and the Unite4Growth winners. The client has scaled the project and take us with them on the journey. This means global deliveries and 6am workshops with Asia! No complaints here – just a sleepy delivery team come UK lunchtime… 💤

December 2020

No pre-Christmas slow down for us. This month we’ve worked with Unilever, Minds At Work, This Place, Rock Your Life!, Pfizer, more Unilever, Zinc VC and RCKT.

We manage a little Christmas get together on Zoom to celebrate the year’s achievements. We’re exhausted. But happy. But exhausted. We play, we chat, we drink cocktails out of cans. We’re now in the middle of a two week break. Bliss. We’ll be in pyjamas hugging our magical bunnies, making 💤s appear.

Below is a little video we made earlier in the year. We were playing with Zoom communications, trying to bring joy to being online all day!

How was your 2020?

As you can see, ours was eventful. We don’t think we could have predicted most of what happened during 2020 – good and bad. Like many, we faced challenges that were scary and difficult to navigate. But also, we blossomed in unexpected ways. That’s partly because we seized the opportunity to work fast and adapt to the moment – unlocking something we’d been meaning to do, but kept postponing. It’s also partly because other companies did the same. So it felt like there was a mutual window of opportunity that we jumped through. To be able to close 2020 with clients like Spotify, Netflix and Unilever is real magic

We’re very grateful to be here, celebrating the end of the year and welcoming 2021. We’ll hang onto that an agile mindset though… just in case.

Want to kickstart 2021 with your team?

Get in touch

Links

Blackpool Magic Convention: where magicians go down the rabbit hole once a year

Brazilian Space Agency: 🚀

Bridging the Impossible: a symposium to explore the science of magic and wellbeing

Carthage College: supporting the wellbeing of their students with Abracademy workshops

Civicus: a truly great organisation supporting human rights campaigners and campaigns

Containerville: the place we called home, where we stirred the cauldron and conjured ideas 💡

Echo: Belgian marketing and storytelling agency

EduJam: an educational response to the pandemic, providing skills, tools and community

Farnborough Academy: they embraced magic to develop the soft skills of their students

FCB Brazil: global advertising agency

Geoff MacDonald: ex Unilever HR, and mental health advocate

Goldsmiths: University of London

House of Beautiful Business: a think tank for making humans more human + business more beautiful

Julie Donckers: friend and alumni

London Business School: embracing magic to support their student community wellbeing

Magic Research Lab: our friends and collaborators in magic, and the science of magic

Mama Shelter: where we spent our team week and launched the magazine in February pre 😷

Mind: the UK mental health charity

Minds@Work: co-founded by Geoff 👆

Miro: fantastic collaborative whiteboard tool, online!

Miro Experts: featuring Abracademy… thank you 😉

Miroverse: projects, workflows and templates from the Miro community (Houdini’s Locks, Faces in Magical Places and Hidden Truths by yours truly)

Montezuma: they make chocolate. Need we way more?

Netflix: surely we don’t have to explain this lot!?

Pfizer: 💉👏

RCKT: digital innovation brought to you from Germany

Rock Your Life: a mentor network supporting vulnerable young people in Germany

Sonia Benito: magician and dancer extraordinaire

Soundtrap: Spotify’s everywhere studio for music makers

Spotify: needs no explanation 🎧

Start It @KBC: start-up accelerator in Belgium

SumUp: set to become the first ever global card acceptance brand

This Place: a digital retail agency

Thomas More: school of applied sciences, Belgium

Unilever: many fingers in many pies, parent to several B Corp brands

Zinc: venture capital with a heart

Young Scot: travel, information, support and discounts for young people in Scotland

 

Abracademy links

The World Needs Magic, webinar: weekly doses of inspiration with special guests

The Magic of Teams: a virtual offsite workshop to spark the magic of your people

The World Needs Magic, podcasts: if you didn’t catch the webinars, listen to the podcasts

Open Workshops: personal development workshops open to all

A magic potion for leadership

By | Belief, Curiosity, Food for thought, Leadership, Wonder

Leaders face many challenges in 2020. Adapting to the constantly changing times is probably top of the list right now. We work with many leaders, all kinds of leaders, and we’ve come to understand some key skills for the job.

Here’s our top five:

1 Self-awareness

You may be surprised to learn that leadership starts, not with your team, but with little old you! So, take a moment to look within…

2020 has presented us with uncertainty by the bucket load. As a leader, how do you feel when you don’t have all the answers and don’t know everything? One of our recent webinar guests, Anna Gullstrand, told us: “Show vulnerability, don’t always know the answer”.

We’re trained to avoid uncertainty. It’s a space of ambiguity and discomfort. You can’t control external factors, but if you know yourself well, you can make better choices.

2 Drop the assumptions!

Our perception is limited. We see the world as we are, not as it is.

Our beliefs can have us work in a very automated way. But when change happens – again, look at 2020! – we have to re-evaluate our beliefs and assumptions about the world. Ask yourself – what assumptions am I making? Understand where you make assumptions and judgments. Be interested in how everyone and everything works rather than how you think they work. 

In doing so, you can become a better, more open version of yourself. You’ll stay curious and accept the new. Remember, you’re the only one that can change your perception of yourself, others and the world.

3 Build resilience

The leadership journey is a long and tricky one. We naturally resist new ways of being, new ideas and new leadership styles. To thrive as a leader, you’ll need passion, empathy and endurance. You’ll need to invest a lot of time and energy in your leadership. It helps to have great people around you. Building positive relationships provides you with a necessary support network.

4 Have compassion

When the road is arduous, you’ll need to be compassionate with yourself. Understand that sometimes you need help or a break. The ability to recover is one of the secrets of resilient people. You’ll need compassion towards others too. Treat people kindly, care about them and act as a leader with good intentions.

5 Be humble

Last, but definitely not least, stay humble and curious. Look at everyone, including yourself, and everything with fresh eyes. Ask yourself: what am I not seeing, what am I missing, what are my blind spots and my prejudices? If you can do this, you’ll inspire the people around you because you’ll lead by example, not by dictating.

Here’s our Director of Spells, Rubens Filho, with a few wise, and of course magical, words about managing change. 💡

Facing changes that you'd like help with?

Get in touch

The World Needs Magic: wonder-full conversations

By | Belief, Curiosity, Food for thought, Learning and development, Magicians, What's new?, Wonder

No longer a spacey futuristic vision of life on the moon, video calling has become normal. Very normal. Captain Kirk would be impressed at how normal. Personally, we still prefer meeting face-to-face, but video calling is much much better than nothing and it has its own charm… (do let us know 😉)

Like many, Abracademy has adjusted to the new way of being. We’ve changed a lot about how we work and communicate. One way we’ve evolved our practice is to start a weekly webinar. It’s something we had talked about doing for a while. And in March this year, the moment presented itself and we got on with finally doing it. Of course we had to learn a few technical things and we made mistakes along the way, but we got there.

Each week we invite someone whose ideas and work we admire. They either have something to do with the world of magic, psychology and science, or learning and development. Or all three! 

It’s selfish… The webinar gives us the opportunity to talk to someone interesting about things that interest us. We enjoy learning from our guests and hearing about their personal and professional lives – how they feel about the pandemic, how it’s affected them, and so on.

Our guest in April, Nathalie Trutman, observed: “… Our automatic reaction is to replicate patterns that worked for us in the past. Unfortunately, they aren’t necessarily going to get us through this time”. On a previous pause from work, she learned to sail. ”Have a wild dream that you think is impossible. Then break it down like a puzzle and take the first step”. It doesn’t matter what your wild dream is or even if you succeed. Just dare to dream. We like that sentiment.

Sarah Gregersen talked about a circular economy and how nature can inspire us. A love of nature came early to Sarah, as a kid she thought “we’re breaking the earth!”. She suggested that we “think about our surroundings [suppliers etc] as part of our ecosystem. Develop new practices, new ways of operating”. When you’re annoyed in a traffic jam, remember that you are the traffic!

Doctor of Wonder, magician and scientist, Dr Matt Pritchard answered the question: what kills wonder? with “Busyness… work, home, technology. Learn to stop, pause, reflect, adjust. Make space to notice things, discover things. See the extraordinary in the ordinary. The magical in the mundane”. He quoted a study of 135k people on wellbeing. The #1 aid for wellbeing was having people around who care about you. But #2 was learning something – discovering new things helps your wellbeing. So perhaps we can use some of this time to pause and learn?

Another magician and psychologist, Goldsmith’s Dr Gustav Kuhn warned us that “if 3 small kids appear, I didn’t just magic them up!😄 We never did see them so they must have stayed in the hat… Gustav said of the positive emotions of magic: “use them in education to enhance learning experiences and wellbeing”. We couldn’t agree more!

There’s a sense of embracing the unknown throughout these conversations. We can’t ignore that for many this has been a very difficult time. However there can also be benefits – extra time in the day, more time with friends and family, more conversations around wellbeing in the workplace, more meetups on Zoom without leaving your house! Accepting that things have changed enormously and proceeding with the positives as best you can. And, always be learning!

Have a look at forthcoming webinars here.

Links

I have an idea for your next webinar guest 💡

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Magili-what?

By | Belief, Curiosity, education, Learning and development, Magical Moments, Magicians, Priya, Wonder

How Magilitation can help companies cast a spell or two 💫

If you’ve ever thought that you really need to:

  • Create wonder
  • Inspire through storytelling 
  • Control attention
  • Shift group energy
  • Listen compassionately
  • Speak powerfully 
  • Work with emergence
  • Dance in the moment…

Then think about hiring a Magilitator. You won’t regret it. Allow me to explain why…

Abracademy is interested in the overlaps between magic and other spheres – business, education, mental health, personal development. At the same time, we’re certain that magic means much more than coins, cards, rabbits and hats. For the past few years we’ve been developing ways to apply the basic elements of magic – wonder, awe, intrigue and stories – where they’ve rarely been used. What we call Magilitation is the result of those experiments.

Magilitation is the beautiful merging of magic and facilitation. It was born out of an idea I had at a skills-swap seminar one day. Magicians are incredible presenters and facilitators are masters of group dynamics. If we learn each others’ abilities we can make a hybrid, a new skill set. One that creates wonderful experiences. One that helps participants through journeys of self-discovery and experiential learning. So, Magilitation and Magilitators were born.

These days we deploy our magicians to train facilitators and we work with facilitators to train magicians. Each profession develops their superpowers together.

It’s magic. The kind of magic that the world needs today: inclusive and democratic.

No-one arrives at our workshops already an expert. The playing field is level and everyone learns together. Being very visual, magic is a universal language which everyone can understand. And whatever feelings, and emotions, people experience are welcome. There is no right and wrong in this learning space.

Magic has the power to change the way people see themselves and others. We see the change in participants the instant they learn their first magic trick. Suddenly they’re doing something they thought impossible five minutes earlier. The mindset shift can be lightning-fast as people step out of their comfort zone and open up to learning.

That’s the magic part of Magilitation.

When the world is changing at an exponential rate, systems and structures shift as soon as we get used to them. This rate of transformation means that we’re working at an unsustainable pace. One unfortunate side effect is that, all too often, we forget to connect: talk, share, laugh, cry. Sometimes the speed of progress comes at a cost to our humanity. Workplaces become fraught with stress, low confidence, fear and uncertainty.

Our Magilitator-led workshops help to restore belief in the workplace and spark wonder again. We help companies slow down and invest in their people, improving the quality, and depth of relationships.

We work in a space where many learning & development programmes have yet to go. And while the outcomes are hard to measure, we believe that this is a space where real change happens. It’s a human-centred approach harnessing what makes us human: emotion.

We believe that our workshops can assist any company concerned with the creativity and wellbeing of its employees. But over the years we’ve noticed commonalities among the companies we work with.

Firstly, they dare to dream that there is a more powerful, magical way of professional development. One where people feel valued. Where their thoughts, experiences and emotions are welcome.

Secondly, they are companies who look for something fresh in their approach to learning. Something magical, which creates lasting memories for participants and movement in the company

Thirdly, they’re companies curious about the power of group dynamics. And with an understanding of creative processes. Employees are the lifeblood of any company. Our workshops instil new energy and unlock employee potential. These are vital to the health and progress of any organisation these days.

Magilitation is a unique mix of presence and performance. Our Magilitators help people of all ages and abilities find their inner magic. We’ve helped develop self-esteem and confidence in young people. And we’ve created learning spaces where everyone can share their struggles and joys, their ups and downs. We do this through storytelling – an important tool for good mental health. 

Magic was once a closed shop, the preserve of a few practitioners, performers and experts. But today, when the world is full of sorrow, anxiety, violence and loneliness, magic needs to be for the many – for all of us. Everyone deserves to find their inner magic and superpowers. The most powerful spell cast by Magilitation is to imbue the belief that the impossible is possible.

Hope arrives when we see a new possibility materialise in front of our eyes. And when people learn how to share their magic with others, hope becomes contagious and magic spreads. It’s the most wonderful feeling! 👭

Priya Ghai
Head of Learning, aka Mind Master

This article was originally printed in The World Needs Magic, our magic magazine. If you'd like to receive a copy - click the button below 👇

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How I worked my way from ‘distracted’ to ‘better’

By | Curiosity, education, Food for thought, Magical Moments, Priya

I’ve worked at Abracademy for nearly three years now. During that time I have experienced many magical moments. I’ve also experienced some Magical Moments. But not as many as I’d like 😭

The very first workshop I attended was at software development company, Pivotal. A group of employees from offices all over the world gathered in London for a weekend of information sharing and bonding. Some had never met, though they had spoken via email or video call many times. Many were members of the same team, working on the same projects, but in different locations. Pivotal invited us to spend Saturday afternoon with them. I mean, they invited us to inject magic to their Saturday afternoon… A small, but significant difference!

For three hours that day, we played, learned and got to know each other. It was amazing to see the effect Abracademy’s workshops have on people. I was impressed at the creativity of the Pivotal team, who entered into the spirit of the workshop with aplomb. And I was impressed by how democratic magic is. Outgoing people are, well, outgoing so they’re naturally active participants. But what about the shy people, the ones who don’t like to be centre stage (I include myself in that group)? Well, they were also able to shine in their own quiet ways. It was an eye opener to see how they engaged and grew in confidence as the afternoon progressed.

Cut to present day. In the light of the Coronavirus situation, Abracademy, like many many other companies, has had to pivot. As of March 2020 we couldn’t deliver workshops in person any more. That stopped overnight. Suddenly, the remote learning product we had been developing in the background, had to be at the forefront of our services. It had to become our offering and fast. To achieve this, we handbrake turned and quickly learned what ‘agile’ product development is!! We developed faster, tested workshops on ourselves, learned from the feedback and developed the product some more. Repeat that loop a few times. But it meant that, finally, I was able to participate in workshops, not just observe and / or photograph them.

The Raising Resilience session surprised me the most. The day that we tested that one (on ourselves and some work friends), I was feeling restless, irritable and frankly anxious. It was in the early days of lock down – need I say more. Everything was up in the air for me. Plans were halted and cancelled. So many question marks were hanging over me about every aspect of life – the future of work, my daughter’s schooling, my mum’s health, even a relatively new relationship. And – dramatic pause – I could no longer go to my favourite coffee shop for amazing coffee and laptop working (I know, I know. Sometimes it’s easier to channel anxiety into something seemingly silly than face the big things).

During the session, we were asked to turn off our cameras and mics, and meditate for five minutes, guided by Rubens. I cannot tell you how unbelievably hard I found this. It took a huge effort for me to sit still and at least try to empty my head. I did my best, but I certainly didn’t achieve nirvana! I did, however, surface one particular issue affected by Coronavirus that was bothering me a lot. And so, for the remainder of the workshop, this is what I focused on. With Priya Ghai’s brilliant facilitation, Rubens’ magic and Zoom’s breakout rooms to work in pairs, I worked my way from distracted to better.

A series of exercises gradually broke the problem down and helped me see it from different points of view. I was astounded that an emotional block could be addressed through a practical process. It’s magic! But it’s not magic because you do the hard work. The problem hasn’t vanished, it just ceases to be a huge mountain to overcome. It shifts to being a series of smaller issues that are less overwhelming and easier to turn around.

At the very end, we took turns to tell a story about our issue while performing a trick Rubens taught us. And I really did feel better! Better for having looked right at the problem. Better for having met some lovely people. Better for having shared and listened to others’ worries. And better for having learned that trick with which to impress the next time I can actually perform it to people IRL!

So, any chance I get to participate in one of our own Magical Moments again, I’ll grab with both hands. You should too 😉

Links

Anne Brassier
Wizard of Words 📝

Yes! I want to try an Online Magical Moment ⚡

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Magic for the Many

By | Belief, Curiosity, Magical Moments, Priya, What's new?, Wonder

How Magilitation can help teams and companies cast a spell

By Priya Ghai

If you’ve ever felt the need to:

  • Create wonder
  • Inspire through storytelling 
  • Control attention
  • Shift group energy
  • Listen compassionately
  • Speak powerfully 
  • Work with emergence
  • And dance in the moment…

… then think about hiring a Magilitator. You won’t regret it. Allow me to explain why.

Abracademy is interested in the overlaps between magic and other spheres like business, education, mental health and personal development. We know magic can mean so much more than coins, cards and rabbits in hats. For the past few years we’ve been developing ways to apply the basic elements of magic (wonder, awe, intrigue and stories) where they’re rarely used. What we call Magilitation is the result of those experiments.

Magilitation is the beautiful merging of magic and facilitation. It was born out of an idea I had on a skills-swap seminar. Magicians are incredible presenters and facilitators are masters of group dynamics. How about we develop each others’ abilities and make a hybrid, an entirely new skill. A skill that creates wonderful experiences, helping participants on journeys of self-discovery and experiential learning. Hello Magilitation! These days we deploy our magicians to train facilitators and we work with facilitators to train magicians. They develop their superpowers together.

It’s pure magic. The kind of magic the world needs today: inclusive and democratic.

No-one arrives an expert to our Magilitation workshops. The playing field is level, everyone learns together. Whatever feelings and emotions people experience are welcome. There’s no right and wrong in this learning space. And, because it’s very visual, magic is a universal language that everyone can understand.

Magic has the power to change the way people see themselves and others. We see the change in participants the instant they learn their first magic trick. Suddenly they’re doing something they thought impossible five minutes before. Indeed, the mindset shift can be lightning-fast as participants step out of their comfort zones and open up to learning. That’s one part of the power of Magilitation.

When the world is changing at an exponential rate, systems and structures shift as soon as we get used to them. This rate of transformation means we’re often working at an unsustainable pace. An unfortunate side effect is that all too often we forget to connect: talk, share, laugh, cry and forgive. Sometimes the speed of progress comes at a cost to our humanity. Workplaces become fraught with stress, low confidence, fear and uncertainty. But our Magilitators can help to restore belief at work and spark wonder again. We help companies slow down and invest in their people. Such workshops improve the quality and depth of their relationships with each other.

Of course Abracademy has to work by these beliefs and values too. And we know it takes effort. We also know we help companies raise team spirits by unlocking belief and sparking wonder. We work in a space where many learning and development programmes have yet to go. And while the outcomes may be harder to measure, we also believe that this is a space where real change happens. It’s a human approach that works with what makes us human: emotion.

It might sound bold, but Magilitation could assist any company concerned with the creativity and wellbeing of its employees. However, we’ve noticed some commonalities among the companies we’ve worked with.

First, they dare to dream that there is a more powerful, magical way for professional development. One where people feel valued, where their thoughts, experiences and emotions are welcome.

Secondly, they are companies looking for a fresh approach to learning. A special magic creating lasting memories for participants and movement within the company.

Lastly, they’re curious about the power of group dynamics and have a deep understanding of the creative process. Employees are the lifeblood of any company. Our Magilitators instil new energy and unlock employee potential. This is vital to the health and progress of any organisation these days.

Magilitation is a unique mix of presence and performance. Our Magilitators help people of all ages and all abilities find their inner magic. We’ve boosted the self-esteem and confidence of young people. And created a space where individuals can share their struggles, joys, ups and downs through storytelling. An important tool when mental health is increasingly part of the social conversation.

Magic was once a closed shop, the preserve of a few practitioners, performers and experts. But today, when the world is full of sorrow, anxiety, violence and loneliness, magic needs to be for the many – for all of us.

Everyone deserves to find their inner magic. We all have superpowers. The most powerful spell cast by Magilitation is to imbue the belief that the impossible is possible.

Hope arrives when we see new possibilities materialise in front of us. Each of us can be a part of making that happen. When people learn to share their magic with others, hope becomes contagious and magic spreads. It’s the most wonderful feeling. 😊

Priya Ghai
Head of Learning

aka The Mind Master 😵

Do you want to add magic to your L&D?

Hubble bubble...

What makes a good learning organisation?

By | Belief, Curiosity, education, Food for thought, Learning and development, Magical Moments, What's new?, Wonder

In the second of our webinar series, The World Needs Magic, Rubens talked about learning with Nathalie Trutmann. What makes a good learning organisation and how do we harness a learning mindset?

Nathalie has spent over 20 years in the learning space, the majority of her working life. She’s a former CEO of Hyper Island, now focused on innovation, transformation and education. She’s author of two books; we especially love Handbook for Young Dreamers 🦄 (because we advocate dreaming big!).

 

It’s very important, both for individuals and organisations, to observe how our automatic reaction to this moment, where there are many unknowns, is to replicate patterns that worked for us in the past. Unfortunately, they aren’t necessarily going to get us through this time…

Our first question to Nathalie was: Where is your attention at this moment in time?

Nathalie

I’m focusing very strongly on finding a new passion. One where I can put all my energy and learn lots during this sacred time that we’re all having.

Rubens

Fantastic! We are indeed in this moment where we can learn, unlearn and relearn. Many organisations are having to look in, what I call, the true mirror. They’re looking in it trying to realise who they are as organisations and who they plan to be… I read something you said about using this moment to reprogram our minds, to have a beginner’s mindset. Can you share what you mean by that and why it’s important right now?

Nathalie

This moment is very special and very challenging because it took us all by surprise. There was no time to prepare. It caught us off guard and has provided us with this true mirror moment – both for organisations and for individuals. It shows us what we do and don’t have, what we’ve done and what’s yet to be done. It’s very important, both for individuals and organisations, to observe how our automatic reaction in this moment, where there are many unknowns, is to replicate patterns that worked for us in the past. Unfortunately, they aren’t necessarily going to get us through this time.

Good learning organisations are those that have already allowed their executives to learn and experiment. Ultimately, organisations don’t sell products or services… they are places where people make decisions. And the quality of those decisions correlates directly to the balance between arrogance and humbleness. While some organisations have focused on saving the world and being better people, other organisations have focused more on the reality that real people have both arrogance and humbleness, that we are both altruistic and selfish. Those organisations have created systems for people to show themselves as they truly are.

Right now, we all have the opportunity to show ourselves as we really are. We’re all in our homes so there’s more of that reality already, work facades have dropped. But the organisations that already had systems and practices in place – allowing people to bring that real self to work and helping them grow within the company – are better prepared for the moment we’re facing. In such organisations it’s more acceptable, or they’re more used to, sharing worries and fears, supporting each other. Other organisations are having to catch up.

The balance between arrogance and humbleness in the decisions we make is an important one. When you are very self confident, you have a high degree of arrogance and if you are very humble you probably have a high degree of insecurity. So, how do you balance those two and how do you promote the healthy attitude of a learner? In the mind of a beginner, there are infinite possibilities. In the expert’s mind, the possibilities are limited. I sense, and observe, that a lot of people want to have the right formula to navigate this moment. But instead, let’s create the right conditions to explore different formulas and see what may or may not work.

Many still rush to conclusions, instead of exploring different paths. But the conclusion might not be as simple as you think and it might not be a duplicate of what’s worked in the past. 

Rubens

I think there’s lots of resistance to implementing something like that. So, how can we build this beginner’s mind, how do we start to build this mindset into a company?

Nathalie

It’s especially difficult for individuals to adopt such a mindset. We always want to see the end, to know the outcome of something. We tend to allocate time on productive endeavours – what kind of course can I enrol in, what qualification will I get? But what if we allowed ourselves to experiment with scenarios where we don’t know what the outcome will be? With the beginner’s mind, you have to allow yourself to do things that are seemingly unproductive. 

Many years ago, a company I worked for was bought out. The leaders of the company told us everything would be resolved in one or two months. From that moment, we were all paralysed. We had to live from month to month and there was no money to spend – we were on hold waiting for decisions to be made. But the decisions took a whole year, not one or two months. I remember that many people spent a lot of time wondering and talking about it, speculating and hypothesising. At that time though, I thought, I’m going to do something I’ve always wanted to do – sailing.

So, I convinced two friends to get a sailboat with me. We bought a really cheap one that we thought just needed some paint and some curtains, and it would work ok. But none of us had ever sailed in our lives, ever! And it was fantastic… We spent the whole year reading about sailing, fixing the boat and learning how to sail. It wouldn’t take us around the world, but it took us around a little bay. The energy of this beginner’s mindset however, stepping into a completely new world, hanging out with sailors, listening to their stories and reading about people who had sailed round the world – the energy that this generated, was priceless. And it brought a better person back to the company. I wasn’t one of those who’d spent time worrying about what was and wasn’t going to happen. I had spent a year being really energised and enthusiastic, and infecting others with that. So, where can we begin right now?

For those of us who are working and have heavy workloads, it’s hard because we are doing the home load plus the work load. But if you can, have a wild dream of something that you think is impossible. It doesn’t matter what it is. Break it down like a puzzle and take the first step. And for those of us who aren’t working – also start something that really excites you, no matter how small. Just start it. It doesn’t matter what happens at the end of 6 months or a year, the important thing is to get into that enthusiastic, happy, childlike state where you’re not counting the days. And don’t hang onto the news every single day to see what happens. When restrictions finally lift you’ll have learned something new and time will have flown by. When I went back to work, I was a happy enthusiastic person, able to contribute to my teams, my family and my workplace with a different kind of energy. 

Rubens

I sell magic: magic that transforms organisations. One of the big challenges is showing the difference between how you make money and how you work, and showing the importance of how you work. And how much how you work can benefit how you make money. But it’s a war to make such simple magic come true. How did you experience that while you were leading Hyper Island and other organisations?

Nathalie

It’s a huge challenge… When I was at HI, and before that, I tried to overcome scepticism with numbers and concepts. People needed these first. If I came in with creative ideas, they were disregarded very easily. But then I changed things. First I presented something very technical, very businesslike, very number-driven, so that I could show the impact on the business. Then with that scepticism out of the way, I had creative freedom! 

Learning organisations already know that it’s important to invest in the growth of their people because it will directly impact their sales and business positively. 

One classic example is shoe company, Zappos and their success at delivering happiness. What does happiness have to do with the shoe business?? It’s simple – the happier your employees are, the more committed and engaged they are. Zappos decided that they weren’t just selling shoes, they were making human connections. It didn’t matter what a customer was calling about, the task of whoever answered the phone was to make that moment magical for the customer. There’s a lot of stories of people calling and asking for movie theatre schedules or help with wedding arrangements! Because the Zappos team was so well trained to help with whatever that person needed and because what they wanted was an unforgettable moment for the customer – it made their company very special. People working for Zappos felt excited because they were allowed to go off script and create magic. As magicians already know, when you create magic for someone else, you’re also creating magic for yourself! I imagine, Rubens, that when you do tricks and you see somebody smiling, it brings a smile to your face too. This nurtures us. This keeps us going. 

Rubens

Yes that’s true. And living in this time when the world is totally upside down can definitely open the minds of many people that were resistant to this approach before. But we also talked about new times creating a need for new habits – what habits do you think companies could incorporate now to build a learning-minded workplace? 

Nathalie

It’s very important to review all the To Do lists that companies have. And what on those lists makes a difference to the experience of both the customers and the workforce. So many To Do’s… do we need so many?? Do we need to work extensive hours or could we lower the load a bit, do less and create space to listen to the sounds of the future? Everybody is wondering what’s going to happen next and how it’s going to happen, what is the new winning formula? Having endless tasks and To Do lists leaves people exhausted and stressed – it’s not enabling the mindset, creativity or imagination that we need. Somebody said that the first thing we lose in a crisis is imagination because it’s considered expensive and it’s not a time for creativity. Everybody’s in crisis mode and cutting costs. But how can we create thriving environments and good moments for people at work so that they’re still excited and enthusiastic?

Rubens

What comes to mind when thinking about things that stop or hinder companies from achieving a beginner’s mindset? You’ve worked with some great companies, from Oracle to Red Bull to Unilever – what gets in the way?

Nathalie

Abundance of financial resources get in the way! This is in Clayton Christensen’s great book – How Will You Measure Your Life. He said focus on smart money. This is when you have very few resources and you still make something happen. In big companies, the difficulty is that they’re used to creating big initiatives. They’re not comfortable with small initiatives because they compare them to the existing ways of doing business. Why is this important if we can only bill X, when we’re already billing much more with another scheme? Once again this highlights the fact that many companies only measure numbers. They’re not measuring the rate of learning that the initiative might have, or the increased rate of cohesion and collaboration in a team. If you allow more of these smaller experiments, you may not get the big bucks, but you will get a much higher rate of learning, bonding and collaboration between your team members. So I think an abundance of resources and always thinking in big terms can be an obstacle to a learning mindset.

The other thing that gets in the way is that we are very attached to having detailed road maps of where an experiment is going to take us. But look, nobody planned for this pandemic right? We forgot to plan for this! No plans that were set in place at the beginning of 2020 contemplated something like this. We should test initiatives and ideas without knowing where they’re going to take us, without judging them or throwing them out just because they don’t necessarily bring big money in. But what else can they bring, what can we learn? Can we learn something new about our employees, about our market, about our consumers? I think this is very important. So you can see how abundance of resources and attachment to knowing the outcome of an initiative can get in the way of learning?

Rubens

You’ve spent your life redefining learning… Let’s say you have a magic wand, how would you redefine learning again now?

Nathalie

More real-life project based learning? Learn something like how to build a boat or how to do science experiments. Remove the up front evaluation of right and wrong and think of initiatives where you measure learning by excitement, smiles and the sparkles in peoples’ eyes. When you lose those things, you lose the most precious things we have. So, if we can conjure learning like that, that would be great!

A big thank you to Nathalie for her time and thoughts on this subject. We hope you enjoyed reading our conversation as much as we enjoyed having it! 👌

Let’s close with a question we put to the webinar audience: What’s one thing you’ve learned, relearned or unlearned since social isolation started?

  • I’m re-learning to write code
  • I learned how to peel an orange properly!
  • I’m unlearning to structure my days
  • I am learning how important it is to exercise
  • I am unlearning to endlessly distract myself with random stuff

“Thank you so much for this fresh air!” 🌈

If you’d like to listen to the webinar, press play below 👇

If you’d like to join future webinars, click here for up to date information.
They’re every Tuesday afternoon, usually at 2pm (right around tea or coffee time ) and they last half an hour. Bite sized conversations for easy digestion!

Interested in an online Magical Moment for you or your team?
Click here for information about our online workshops, Unleash Imagination and Raising Resilience.

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A magic potion for embracing change

By | Belief, Curiosity, Food for thought, Learning and development, Magical Moments, Uncategorized, What's new?, Wonder

Don’t be afraid to pivot

This is one of Abracademy’s core values.

The world as we know it is changing and we’re all in this together. If ever there’s been a time when everyone – people and companies alike – has had to pivot, it’s now.

And sticking to what we know best – we want to offer support through our online learning and development workshops. They’re guaranteed to be 100% magical 🦄

The world of magic is familiar with the unknown. We like to sit in the (wonder-full) space between curiosity and knowledge. But of course this outbreak brings so many unknowns and fears. And it calls into question what it means to be present. We don’t know what’s around the corner so we can only focus on what we know right now..

Physically, we find ourselves at home – with children, pets or partners. Mentally, there’s uncertainty, distractions, anxiety and confusion. How can we juggle all the demands and continue to feel present at home and at work, online, and offline?

For one, we need to cultivate space online that allows us to be connected, joyful, vulnerable and curious. Through the magic of the internet, this is exactly what people can do. What people are doing! We truly believe in people, in their resilience and power to survive this adversity. Maybe we can even thrive…?

A learning mindset is possibly the most important skill you can develop right now. Abracademy ignites this mindset by exploring wonder and shifting limiting beliefs. This allows people to connect – both to themselves and to others. Also to gain profound insights to embed back at work, as well as in life generally. We create spaces and experiences that – thanks to the use of magic as a tool – spark wonder in the brain. When we spark that wonder, people are more open, curious and, crucially, able to see their world from new perspectives. Ta-da! 

Abracademy is adapting to the current situation. We want to support our community the best way we know how with magic, connection, playfulness and collaboration. We’ve developed two virtual workshops for you. Read more about them here ⚡!

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Alex Pittas: what’s your story?

By | Belief, education, Learning and development, Magical Moments, Magicians, Team, What's new?

Now and then we like to shine the spotlight on one member of the Abracademy team. Today, it’s Alex Pittas’ turn to shine. We like to call him Magic Al, because he is.

Alex is very modest, but you should see him come to life in workshops. To say that he’s an amazing connector with people is an understatement! He’s brought the shyest people out of their shells and boosted the confidence of literally hundreds of people.

Hello Alex – obviously we know who you are, but for those that don’t, explain who you are and what you do at Abracademy…

I’m the Head Magician and a lead Magilitator (magician-facilitator). One of my main roles here is to innovate and research new magic for everything we do. I’m also one of the lead Magilitatiors. So, I deliver both client workshops and the personal development, Open Workshop, series.

I’m naturally a people person. This has helped me enormously as a magician and a Magilitator. I’ve been told that I have ‘people power’ by other magicians who have watched me perform. I have often been in a situation with an important client where I don’t actually know who they are! There is no fear and I find it easy to connect, strike up a conversation and perform a magic trick. This always breaks the ice and helps them understand the power of what we do by experiencing it.

As it’s at the heart of what Abracademy does, can you talk about what Experiential Learning means to you?

To me, it means a hands-on approach to learning – where participants learn by doing. We get everyone up and out of their seats, encouraging them to be involved and engaged. It’s such a fun, dynamic and interesting way of learning.

Experiential Learning with Abracademy means games and mental exercises. Groups work together to solve problems and face challenges. And, of course, as a Magilitator I help the group grow as well as learn, and perform, cool magic. 

I love sharing magic because I genuinely want others to experience the amazement I had the first time. And I love teaching magic – sharing practical knowledge, tips and wisdom gained over the years.

Do you have examples from workshops demonstrating the power of Experiential Learning?

We ran our Inner Belief workshop with a group of year 3 children (ages 7-8). Afterwards, they were asked how learning with Abracademy helped with other subjects at school. One girl said: “I was always nervous and shy in English lessons. Sometimes I’d have to tell a story or read a poem out loud for the class. But now I’m not shy at all! I learnt how to be confident and use my voice”.

That happened with a combination of exercises over several sessions. For example, the storytelling exercise – participants sit in a circle and everyone tells part of a story. You go around the circle creating a beginning, a middle and an end to the story. People learn to communicate with their whole body and improve their voice projection. We also did magic performances, individually and groups. This pushes people a little out of their comfort zone, but boosts confidence because of the sense of achievement

Can you recall someone having a WOW moment during a session, seeing how what they were doing in the workshop could impact them positively in the real world?

At the end of one Raising Resilience workshop, one person said that they were surprised and delighted at how easy it was to face their fears. That just by changing the way they looked at a situation empowered them to try new things. She said she could see how to apply the approach at work and to not be afraid of failure. It’s worth trying this even if it takes you a little out of your comfort zone.

What’s your favourite Abracademy Magical Moment workshop and why?

Hmmm, that’s a tough question! Not sure if I have an absolute favourite. But I do enjoy Unlock Your Mind. That workshop really tackles the common misconception many people have of themselves – ‘I’m not creative’. Through fun exercises and tasks, participants gradually unlock their creative potential. They always leave feeling inspired. Plus they learn a cool mind-reading effect that they can add their own creative angle to. A great way to spread magic because – the world needs more magic!

What’s an example of magic working really well to demonstrate a concept being explored in a workshop?

It has to be the Magic Lights. We use this trick in the Belief series of workshops because it’s all about believing in the Magic Lights! We chose it for several reasons…

  • It’s a very easy trick to learn – a great place to start and to boost confidence
  • The lights create a beautiful visual effect!
  • We use them to represent our inner magical energy
  • It’s fantastic for groups because everyone learns and plays together; this helps people believe in themselves and in one another
  • It’s a flexible trick – you’re only limited by your imagination!

Some magic-related questions to finish: do you have any advice for budding magicians?

Try to learn a bit of everything. It will help you in the future if you eventually focus on one area of magic. But if you choose one area to start, for example coin or card magic, then learn the basics first. It’s what I call the scaffolding! But do make sure that you have other interests, apart from magic. The knowledge and experience that comes from other areas of life helps strengthen you as a magician and enriches your routines.  

What do you find magical in the world today?

Apart from all the new magic that keeps improving month by month, I find technology, movies, people and places magical. 

How did you discover magic?

My grandmother got me into magic! When I was around 7 or 8 she would tell me a magical story using a pack of cards, over a toastie and a hot cocoa after school. There would be the “queens that were in a castle and the evil jacks had locked them up”. “The kings would battle with the jacks and save the queens”! There was always magic in her stories. 

How did you arrive at Abracademy?

I first met Rubens – co-founder and Director of Spells at Abracademy – in 2014. We shared a love of magic.

Over a coffee one afternoon he asked me – “If you could do anything with magic, what would you do?”
I
answered – “I would open a real Hogwarts!”
His reply? – “OK great, let’s do it!”

And that’s how we started Abracademy 🦄

Alex Pittas
Head Magician

Interested in Experiential Learning with added magic? 🌟

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