Category

What’s new?

The Magic of Misfortunate Events

By | Abracademy Labs, Food for thought, What's new?

Resilience. Emotional agility. Psychological vitality. Regardless of the name we give it, this skill has a important impact on how we deal with life. 

Business losses, health problems, family issues. How we react to such adversities determines our future fulfilment. It also determines whether we can restore magic and meaning to our lives afterwards.

It’s completely normal to experience negative emotions like sadness or anxiety when encountering the inevitable adversities of life. And it can be tempting to believe that one adversity will cause more problems. Or even worse: to believe it will become a downward negative spiral leading to debilitating negative conditions like PTSD. However, science shows that typical responses to adversity only involve a short period of negative emotions. This is followed by a return to our baseline happiness. There is also a seductive allure to focus on the disabling conditions of life, rather than the enabling ones. Subsequently, we are likely underestimating the prevalence of resilience we all have (Bonanna, 2004).

The good news is that regardless of where we are in life, our brains can be rewired to become more resilient. One way is by shifting focus to the meaning we find in our way, so we can use negative emotions productively.

Take stress, for example. After hearing a laundry list of reasons to “not stress”, many people then stress about being stressed. This creates a negative feedback loop. But researchers have shown that many disadvantages of stress disappear for people who view stress as a useful, energising tool (Achor, Crum, & Salovey, 2013; Keller et al., 2012).

Taking this a few steps further is the notion of Post Traumatic Growth. This is where a traumatic experience causes an individual to grow stronger than before the trauma (Calhoun & Tedeschi, 2014). Think of Stephen Hawking. Paralyzed, no muscle function, no speech. Yet, he became one of the most respected thinkers: mathematician, physicist and cosmologist. And now his computerized speech is recognized as the voice of the cosmos!

Next time life throws you off course, ask yourself something… What would life be like if you could develop a habit of psychological resilience? Would you still view adversity and obstacles as problems? Or as gifts in disguise? What are the hidden opportunities of adversity? And how can you unlock this hidden, magical treasure of resilience for yourself…?

References

  • Bonanno, G. A. (2004). Loss, trauma, and human resilience: Have we underestimated the human capacity to thrive after extremely aversive events?. American psychologist, 59(1), 20.
  • Bonanno, G. A. (2005). Resilience in the face of potential trauma. Current directions in psychological science, 14(3), 135-138.
  • Calhoun, L. G., & Tedeschi, R. G. (2014). The foundations of posttraumatic growth: An expanded framework. In Handbook of posttraumatic growth. Routledge.
  • Crum, A. J., Salovey, P., & Achor, S. (2013). Rethinking stress: The role of mindsets in determining the stress response. Journal of personality and social psychology, 104(4), 716.
  • Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L. E., Maddox, T., Cheng, E. R., Creswell, P. D., & Witt, W. P. (2012). Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health Psychology, 31(5), 677.

What company-hopping taught me about on-boarding

By | What's new?

Sitting down on my first day at Abracademy looking at a magic wand to my right and vanishing pens to my left. It made it wonder what makes an on-boarding experience magical? After all it’s not every day a team meeting starts with a magic trick…

Since graduating from Kaospilots, I’ve jumped from company to company. Not always because I wanted to! Sometimes circumstances have led me to move countries or a project comes to an end. As a result, I’ve immersed myself in different company cultures and have experienced the different types of on-boarding. Now I felt it was time to share is what I’ve learned!

Many see job-hopping as a bad thing, not something to highlight on my CV. They may think I haven’t deepened my domain knowledge, climbed the ladder or gotten to know every employee along the way. But for me, it has been a privilege.

I’ve met amazing people. I’ve had the opportunity to compare places and cherry pick what I like, and dislike, about each. Observing different managers and leaders has taught me what kind of leader I want to be. Seeing everyday acts that tell the story of the culture has created a very clear picture for me. For example, what little things I can do to change or anchor something about the culture I’m in.

As I have experienced everything from horrendous onboarding to mind blowing acts of genuine caring, I know how important it is to welcome people into a company.

If you want to make a good impression on new employees, here’s what I think works and what doesn’t work.

Do…

 

  • On their first day, find a way to surprise your employee. You could perhaps greet them at the train station with a coffee for them. Think about where their first work day starts – at the company door or their own door?! This could be overwhelming or impractical for some of course, but if it works, it tells an amazing story.

 

  • Try to find out their likes and dislikes, and create a personalized starter pack. Are they vegans? What music do they like? Get them slippers for the office! I guarantee you this will be appreciated.

 

  • Make sure everyone in the office knows their name, when they start and, if possible, share a photo of them so people know what they look like. I saw a hotel review on Hotels.com once, where guests are made to feel like the hotel has waited for them for 150 years… be that hotel! Make your new employee feel like you’ve been waiting for them.

 

  • Give them an easy task to complete on their first day of work, perhaps an ongoing challenge or tradition that you have in the company. Make it fun though, don’t make it seem like dirty work!

Don’t…

 

  • Overload them with information. They probably won’t register most of it. The first day is all about first impressions so make them count.

 

  • Underwhelm or neglect them. You might as well ignore them. A new employee doesn’t need to reflect for two hours after lunch. They need to feel taken care of, safe and seen by colleagues.

 

  • Make it short, the onboarding process often takes a couple of weeks, even if the process isn’t as intense as the beginning. Checking in on your new employee is important and you can even ask them to evaluate their onboarding process.

Make on-boarding important. I think we can all agree that new employees need to feel a strong sense of belonging to stay and invest in your company, while you invest in them. The first impression should be made to last – it represents the company. Ask yourself how you can be different. Design an on-boarding process that mirrors your values and at the same time puts the employee at the heart it.

Time to put words into action

During my time at Abracademy, I am looking into ways to make on-boarding more magical for companies and organisations. To unlock an employee’s full potential from their first day. That’s where you come in! I would love to hear your stories about your on-boarding experiences, good or bad.

 

Tell me about your on-boarding experience

Share your story!

Mina Hesar
Business & Process Designer

What is the power of learning magic?

By | Abracademy Labs, What's new?

The beauty of magic is that anyone can learn it. Not all magic takes years to master or requires an intricate sleight of hand. What’s even more extraordinary than learning magic is what you can learn about yourself in the process!

How does magic help us learn?

Magic is learning you can enjoy. When we’re infants we’re eager to learn everything and anything. But it seems that over the years learning can become something we fear, possibly because we’re scared to fail. Being able to learn magic and succeed at it can reignite that desire to learn new skills and open our minds to new possibilities. Magic teaches us to revel in practising, getting hooked on mastering a trick or improving your skills.

Seeing the power of magic in schools

Over the years I have, many times, seen first hand the wonders magic can do for students. Anyone can learn magic, but this doesn’t happen without some failures. Even Harry Potter had a bumpy road to mastering his spells! Pupils being able to deal with failure and accept criticism through learning magic helps them build the resilience needed to learn something new. The greatest learning comes from failure after all.

Importantly, I love seeing a child gaining belief in themselves, being able to step up in front of peers and perform magic. It’s this boost of self confidence and communication skills that can, and does, encourage essential engagement in the classroom. Pupils have said they were no longer too shy to read a poem to the class or give a presentation in morning assembly. Now that’s magic!

Unleashing magic in the workplace

Learning doesn’t stop after school. Working with companies has shown me the capability magic has to transform how teams function. It brings people together, they appreciate and learn from each other. Magic re-ignites creativity, imagination and curiosity to discover new things or new ways of being, traits often sadly lost in the working world.

We all need patience to get through life at school and at work. Like any new skill, learning magic requires patience. No-one becomes an overnight master, but with a little patience and a touch of magic, anything is possible!

Alex Pittas
Head Magician

Get in touch with Alex and the team

Get in touch

Blending two worlds: magic and facilitation

By | What's new?

It’s Facilitation Week and what better time to introduce my passion at Abracademy: Magilitation.

Magili-what?… (I hear you say).

Magicians have been developing powerful techniques that defy limitations in human cognition for centuries. Techniques that leave us wowed and awed. Imagine blending this magical knowledge with the art of facilitation? That’s Magilitation. And it’s where magic happens.

The start of Magilitation


Magilitation was an idea I had on a skills swap. Magicians are experts in human behaviour. While facilitators are experts in guiding behaviour towards a collective purpose. Could they share their skills? Could they help develop each others’ abilities to create a hybrid? And so Magilitation was born at Abracademy. Our magicians train our facilitators and our facilitators train our magicians. Together they develop their superpowers! They also help participants journeys of self discovery and experiential learning. It’s pure magic!

The benefits of Magilitation

Magilitation is a unique mix of presence and performance. This allows us to help all kinds of people find their inner magic. Magilitators give people time to see the magic they have inside themselves. Furthermore, Magilitators provide participants tools to share that magic with the world. For young people, their self esteem and confidence develop as well as creating a space to share their struggles, their joys, their ups and downs. All by using magic as a tool for storytelling.

The core attributes for a Magilitator

I love that at Abracademy we are human in our approach. We encourage the emotions that usually stop at the office front door. We think they’re an inherent part of what your company is. Our Magilitator’s humanity is thanks to their ability to combine facilitation and magic. They can:

  • Create wonder
  • Inspire through storytelling
  • Control audience attention
  • Shift a groups energy
  • Listen compassionately
  • Powerful speaking
  • Work with emergence
  • Dance in the moment

The power of magic for learning and development

Magic is democratic. No-one arrives at our workshops already an expert. Not so far anyway! The playing field is level and everyone learns together. Because magic is visual, it’s a universal language that everyone understands. There is no right and wrong in this learning space. Whatever feelings and emotions people have, these are always welcome.

I see a change in participants when they learn their first magic trick. Doing something that they thought was impossible, provides the quickest mindset shift I have seen in the learning space. Participants are now open to learning. They have successfully stepped out of their comfort zone. Learning happens when we are uncomfortable. Magic makes that discomfort exciting rather than scary. It primes people for learning.

I have learnt that the wonder of magic goes way beyond tricks. Magicians have a deep understanding of how our brains work. They know how we make decisions, how we perceive the world and how we form memories. When you combine this knowledge with facilitation, something truly magical happens. It allows participants to believe that the impossible can be possible. When people learn how to share magic with others, that’s when hope becomes contagious and magic spreads. It really is the most wonderful feeling.

Priya Ghai
Learning Design Lead

Get in touch with Priya and the team

Get in touch

What wellbeing means to me

By | What's new?

Is there anything magical about World Mental Health Day? Well, yes. Slowly, but surely, the world is wising up to the importance of good mental health.

In my 30 years as a magician nothing has helped me cope with life’s emotional challenges more than magic. It grounds me. It occupies my mind. It challenges my perceptions of life. It engages my mind. And keeps me looking forward for new things to discover.

Being well depends on a well-balanced life. When our resources are plentiful, we can face our daily challenges. By resources I mean positive emotions, being engaged, achieving goals, having good relationships and finding meaning in our lives. Wellbeing is also about care – respecting ourselves and remembering that we need to take care of ourselves first, so we can contribute to society. It is not about being happy all the time. That’s not possible. But as long as we are self-aware and act if resources become depleted, we should be able to cope. It takes skill to acknowledge our emotions, understand how they impact us and how to operate under difficult situations. Having that skill gives you a better chance at dealing with challenges.

The personal impact that magic had on my life 

I discovered magic in my teenage years, answering a ‘call’ from my creative side. I was bored, I wanted to try something different. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and learned that I could do amazing things. But magic also nurtured my social skills. It gives you a tool to approach people with and creates great conversations. Magic helped me connect with people from all walks of life. It is a universal language – quite handy when you’re travelling around the world!

The magic community has had a profoundly positive impact in my life. Creating a space where people share secrets and discuss possibilities is a very special and bonding experience. Another powerful aspect of magic is the support it has given me in harsh life moments. Stress, tricky relationships or your mind getting stuck… magic is my medicine for anxiety, stress or panic attacks. It is an activity that I always go back to, that helps me focus and be in the moment.

Three decades of a life with magic has given me great insights to harness when coaching other people. I gained an incredible understanding of magic as a learning tool. It works amazingly well to break down barriers between people and to help individuals find their voice. It supports everyone in self-discovery so they can take responsibility for their behaviours and feelings.

Click here to read the rest of my thoughts on wellbeing and mental health in Kendelle’s interview.
Illustrations by Kristof Goossens

Rubens Filho
Director of spells

Magic at the Science Museum

By | Abracademy Labs, Hugo, What's new?

When I heard that the Science Museum invited Abracademy to take part in their Lates event, I immediately thought: let’s take magic home!

Magic and science are two sides of the same coin. They form an inseparable unity, one does not exist without the other. To paraphrase the great Argentinian magician, Rene Lavand, “Magic and science are two, but no more than one…”

 

A very English and most representative character of this unity was John Dee, magician to the court of Queen Elizabeth I. He was a mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, philosopher, scientist and magician. His prolific discoveries and visions helped Elizabeth to write the future history of England. We didn’t know it yet, but John Dee would be present for Abracademy’s performance that night at London’s Science Museum – one of the world’s scientific cathedrals!

Abracademy offered various activities (workshops, the Wonder Table, Abracademy Labs and a talk by yours truly). We presented to and taught what magic is about to a hugely diverse audience. We also talked about the implications that this complex form of art has, in furthering the study of the human brain. In the workshops, participants learned about the sense of Wonder while experiencing magic specially designed for the event.

The Wonder Table showed the most curious different types of illusions. Illusions that made them question what reality is and how we can be sure about the existence of what we see. The table also marked a line between optical illusions and cognitive illusions, which are a more complex type of illusion. They attack processes such as attention, memory and perception. Magic is the best example of cognitive illusion.

Magic and science are inextricably entangled. They have always inspired each other to create new ways of thinking and observing. They are complementary disciplines concerned with the same things, such as the human brain and how it works. Magicians are great observers of human behaviour, acquiring a deep and intuitive knowledge of the brain in the process. Through their own methods, trials and errors, magicians have understood, for millennia, phenomena of cognition that are only recently defined by neuroscientists and psychologists. Magicians and scientist are once again collaborating. But this time to disentangle the underlying processes behind attention, memory and perception.

It’s within this context that Abracademy created Abracademy Labs – an independent laboratory using magic to investigate the human brain. Currently the lab is developing different experiments, including understanding decision-making and forced choices. Abracademy Labs was of course present at the Science Museum Lates. Participants were invited to wear an eye tracking device and asked to look at a deck of cards while choosing one. The experiment always ended with the same enthusiastic question: how can you predict my card selection?!

In a very special room dedicated to a different art, mathematics (the universal language of nature), Abracademy created an evening of Wonder and brought magic home. We’re delighted that Dee was with us as mentioned, albeit in book form. Just a few steps from our Wonder Table was the first English edition of Euclid’s Elements, to which Dee wrote the preface. A magic (book) end to a magic evening!

Hugo Caffaratti
PhD Cognitive Neuroscience

Creative Super Powers

By | What's new?

Last week we had a great evening at the Creative Superpowers event at ad agency, Havas. We were invited to talk about creativity, particularly in relation to magic, and to perform magic.

Joining us on the stage was Hugh Garry, a contributor to the event and director of Storythings. With some help from my Abracademy colleague, Alex Pittas, and myself, Hugh talked about hacking creativity. We focused on how we can trick our brains to help us be more creative.

Creativity is an essential part of innovation and hugely important to Abracademy’s work. As magicians, we need it to think up new magic – magic that will inspire wonder in our audience. We also harness it when working with companies, to tap into their creative potential.

What did the audience say?

Alex Mackain
Magilitator

Get in touch with Alex and the team

Get in touch

The Real Secrets

By | What's new?

When I lived with my parents in Chile, I used to watch lots of movies and TV shows with my dad. We saw some good and some very bad ones, but all made lovely memories.

Usually, during the movie, my dad would find lots of inconsistencies, mistakes or things that “are not like that in real world”, making him lose interest in what we were watching. Most of the time he was right, someone made a stupid decision, something that was physically impossible happened or it was just complete nonsense. Of course there are terrible movies and those mistakes are just a small part of what makes them incredibly bad. But if we try to analyse every detail, look beyond the 3D animation, the actors and make-up, we will find something very disappointing… IT’S JUST A MOVIE! IT’S NOT REAL!  Yes, everything is make-believe – it’s camera tricks, 3D animated characters, not historically accurate and perhaps not even based on “real life events”. At first, we can think that we’ve gained something with this knowledge, but perhaps we also feel like something was taken away from us.

 

It’s just like with magic, there is a big smoke screen and we think that by looking through it we will find the real secrets and that, finally, we will feel satisfied, and complete. But most of the time we end up feeling disappointed, because maybe knowing the secret wasn’t what we were really looking for. Maybe we don’t need “just a trick” and the answer to “how do you do it?” don’t lead us to the real secrets of magic.

 

I think magic “offers the pleasure of something plain and ordinary, unexpectedly elevated to a marvel. It’s a redemptive feeling, a reminder of many potential wonders. When a magician places a coin in his hand and makes it disappear, it is a reminder that there’s something about coins and hands that we’ve failed to appreciate. Unlike a mere deception or a simple secret, which gives the impression that something’s been taken away, a great magician makes you feel like something’s been given to you.”*

 

Looking for answers, judging and categorising things has helped human beings to discover amazing things. But, by labelling and judging everything, we could lose our ability to wonder and enjoy the simple things: good company, watching a movie, drinking hot chocolate, or just walking in the park.

 

I’m not suggesting that we need to throw our brains down the drain! We need them to be what we are, but sometimes, if we let our brain rule us, we lose the ability to feel and and truly enjoy experiences.

 

Thinking is an incredible tool, but we don’t need to think that we are happy to actually be happy, we don’t need to think about sounds to enjoy a song and, perhaps, we don’t need to peek behind the curtains to enjoy the show. Even though we see the smoke and mirrors, we can still enjoy the movie, not because we don’t see it, we know it’s there, but maybe, just for now, we can let it go, sit down and enjoy it for what it is, JUST A MOVIE!

 

At the end, even though my dad analysed most of the movies, we still enjoyed a lot of incredibly stupid ones (like Underworld or Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer, amazingly fun to watch!), because we knew that they were just stupid movies or maybe we just enjoyed each other’s company.

 

*Quote from: Hiding The Elephant, Jim Steinmeyer

Related bibliography

Recommended book: The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley

Recommended video: Alan Watts, Let go of controlling everything

Thomas Dixon
Magilitator

Get in touch with Thomas and the team

Get in touch

A Brassier + Abracademy. It was meant to be.

By | What's new?

Magician’s Assistant, however, isn’t one of the job titles I thought I’d be adding to my eclectic repertoire. Not now that I’m a grown up. Not now that I think about what I want from my career. Not ever actually. And yet, here I am – the delighted and newly appointed Business Development Lead at Abracademy. An actual magic school.

I graduated from university with a degree in Computer Science. Pretty forward-thinking of me aged 16 to choose this option you say? Yes, it was. However, like all good university graduates in the late 80s, my career path was initially somewhat, umm, varied… Tea Buyerand T-Shirt Queen are two early job titles that spring to mind. I worked at a bakery called Flour Power and I was a human sandwich board. I created wonky knitted creatures (The Stitches), that people ‘adopted’ for a small fee (those people then sent me photos and updates so I knew the knitted ones were being taken care of). I’ve also been Mr Wimpy, but let’s not dwell on that. Magician’s Assistant, however, isn’t one of the job titles I thought I’d be adding to my eclectic repertoire. Not now that I’m a grown up. Not now that I think about what I want from my career. Not ever actually. And yet, here I am – the delighted and newly appointed Product Manager at Abracademy. An actual magic school.

My daughter thinks I work at Hogwarts.

But of course, there is a serious side to this magic business, it’s not all bunnies out of hats and haunted hankies (though most days do involve someone performing a trick for me) – behind Abracademy is a fantastic idea and a solid business that I intend to help grow. Abracademy’s mission is to help people learn through play. The playing bit is the wow inducing magic. And the learning bit is equally impactful – my daughter received a starter magic kit from my colleague, Rubens. She’s a shy kid, not one that enjoys being in the limelight or center stage so I was incredibly surprised when, in a restaurant later that evening, she asked the waitress if she could show her a trick. If that’s not an instant confidence boost, I don’t know what is.

So far at Abracademy, I’ve seen teenagers who, instead of being locked in a room gaming or texting, are out in the streets practicing and performing tricks for anyone who’ll watch, and I’ve seen corporate workshop participants laughing incredulously as their chosen card appears when they thought for sure it couldn’t possibly. Those who have learned magic or done workshops with Abracademy have new-found confidence because they can do a thing that not many other people can do. Communication skills are enhanced, presentation skills are stronger, teams have collaborated and learned about each other. Those who have come into contact with Abracademy’s magic touch will take that experience forward, hopefully spreading the magic word. I guarantee they’ve all added Hermes gold-edged deck of cards to their Christmas list! (I definitely have).

I have big plans for Abracademy up my sleeve. Never mind Platform 9¾ at Kings Cross, we’ll have a magic portal to a parallel universe by 2020, mark my words. That, or a shop-workshop-studio-office space where the phone rings constantly, where people gather to learn and where magicians of the world come to demonstrate how magic brings all manner of good things to people who care to enter the world of Abracademy. There might also be the odd teenager wowing you with some gravity-defying cardistry too.

To find out more – drop me an email to say hello.

Anne Brassier
Cauldron Director

Get in touch with Anne and the team

Get in touch

Is there a place for magic in the curriculum?

By | education, What's new?

What a pleasure it was to perform and teach magic to the wonderful students of St. John’s school in Sevenoaks. The students, aged around 11, took to magic like fish to water and their enthusiasm not only for magic but for the process of learning was electrifying.

The teaching staff at St. John’s prides themselves in their ability to educate their students for life. As a school they’re highly creative in how they approach learning, and are always looking for new and innovative ways to teach beyond the in-class curriculum. This task, according to Head Teacher Sally Quirk, ‘is quite a knack.’

In the pursuit of active learning, we at Abracademy believe that magic is an ideal medium. But would an experienced teacher agree? We caught up with Sally to talk about all things education, learning and whether or not there was a place for magic and its principals in the educational curriculum.

Sally described the process of learning magic as having an ‘immediate something.’ Magic is normally seen as a purely entertaining experience, but Sally added that through this experience, it encompassed many principles ‘that the children would be able to take forward as a way to develop life skills.’

Magic’s ability to ‘disguise’ learning is particularly valuable for older children, for whom it’s seen as a major challenge to ‘engage in perfecting speaking skills and listening skills.’

As Sally puts it, ‘magic all about storytelling, projecting your voice and using body language, three skills which are more likely to be taken on board by a child if they have a purpose behind doing it, like performing a trick.’

Speaking and listening, a major part of the curriculum, are two skills that magic can enhance, but even further than that, magic allows children to develop a repertoire of sorts. Too often these days, with the advent of technology, young people aren’t collecting skill sets through play as they may have done on rainy days pre-internet.

Sally recalls her son learning to juggle from a young age, learning first with three then four then more balls, with which he would impress his friends and family. ‘Although he doesn’t juggle quite as much as he used to, it’s just another skill in his repertoire and it makes him more likely to add to it’. Magic also parallels Sally’s belief in experimentation in the learning process. St. John’s operates on the belief that ‘you may not know how to do something, yet, but you will, it’s a question of what’s the next step.’

This is the process for learning and developing magic tricks, especially when there are so many moving parts from storytelling to personal presentation skills, entertaining to understanding your audience. It’s all about experimentation. At the same time, magic gives children the ability to work on their social skills in the same breath as creating a focus and helping to develop empathy for others.

As human beings, stories are how we make sense of the world and in its simplest form magic gives children the permission to be as creative as they like with the stories they tell. ‘It gives them a starting point, something to hold onto, a reason to tell the story,’ says Sally. As a result, their confidence and self-esteem is boosted.

Of course, the experience is different for each child. As Sally notes ‘give a matchbox to ten children and ask them to tell a story about it, you’ll hear ten different stories.’ Magic as an outlet offers children the opportunity for creative self-expression that they may not find, or have the confidence to develop, in the classroom. The absence of grading removes the fear of judgement and failure, and so the child can explore their creativity in pure play.

So will we ever see magic in the curriculum? Perhaps not in its pure form… yet. But from the experience we had with this great group of students, the benefits of magic are plain to see. Ta-da!

Alex Pittas
Head Magician

Get in touch with Alex and the team

Get in touch