Category

Food for thought

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 😉

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Anne Brassier
Wizard of Words 📝

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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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The Code of Trust

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

The Code of Trust by Robin Dreeke – book review by Steve Bagienski.

I’ve been a fan of Robin Dreeke ever since Penn Jillette Tweeted about him, which led to finding Dreeke’s first book, It’s Not All about me. His work intrigued me because building rapport is crucial for good close-up magic and it was an area I wanted to improve in.

So, who is Robin Dreeke? He’s a counterintelligence expert and the retired head of the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Program. His career required him to build trust with suspected criminals in the most challenging of environments, often to protect America from international threats. If you haven’t heard of him… well, that’s probably because a major theme of this book is suspending your ego and making it not all about yourself!

The Code of Trust takes his earlier book multiple steps further. In it, Robin breaks down the code, which he learned from years of experience in the field and offers practical advice on how you too can learn it to gain the trust of others. The code is simple to learn, but more challenging to implement in practice due to how our evolutionary brain is wired to protect our ego.

Here’s the code and my thoughts on it:

Suspend your ego – by our very nature, we all focus on our own life: our own needs, goals, desires, and so on. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because without it, we wouldn’t get anywhere in life. But to gain the trust of others, we must suspend this natural focus on ourselves and redirect this to what matters most: them. Forget your own agenda. No need to give your advice. Remember, it’s all about them. Humility is powerful for building trust.

Be non judgemental – respect other peoples’ thoughts, ideas, morals, and perspectives… no matter how much they conflict with your own. No one trusts people who don’t understand them. No need to judge, whether it’s favourably or not.

Validate others – seek to understand the other person. No matter what you think about the other person, everyone has some common decency that can be appreciated. We all have the right to our own thoughts and ideas, even when they’re socially unacceptable. Respect others’ rights to have their unique perspective and seek to understand it.

Honour reason – give people a logical, honest reason to trust you. No need to manipulate. Just stick to the facts and rationality. People respond to reason.

Be generous – no one likes one-sided relationships. You must give something of value to the other person. Being generous comes in many forms: It can be a thoughtful gift related to their interests, the gift of your time or attention, or the most precious of all: your trust.

So there it is. As I said earlier, putting all this into practice can be challenging. You might be worthy of another person’s trust, but unless you convey this trustworthiness clearly, people still won’t give you theirs. In the second half of the book Robin walks you through four steps of doing so:

  • Align your goals – this will help both sides benefit, gain something of value, and end with a win-win situation.
  • Apply the power of context – never argue context. People trust others who understand them: their beliefs, goals, personality, and so on.
  • Craft your encounters – learn how to create the best environment for success.
  • Connect – connect with the other person by speaking their language, focusing on them and meeting their needs.

Within each of these steps, Robin shares real-life spy stories as examples and gives Jedi-like techniques to achieve your goal of earning trust. He covers everything from how leaders inspire trust within an organisation and trust in the digital age to tips on avoiding common pitfalls. He also teaches his system of reading personalities (personally I needed to read it a few times before I understood it). Nevertheless, the tips on crafting your encounters is well worth the price of the book, as it covers some of the most reliable ways to craft that first encounter.

It’ll take some practice, but after reading this book, you’ll have a better grasp on how to earn other people’s trust and how to harness your own trustworthiness to make both your own dreams, and those of others, come true.

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The magic of imaginary friends

By | Belief, Curiosity, Food for thought, What's new?
Dedicated to the memory of Simon Aronson and his imaginary friends.

SOMA is the Science of Magic Association. In their own words, the organisation promotes rigorous research directed toward understanding the nature, function and underlying mechanisms of magic.

In July 2019, SOMA held a conference in Chicago, USA, followed by a seminar in London. Both were a coming together of like-minded people – academics, researchers, magicians and keynote speakers – to further SOMA’s mission and inspire connections, and conversations.

Our resident Wizard of Science, Steve Bagienski went to both with many hats on – magician, psychologist, interested party and guest speaker at the summer seminar. Steve’s presentation was about how magic can enhance wellbeing: The magical means of building close connections and community during the college transition: a novel arts-based positive intervention.

We asked Steve to share his main takeaway from the 2019 SOMA events – what did he find most inspiring? Of the many presentations and talks he attended, it was Simon Aronson’s talk on imagination that left Steve thinking the most.

I’ve always known that Simon Aronson was very influential in card magic. I’ve seen his work on magic websites for years. When I saw him at the Science of Magic Association conference, I experienced both wonder and inspiration. The mind reading show, “It’s the thought that counts”, contained many adorable moments of connection between him and his wife. It left me wondering – how she could literally see from Simon’s perspective when she was blindfolded?…
 
But the most meaningful part of the conference was his keynote on imagination. First he transported us to a world where a fire-breathing dragon chased me to the edge of a cliff. He made the point that no-one screamed or ran away – we knew we were experiencing this adventure in a safe and trusted environment. This is what watching magic allows us to do – experience impossible, mysterious moments, in a safe environment.
He continued by explaining how kids with imaginary friends are normal. There’s nothing psychologically wrong with having imaginary friends. Kids know their friend is imaginary (just like we knew the dragon was imaginary). Simon himself had an imaginary friend. His name was Mergel Funsky and he showed us many pictures of Mergel! Simon and he had many adventures together. Of course, Mergel knows he’s imaginary and now, you know it too. He likes pickles and sometimes helps with the magic.
 
Humour aside, I left inspired by how imaginary friends can be very useful. For example, if you’re missing a close one, why not create an imaginary version to feel less lonely and self-soothe? Or if you need someone to bounce ideas off, why not ask your imaginary friend? As long as you know this person is imaginary, it can be therapeutic and fun. It’s a strategy to see yourself and problems from a different, liberating, viewpoint.
I was sad to hear of Simon’s recent passing, but the impact he had on me and my own imagination will live on.

References

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Who wants to play?

By | Food for thought, Magical Moments, What's new?, Wonder

Play and positive emotions have a purpose.

Many of us enjoy the playful moments of life, whether it’s a video game, joking with friends or a simple game of cards. Yet, as we get older, play is often taken less seriously despite the social and emotional health benefits it brings. For example, play can makes us laugh and laughter has been linked to many physical health benefits.

But what’s the real purpose of the positive emotions from play? It turns out that they may actually serve an evolutionary advantage. This is highlighted by the Broaden and Build theory of positive emotions. This suggests that positive emotions help us expand our cognitive and social resources. One example of this is how the positive emotion of curiosity encourages us to learn and explore new things.

Another positive emotion is awe, which is theorized to be an intense emotional response to something extraordinarily vast. Awe creates a sense of disbelief as we try to make our experience conform to our existing beliefs. The science is still very young, but some other characteristics of awe include:

  • A sense of smallness (e.g. a “quiet” ego)
  • Collective nature (e.g. feeling connected to a bigger purpose)
  • Physiological markers like goosebumps
  • Altered-time perception (e.g. feel like we have more time)

Pretty cool, right? And of course experiencing awe has similar benefits to other positive emotions such as reduced stress and decreased inflammation. The latter is linked to a whole range of common health problems such as arthritis, heart disease and diabetes.

We talked about the magic of curiosity in a prior article. It turns out that curiosity and awe somewhat interact with each other as highlighted by a recent study, which showed that awe can make us more aware of the gaps in our knowledge. 

So what if we could harness the benefits of both awe and curiosity by creating magical moments of wonder, for both ourselves and our peers? A lofty aspiration? Perhaps… But here at Abracademy we believe in doing the impossible and bringing more magic, and wonder, to the world. 

Click here to check out Abracademy’s Magical Moments workshops

By Steve Bagienski
Abracademy’s resident Wizard of Science

References

Bennett, M. P., & Lengacher, C. (2009). Humor and laughter may influence health IV. humor and immune function. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 6(2), 159-164.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218.

Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cognition and emotion, 17(2), 297-314.

Stellar, J. E., John-Henderson, N., Anderson, C. L., Gordon, A. M., McNeil, G. D., & Keltner, D. (2015). Positive affect and markers of inflammation: Discrete positive emotions predict lower levels of inflammatory cytokines. Emotion, 15(2), 129.

Yaden, D. B., Kaufman, S. B., Hyde, E., Chirico, A., Gaggioli, A., Zhang, J. W., & Keltner, D. (2018). The development of the Awe Experience Scale (AWE-S): A multifactorial measure for a complex emotion. The journal of positive psychology, 1-15.

McPhetres, J. (2019). Oh, the things you don’t know: awe promotes awareness of knowledge gaps and science interest. Cognition and Emotion, 1-17.

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Words on Wonder

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

Scientist, mathematician and magician, Matt Pritchard, is interested in what makes people go WOW! ?

You probably know by now that at Abracademy, we want to bring more magic to the world. It’s our raison d’etre! And you probably also know that all our workshops are all founded on two mindsets inspired by magic – Belief and Wonder. So, when we came across Matt Pritchard’s Words on Wonder blog, we were hooked…

In his blog, Matt chats with other magicians, creatives and scientists about their work, particularly how they cultivate, and share wonder. One fundamental question he asks, that helps the reader understand what motivates each of his guests, is: Why are you interested in researching the science of magic? Here’s some of the answers to that question, starting with our own Wizard of Happiness and wellbeing researcher, Steve Bagienski: 

I can’t think of a more personally befitting and meaningful thing to do than explore magic and wellbeing. There are so many directions my research could go, but I am focused on the social and emotional experiences of watching, and learning, magic. I really do believe that our relationships with others are what matters most in life, it’s how we become part of something bigger than ourselves. I would love more scientists to explore the many nuances, but for me, my PhD project is a good place to start. (Follow Steve on Twitter)

On a different note, Ph.D student and associate lecturer in the Psychology of Magic at London’s Goldsmiths University, Alice Pailhes, studies how unconscious influences shape our choices and the illusion of free will with the help of a magician’s technique known as ‘forcing’:

Since I started studying psychology I became really interested in social psychology – how our environment affects our choices and behaviours. As we are constantly making decisions (as trivial and small as what to eat for lunch, but also important ones such as what career or partner to choose), I started to be really fascinated by understanding why we do the things we do, and how we’re influenced by a number of factors. I find the illusion of free will, as well as how we think we chose something when we didn’t, really captivating. As I’ve always loved magic and do a little myself, I quickly made a link with some tricks I knew: forcing techniques. Forcing is a way to make spectators pick or think about a specific card or object without them being aware that they were influenced. Magicians have been using forcing techniques and processes for hundred of years that psychology only understood a few decades ago! I think we have a lot to learn from magicians’ knowledge. (Follow Alice on Twitter)

Last, but certainly not least, Lise Lesaffre Lise is exploring magic, not so much in practice, but rather from a cognitive experimental perspective:

I use magic to investigate belief formation. More particularly, I use a sort of mentalism routine that makes the audience think they are in front of a genuine psychic. I take measurements before and after about their beliefs, and associated cognitive bias. We found that when the performance is convincing, the audience get really emotional and most people believe what they saw was a genuine psychic demonstration – more than 60% reported the performer was a genuine psychic! (Visit Lise’s webpage to find out more about her research).

We’ve often said that magicians are masters of human behaviour. You can see from these responses that science and magic make very natural companions, helping us understand the human brain and how it works.

Read the full interviews here. And big thanks to Matt, Steve, Alice and Lise for sharing their thoughts with us.

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Abracademy’s magic: you need to experience it, to feel it

By | Food for thought, What's new?, Wonder

I’ve been a friend of the Abracademy family for a few years and I strongly believe in its mission to bring more magic to the world. Especially the world of business.

As customer and employee experiences become highly commoditised through plug and play technologies, one way for businesses to be truly different ánd relevant is by becoming more human. A magic trick unlocks a visceral punch, a moment of awe that is often needed to feel more human, to feel more alive. It shakes you awake, because you wonder: how did that happen?

“In a world of technology, we need to become more human.”
Rubens Filho, Abracademy Founder

Through Abracademy’s open workshops, I’ve experienced myself what “being more human” can mean in the context of life and work. I was literally blown away by these learning experiences delivered through magic, and found that magic makes the process of learning more profound. I’ve gained a few significant realisations for how I can set the example in day-to-day situations. I’ve learned…

… how to establish a creative connection with a stranger

… how to increase the simplicity and impact of your story

… how to squint at your personal and professional future

How to establish a creative connection with a stranger

In “The Design of Everyday Things”, Don Norman explains what it means to be human in the context of design. He talks about how humans should design for humans, and not for machines:

“Our strengths are in our flexibility and creativity, in coming up with novel solutions to problems. We are creative and imaginative, not mechanical and precise. Machines require precision and accuracy; people don’t. And we are particularly bad at providing precise and accurate inputs. So why are we always required to do so? Why do we put the requirements of machines above those of people?”

Shifting a large chunk of our attention to imagination and creativity is the way forward – and is what I assume many people want in their jobs, but then we will have to learn to establish a creative connection with literally anybody as we often don’t get to choose who we collaborate with in the world of work (there are exceptions, especially companies who self-organise). But imagine you could create an instant connection with almost anybody, through magic.

In one of the Abracademy open workshops, we were taught to make lights appear and disappear with our fingers. In the beginning this seemed really tricky. We either couldn’t imagine how to perform the trick or we were too shy to try it ourselves and show it to the group.

When we finally started to feel more comfortable with the situation, there was a second hurdle that needed to be conquered. We had to team up in pairs and had to perform the trick and show it to each other. Then we were asked to imagine and perform different use cases of the trick and to keep on going for a few minutes.

At first, we came up with the most obvious variations, but as the exercise progressed, we were talking to each other through the language of the trick. We were building on each other’s tricks and were using the previous trick as inspiration to make the next one more wacky or imaginative.

Imagine if you could use the same principle in the world of work. Imagine if you and your colleagues could truly perceive each other’s ideas and intent. Imagine if you could build on each other’s ideas and make leaps together towards new realities instead of using team work as a tool to force (poorly substantiated) ideas and opinions.

How to increase the simplicity and impact of your story

Everybody loves a good story and stories are what makes us human. During one of the Abracademy open workshops, we went through a process where magic and storytelling were interwoven.

We first learned a magic trick that was rather accessible and straightforward. Then we looked into our individual passions and had to define what we like most in life. So far, so good.

We then had to prepare a story about our deepest passion, but had to use a magic trick in parallel to deliver the story about our passion. A challenging learning curve. Stories consist of a range of messages, and after a while it became clear that each of those could serve as a step within the magic trick. Magic then served as a metaphor, a new way to bring each message to life.

Designing a storyline through magic gave me a new approach to increasing simplicity and effectiveness. What is key to the story? What can be removed? What is the moment of drama, and how should this be delivered through magic? What’s the glory moment, or the big magical reveal? What do we want people to learn?

My delivery was far from perfect, but try to be a magician and a storyteller at the same time. I challenge you!

How to squint at your personal and professional future

We all know these vision boards used by personal coaches with white teeth, sandy beaches, big private pools, cars, inspirational quotes, etc.

While this might be fun and highly motivational, I have learned a more profound way to peek into my own personal future: the magic carpet ride combined with another magic trick (which again, I won’t spoil as a magician almost never tells).

We as workshop participants had to close our eyes and imagine we were sitting on a magic carpet. The carpet started moving up. We saw ourselves. The neighbourhood. London. The UK. A few continents. The entire world.

We stayed there for a while, hanging into space and two years passed by. We then started descending really fast, and landed somewhere on earth.

Where are you?
What are you doing?
Who are you with?
How do you feel?

Through these powerful questions, I could straight away paint a mental picture of my deepest desires. I saw one potential scenario and felt both surprised and reassured. This picture was a projection into my personal life, but the same methodology can be applied to company vision exercises with the right team and level of imagination.

Abracademy’s proposition

These three exercises were all designed by Abracademy, and of course delivered through the use of magic to make the process of learning more profound. I won’t spoil the details of these magic tricks as you need to experience them yourself to truly understand their value and how they elevated the three learning experiences. During these open workshops, I found that by using techniques to generate more magic and wonder, I’ve memorised and internalised better what it takes to be more human in the world of work. I’m also not afraid to use these exercises in daily situations or even use magic tricks in front of tough crowds.

A powerful combo of learning design and magic tricks is the key differentiator in the Abracademy experience. Most L&D and org design companies offer very traditional approaches to change. And most magicians, well, they focus on magic without the business context. Abracademy touches on both in the most meaningful and playful way.

Thomas Waegemans
Business Design & Strategy Lead at Accenture Interactive
and Board Member at Abracademy

Conjuring creativity

By | Abracademy Labs, Food for thought, Magical Moments, Wonder

Have you ever wondered how magicians both imagine and create the impossible? Or how visionaries like Elon Musk created Tesla, a disruptive automotive company? In the past, “magical” is how people would describe ideas like a high-performance car that plugs in or powering an entire island with the sun.

One thing such visionaries have in common is creativity. Creative people have a few things in common (Kaufman, 2014). One common trait is being open to new experiences, having a large hunger for exploration. (This trait is analogous to the joyful exploration mentioned in a previous blog: The Five Dimensions of Curiosity.)

The two other traits – divergent and convergent thinking – involve the thinking processes. Divergent thinking is the ability to generate a large quantity of ideas, including ones that stray from the traditional. While convergent thinking narrows the ideas or solutions down to the most useful ones. The highly creative brain behind Nintendo games, Shigeru Miyamoto, sums it up nicely:

“A good idea is something that does not solve just one single problem, but rather can solve multiple problems at once”

A key point is the number of problems an idea solves. In work, and in life generally, we’re always working on multiple problems. And because each solution has its unique trade-offs, the real challenge is finding an idea that can solve multiple problems at once.

And how do we measure creativity? One way that scientists measure it is by assessing whether people can find a common word that relates to three seemingly different words. This is known as a Remote Associates Test. This test can be long and tedious, but there is an extremely similar (and more fun!) improv exercise known as I Am a Tree – actors use this to strengthen their ability to think on the spot.

Aside from improv exercises, creativity researcher, Scott Barry Kaufman also suggests that you can hack your creativity by making time for solitude, trying certain types of meditation, embracing adversity and intentionally aiming to think differently. This last one is essential for creating magic, since the best magicians must envision drastically different explanations for their tricks to the point where no one would ever even guess its secret. In fact, one study on creativity showed that watching magical content was effective at increasing participants’ divergent thinking skills (Subbotsky, Hysted, Jones, 2010). So perhaps, the only thing we really need is a little bit of magic to spark our own creative flair to enable us to thrive in this constantly changing world of innovation.

Steve
Resident Wizard of Science

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References

 

Kaufman, S.B. (2014, December 24). The Messy Minds of Creative People. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/the-messy-minds-of-creative-people

Subbotsky, E., Hysted, C., & Jones, N. (2010). Watching films with magical content facilitates creativity in children. Perceptual and motor skills, 111(1), 261-277.

Eurogamer.net (2010, March 31). Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto. Retrieved from http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/shigeru-miyamoto-interview

The Five Dimensions of Curiosity

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

How is that possible?

This question is central to the idea of curiosity. And humans are inherently curious creatures. It begins from the time we learn to crawl and extends to grown ups wondering how the universe works.

Curiosity brings a range of benefits in life – it encourages us to explore and learn new things. Studies have also linked it to better relationships, reduced aggression, and enhanced well being. Curiosity stimulates progress towards one’s goals.

But what ​exactly is​ curiosity? We can be curious to learn new things and meet new people. We’re also curious how our signed card appears in the magician’s pocket. Is curiosity always pleasurable? Not always. We might be curious as to why a date rejected us or how to solve that frustrating Rubik’s cube…

Some answers to these questions come from the cutting edge science of researcher Todd Kashdan and his team. They synthesized years of research on curiosity, from studies​ of nearly 4,000 adults and found Five Dimensions of Curiosity:

Joyous Exploration​

This is about the sense of wonder. When we acquire fascinating new information that grows our knowledge, we feel joyous exploration. You get this, for example, when you discover the secret to a magic trick and learn how to perform it yourself.

Deprivation Sensitivity

Aka “Need to Know” curiosity​. This is the drive to solve problems along with its frustrations. Think of that pesky Rubik’s Cube and difficult Sudoku puzzles…

Stress Tolerance​

This dimension of curiosity entails the willingness to embrace the doubt or confusion associated with uncertain and mysterious things in life.

Social Curiosity​

Speaks for itself: this is curiosity about other people. What do they like, what do they dislike, what’s their favorite music or food, and so on. Social Curiosity is the desire to know more about people and what makes them tick.

Thrill Seeking​

This is the willingness to take different types of risks. Thrill Seeking includes the emotional “high” we get from these exciting, new experiences.  This emotional energy can be channelled into reckless future behaviours, meaningful life pursuits, or both.

Of all the dimensions, Joyous Exploration and Stress Tolerance had the strongest associations with measures of well being. This makes sense because well being is not merely about enjoying our endeavours all the time. But rather about having the psychological resilience to deal with uncertainty in life during the tough times.

As Abracademy is a company wishing to spread more magic in the world, we celebrate how uncertainty can create some wonderful, amazing, extraordinary and, of course, magical moments.

References

Kashdan, T. B., DeWall, C. N., Pond, R. S., Silvia, P. J., Lambert, N. M., Fincham, F. D., … & Keller, P. S. (2013). Curiosity protects against interpersonal aggression: Cross‐sectional, daily process, and behavioral evidence. Journal of Personality, 81(1), 87-102.

Kashdan, T. B., McKnight, P. E., Fincham, F. D., & Rose, P. (2011). When curiosity breeds intimacy: Taking advantage of intimacy opportunities and transforming boring conversations. Journal of Personality, 79(6), 1369-1402.

Kashdan, T. B., Stiksma, M. C., Disabato, D. D., McKnight, P. E., Bekier, J., Kaji, J., & Lazarus, R. (2018). The five-dimensional curiosity scale: Capturing the bandwidth of curiosity and identifying four unique subgroups of curious people. Journal of Research in Personality, 73, 130-149.

Sheldon, K. M., Jose, P. E., Kashdan, T. B., & Jarden, A. (2015). Personality, effective goal-striving, and enhanced well-being: Comparing 10 candidate personality strengths. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(4), 575-585.

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