Category

Food for thought

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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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 these adversities determines our future fulfillment. And it also determines whether we can restore magic and meaning to our lives.

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 the value be 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.