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Arup’s Jen Emery on making change magical

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

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

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

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

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

Then we started chatting with Jen:

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

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

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

What’s the secret to making change magical?

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the power of storytelling in change?

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

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

What blocks change from happening?

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

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

How do you align process and belonging, and why?

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

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

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

Arup's leadership team

Arup’s leadership team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We always finish our conversations with three magical questions…

What’s your superpower? 

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

Tell us a secret…

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

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

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

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

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

Get in touch

A look back at 2020

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

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

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

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

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

March 2020

Coronavirus hits the UK and everything changes.

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

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

Spring 2020

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

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

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

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

Summer 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Jules’ gorgeous new kittens 👇

September 2020

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

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

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

👇 That’s Katy’s Faces in Magical Places

October 2020

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

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

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

👇 Our map of 2020 magic

November 2020

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

December 2020

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

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

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

How was your 2020?

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

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

Want to kickstart 2021 with your team?

Get in touch

Links

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

Brazilian Space Agency: 🚀

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

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

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

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

Echo: Belgian marketing and storytelling agency

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

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

FCB Brazil: global advertising agency

Geoff MacDonald: ex Unilever HR, and mental health advocate

Goldsmiths: University of London

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

Julie Donckers: friend and alumni

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

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

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

Mind: the UK mental health charity

Minds@Work: co-founded by Geoff 👆

Miro: fantastic collaborative whiteboard tool, online!

Miro Experts: featuring Abracademy… thank you 😉

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

Montezuma: they make chocolate. Need we way more?

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

Pfizer: 💉👏

RCKT: digital innovation brought to you from Germany

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

Sonia Benito: magician and dancer extraordinaire

Soundtrap: Spotify’s everywhere studio for music makers

Spotify: needs no explanation 🎧

Start It @KBC: start-up accelerator in Belgium

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

This Place: a digital retail agency

Thomas More: school of applied sciences, Belgium

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

Zinc: venture capital with a heart

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

 

Abracademy links

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

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

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

Open Workshops: personal development workshops open to all

Tips: how to make remote workshops excellent 💥

By | education, Food for thought, Learning and development, Magical Moments, Magicians, Music, Team

We’ve learned a few unexpected ways to make remote meetings and workshops a great and human experience. Apart from the usual video call etiquette that you’ve no doubt learned recently, how about…

  • Hiding self view
  • Unmuting everyone
  • Creating virtual magic

Self view

We’ve probably all looked at our own faces far more than is healthy in recent months! Hiding self view allows you to focus much more on other participants. Less Is my hair really that straggly? and more I never knew that, very interesting indeed. Heed this warning however: don’t forget you’re on camera. Everyone can still see you even though you can’t! No nose-picking, texting on the side or stuffing your face with a sandwich and wearing it for the rest of the call…

Unmute

The generally agreed protocol is that everyone should stay on mute unless they’re talking. This cuts out all unnecessary background noise and allows whoever is speaking to be heard by all. But it’s fun to create a little audio chaos and allow everyone to talk at the same time. We guarantee it will liven things up. You can have a lively debate, like in real life. Remember that?!

Magical energisers

Obviously we perform and teach magic in our sessions. But magicians never spill their secrets, so you’ll have to get in touch with us for this one. We’ll send you a video of one of our magical energisers. You must watch it and then destroy it 😉 (leave your name in the comments or contact us directly).

Less unexpected, but still worth mentioning. Here are some more tips to help remote connections feel good.

Hand signals

When you’re on mute and you want to say something without interrupting the speaker, devise a visual language that suits your company. We had fun creating ours: see our video below 👇

Spotify 

We have various Spotify playlists ready to go. Integrating music into meetings and workshops creates energy and sets different moods. Use quiet, non-verbal music when people need to talk or think. And something more lively to perk people up at the start or during breaks.

Miro

What a great invention Miro is! A virtual white board with sticky notes you can scribble on. We use it all the time for both client workshops and internal sessions. The best thing about it is that it’s visually familiar so needs little instruction. Plus it allows everyone to get involved. People can share thoughts and ideas, vote and doodle. No more zoning out during long meetings! 

And finally, Spotlight

This Zoom function pins one person as the primary active speaker for everyone on the call. This is really useful when you want people to focus on the speaker and hear reactions to important information. We also use it when the magicians are performing. That way they stay in the spotlight without anyone having to tweak screens and miss crucial magic-making secrets.

All of these tips add up to fun and engaging online experiences. If you have more, we’d love to know what they are. Share @abracademy 🙋

Let us make your virtual off-site magical!

Get in touch

Alex Pittas: what’s your story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you find magical in the world today?

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

How did you discover magic?

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

How did you arrive at Abracademy?

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

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

And that’s how we started Abracademy 🦄

Alex Pittas
Head Magician

Interested in Experiential Learning with added magic? 🌟

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Why is the art of collaboration important?

By | Belief, Curiosity, Learning and development, Magical Moments, Team, What's new?, Wonder

How to unleash the magic of your team

Organisations today face complex challenges. Ones that necessitate collaboration between employees (Creating Effective Teams, Susan Wheelan). So, the ability to manage teams and projects is an invaluable asset.

However, the art of collaboration is itself complex. It involves multidisciplinary teams with different structures, skills, backgrounds and ways of working. Understanding people management comes first because managing teams means dealing with individuals.

7 core skills that ignite the magic of a team

 

Emotional and social intelligence are key for success when you work in a team. According to the TESI model (Team Emotional and Social Intelligence) there are seven essential soft skills – identity, motivation, emotional awareness, communication, stress tolerance, conflict resolution and positive mood. These all contribute to the effectiveness, productivity, emotional and social wellbeing of a team.

1. Identity

A team with a strong identity demonstrates the sense of belonging. They have a desire to work together and there is clarity around each member’s role. Groups with strong team identity have high degrees of loyalty.

2. Motivation

A high level of motivation corresponds to the energy and responsibility levels in a team. Whether competition is working for or against the team also affects motivation. Having a motivated team requires knowing, and meeting, desires. For example, setting stretch goals, reinforcing success and being persistent.

3. Emotional awareness

Noticing, understanding and respecting colleagues’ feelings indicates a team’s emotional awareness. It is a critical factor in motivation, productivity and collaboration. And it’s central to the success of every team.

4. Communication

We know that good communication is essential for a group of people working together. It provides guidance on how well each of the team member acts. Particularly when discussing sensitive topics, encouraging listening and participation.

5. Stress tolerance

A team with good stress tolerance knows how well it’s doing in managing pressures. These include workload, time constraints and a good work-life balance.

6. Conflict resolution

A team’s ability to deal with conflict means examining how they process disagreement. Is the team able to deal with adversity and enhance its functioning? Or does it get caught up in the conflict? Good conflict resolution is essential for productivity and creativity.

7. Positive mood

A team with a positive mood is built on foundations of encouragement and humour, as well as expectations of success. Positive mood is a major factor in a team’s flexibility and resilience, and it’s the heart of a can-do attitude. It influences how energised the team’s attitude is.

Team work makes the dream work

The Magic of Teams is one of Abracademy’s most popular workshops. Why? Because as an old sport saying goes:  a champion team will defeat a team of champions.

Modern business culture places more value on a single talented individual than on a team with no standout star. As much as we value the ideals of teamwork, the notion of the prima donna remains popular – the team member who stands out and succeeds without help from anyone.

However, research in various sectors indicates that a collaborative team will always outperform solo stars.

  • Tired crews who have flown together in the past make fewer errors than fresh crews who have never flown together” (NASA)
  • The performance of heart specialists improved with practice and experience, but only at the hospitals where they did most of their work. When the same surgeons worked at different hospitals, their success rates returned to baseline” (Huckman and Pisano, Harvard Business School)
  • “Team familiarity was a better predictor of project success and on-time delivery than the total experience of individual team members” (Huckman, Staats & Upton)

In the first two examples in particular, it’s clear that the best choice would be the strong team! Otherwise you better hope for some magic…

The academic field of Positive Psychology has always emphasised the personal benefits of good social relationships. Individuals grow and develop over time. As does a team. So, how much business sense do good connections mean? For a start, they have the potential to improve organisational performance at the highest levels.

How teams develop

When a new team comes together, you can’t expect it to perform well immediately. It takes time and members will go through various stages. They need to shift from being a collection of strangers to a united team with common goals.

Let’s look at Bruce Tuckman’s Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing model. It describes the necessary stages for a team to grow. Only once these have been successfully completed, can the team face challenges, tackle problems, find solutions, plan work and deliver results successfully. Together.

Forming

In this first stage, energy and enthusiasm are generally high. Team members play nice and avoid conflict. But a common challenge in this phase is information gathering. This happens as the team strives to understand its objectives, roles and responsibilities.

Storming

As the team settles, individuals begin to test the boundaries of the group. As a result, a period of heightened intragroup conflict emerges, which can lead to a decline in effectiveness. This can be due to personalities, working styles, lack of agreement or understanding of goals.

Norming

Once teams can deal with conflict in a healthy way, norms emerge. This facilitates openness between members, as well as a shared set of standards and expectations. The plan solidifies as team members agree to timelines and responsibilities. As trust develops, team members embrace one anothers’ strengths and ask for help. 

Performing

Once the shared standards and norms are established, a team can turn their attention to the tasks at hand. This happens through constructive action that allows creative solutions to flourish. Clear goals mean the team can perform with minimal supervision. Conflict becomes a productive tool enabling different perspectives to emerge. In short, the foundation is set for a high performing team to grow.

To summarise, a team is only as powerful as its members. And the quality of the relationships and soft skills in the team is especially important. Stars shine brighter with the support of colleagues because, as we’ve explained here, working as a cohesive team harnesses the unique talents of each team member.

It’s time to develop these skills to make your team a high performance one!  

Julie Bogaerts
Abracademy Magilitator

Discover the magic of your team

Say hello to Harriet 👋

Harriet Swede

By | Team
bio

Harriet Swede

Master Fortune Teller

aka Partnerships Manager

Harriet is a solution-focused people-person. Her desire is to help others live intentional, fulfilled lives - personally and professionally. She's interested in psychology and yoga, particularly the intersection between mental and physical therapies, and practices. She believes in the power of conjuring meaningful relationships to create magic with our clients.

Harriet's superpowers are:

  • A sharp eye for detail
  • Dogged determination
  • Finding solutions

Abracademy

We’re a diverse team of magicians, facilitators, learning designers, strategists, communicators, scientists and creatives who love what we do at Abracademy ♥

Meet the team

We empower people to understand that how they see themselves is a choice 💥

Harriet

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Steve Bagienski

By | Team

Steve Bagienski

Wizard of Science

aka Research Lead, Abracademy Labs

A man of many talents - magician, scientist and positive psychologist. Steve is currently a doctoral researcher at Goldsmiths, University of London. He's investigating the social and emotional experiences of watching, and learning to perform, magic. Steve's work has been presented at international conferences, such as the Science of Magic Association event. And he's received multiple awards, including the Magicana Edwin A. Dawes scholarship and the Richard Benjamin Foundation doctoral studentship for his research with Abracademy.

Magic and science

As a magician, Steve has performed in many different venues, from corporate to social! His passion is combining the science of positive psychology with the performance art of magic. He aims to develop evidence-based techniques that enable practitioners, magicians, clients and audiences to live meaningful, fulfilled lives.

Steve's Superpowers

  • A growth mindset
  • Forgiveness
  • Self-regulation
Find out more about our lab!

Meet the rest of our team

We’re a skilled and diverse team of magicians, facilitators, learning designers, strategists, communicators, scientists and creatives who love what we do at Abracademy.

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Rubens Filho

By | Team
bio

Rubens Filho

Director of Spells

aka Co-founder, CEO and Magilitator

Rubens' background is diverse, to say the least! He followed the family tradition and started his working life as a lawyer in Brazil. After ten years and a stint in NY however, he realised law wasn’t the right place for him. He made the decision to return to Brazil and moved into ad-land as a Copywriter. He eventually became a Creative Director at Ogilvy, leading many award-winning campaigns for global clients. In 2012 Rubens brought his family to the UK to do a Masters in Digital Media Management at Hyper Island. This was to be another pivotal point in his career and in 2013, he founded Abracademy with the dream of helping people grow, personally and professionally.

Rubens' Superpowers

  • Creativity
  • A magical leader
  • Disruptive innovation

Rubens has brought magic to these companies

Meet the rest of our team

We’re a skilled and diverse team of magicians, facilitators, learning designers, strategists, communicators, scientists and creatives who love what we do at Abracademy.

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In this world of ever-increasing technology, we need to become more human!

Rubens FilhoAbracademy's Co-founder

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Anne Brassier

By | Team

Anne Brassier

Cauldron Director

aka Business Development Lead

Before joining Abracademy, Anne worked in business development and communications roles at a variety of companies, from small creative and digital agencies, to global giants, Microsoft and Facebook.

Background

Born in France and raised to appreciate crisp sandwiches in Scotland, Anne dabbled briefly in the California sunshine before making London home. She writes, runs and knits, but never at the same time. She's also mum to a budding magician who firmly believes in magic, sparkles and the power of kittens.

Anne's Superpowers

  • Listening and hearing
  • Going the distance
  • An eagle-eye for detail

Anne has brought magic to these companies

Meet the rest of our team

We’re a skilled and diverse team of magicians, facilitators, learning designers, strategists, communicators, scientists and creatives who love what we do at Abracademy.

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Alex Pittas

By | Team
bio

Alex Pittas

Head Magician

Magilitator

Alex is the thumping heart of magic at Abracademy. He co-creates courses for schools and adds magic to our corporate work as well as delivering sessions. He is highly empathetic and able to connect with people of all levels across companies. While he’s asking your name, check what might have appeared in or disappeared from your pockets...

Alex's Superpowers

  • Keen observation
  • Creating and teaching magic
  • Connecting with people

Alex has brought magic to these companies

Meet the rest of our team

We’re a skilled and diverse team of magicians, facilitators, learning designers, strategists, communicators, scientists and creatives who love what we do at Abracademy.

team page

If you don't believe in your magic, nobody will.

Alex PitasHead Magician

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