Category

Wonder

How practising magic helped my physical wellbeing

By | Belief, Curiosity, What's new?, Wonder

We spoke to the multi-talented Psychological Illusionist, Jared Manley, about magic and what it means to him.

Jared has performed his magic all around the world, leaving audiences astounded with his unique combination of mind reading skills, gambling techniques and special effects. He has also worked on special effects (SFX) for films such as Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, so we were super excited to hear him talk about the extraordinary relationship between SFX and magic.

When Jared talks about magic, his face lights up. Magic has had a huge impact on his life and on his health. He believes magic is a powerful way to bring people together as well as a way to work on your own personal development. After his lecture, we caught up with Jared to ask him some questions and find out why he calls himself psychological illusionist.

“Saying Psychological Illusionist makes people wonder what I actually do and it starts a conversation”

Why do you call yourself a psychological illusionist?

I wanted a posher way to say mind trickster, mind magician or just magician! I probably got it from Derren Brown — he calls himself a psychological illusionist. Psychology is how the mind works and an illusion is about creating an effect that makes people wonder how it’s possible. If I just called myself a magician, your reaction would be: you must do card and coin tricks. Whereas calling myself a psychological illusionist makes people wonder what I actually do and it starts a conversation. You can then elaborate and you have an excuse to demonstrate things.

How did you learn magic?

My teachers and influences have changed dramatically over the years. Initially, the person who taught me was the animatronics technician, Chris Clark. He showed me a quick coin trick and introduced me to books by Brother John Hamman.

After that I wanted to take my magic a bit further so I went to Davenports magic shop (the biggest influencer in magic at that time was Marc Spellman and he worked at Davenports). The first thing Marc said when I told him I wanted to learn magic was: show me a Double Lift… Not long after that I started going to Marc’s parent’s house where he taught me magic. At that time he was performing on TV and he was a big influence on me.

My current influence is Roger Curzon, one of the greatest card technicians and bizarre magic people! He concentrates on presentation and storytelling, and teaches magicians from the age of 10 upwards. He’s a mentor to a lot of magicians — he’s informed the way I perform, react to people and interact with other magicians.

How has magic impacted your life?

Magic has impacted my life in a major way. I’ve had eczema since I was a baby — I was always scratching as a kid and needed to be distracted. Magic did that. I started doing special effects when I was 23, initially working in environments that weren’t healthy for me, with fibreglass and making moulds. But I had to do it because I was a trainee. This had a huge negative impact on my life and my health because my eczema flared up. I became very irritated (literally!) whenever I was sitting around doing nothing, except when somebody showed me a magic trick, so I started to learn how to manipulate cards and do sleight of hand. My passion for magic grew, plus it took my mind off scratching! I suppose that’s why I progressed quickly with performance because, every moment I had spare, I was playing with cards, disappearing coins or fiddling with gimmicks. Using my hands to practice took away the irritation and the pain of that skin disorder.

It also had a positive impact on my confidence. Seeing people’s reaction while watching the magic and the presentation, them being interested in the story you are telling — this gave me a big confidence boost. I could now approach anybody and show them a trick. I was encouraged enough to keep doing what I was doing and improving my communication with people at the same time.

What fascinates you about magic?

It’s the people, more specifically the reactions from people when I’m performing.

When you start learning magic, it’s all about mastering the trick, but the thrill quickly changed from the techniques to the reaction from the audience.

I’d been doing magic for about three months when I was on a train home from London one night, after working in SFX. I was in my seat, practicing magic, doing some tricks and, within a couple of minutes, people started to be curious about what I was doing. So I said: come and I’ll show you a trick.

By the end of the journey I had the whole carriage watching me perform. It was great to see their reactions and when I left the train I noticed that the people I’d performed to, who were from all walks of life, were talking to each other. You had bankers talking to students, discussing the tricks and just having fun chatting about what they’d just seen. That’s when I realised how powerful magic is.

I know it’s a cliché, but it brought those people together; they forgot who they were and where they came from, they just started talking to each other. That’s what I found fascinating and why I started studying psychology to find ways to trigger that same reaction through my performances.

What do special effects and magic have in common?

They are the same thing; they are both a visual effect, but for different mediums. SFX is for TV, film or theatre while magic is personal, close-up or on stage. In essence, magic is special effects. George Méliès was a magician who used magic to achieve special effects on camera. The techniques we use in SFX — engineering, mechanics, chemical changes and even sleight of hand — are used in both SFX and magic.

How do you make the impossible, possible?

It was difficult in the beginning because I didn’t know how. When you start out, you’re limited in your knowledge and background, I only had what I learned from university and the things I picked up working at different companies.

I’ve now been doing SFX for 17 years and, as you progress, you learn from different people and pick up different techniques. But with every job there’s something you have to research, either on the internet looking at what’s been done before or finding new techniques and ways to manipulate things. It’s all about being aware of what’s around and being interested in what’s possible. 

You too can make the impossible possible and make things disappear! Discover our workshops or contact Harriet: harriet@abracademy.com. Tah-Dah! 🌟

Curious about what magic can do for you?

Hello Harriet

Curious Companies

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

Since Abracademy has been running corporate workshops, we’ve noticed certain commonalities among our clients. Our Mind Master / Head of Learning, Priya Ghai, looks into her crystal ball and shares what she sees…

First and foremost, curious companies dare to dream. They dream of a more powerful and magical way to undertake professional development. One where people feel valued and their thoughts, experiences, and emotions are welcome.

Tell us more about the dreamers

The dreamers are the people willing to take a new approach to learning, to take what might seem like a risk. But actually they know it’s an investment – in engagement, laughter and connection over box-ticking. The dreamers can imagine learning programmes that allow people to know how to do their job better and also to feel that they can do it better. They know that the right mindset is the way forward for any life-long learning. A mindset that allows people to take control of their development rather than feeling it’s in someone else’s hands.

The dreamers are creating companies focused on learning and exploration to enable a positive culture. Cultures where people can experience joy, be vulnerable and believe in what they do.

They are also looking for something fresh in their approach to learning. Our clients want the special magic that creates lasting memories for participants as well as movement within the company.

What’s driving companies to take a new approach to learning?

We know that learning and development needs to change. The world of work is changing so fast that we can’t expect things learned a year ago to still be relevant today. This quick, volatile and ever-evolving world means that what, and how, we learn needs to evolve too.

Learning has to be holistic. It must work for the whole person – emotions, perceptions, ideas and needs – not just for our brains. It’s about realising that we are much more than machines fulfilling a role and producing work. When nurtured in the right way, humans have fantastic capacity for creativity and collaboration.

Creating life-long learners is key. People should be able to learn in workshops and beyond. For this reason, Abracademy workshops develop people’s capacity to wonder and reflect. We want people to think about the workshop experience, apply what they’ve learned at work and keep developing. Participants will learn the perfect balance of humility and confidence, whilst continuing to explore their growth. 

This brings us back to the concept of the right mindset for learning – our workshops are spaces to develop the mental models needed to become life-long learners.

Thirdly, our clients are curious – to harness the power of group dynamics and for a deeper understanding of creative processes. It’s increasingly understood that employees are the lifeblood of any company and our programmes instil new energy. We unlock employee potential – vital to the health and progress of any organisation.

What makes a company curious?

They’re companies that are able to work in an agile way. They pilot programmes, learn from them then develop what they need. We love working with companies like this, it ensures that what we do is fit for purpose now, not for last year’s purpose.

These companies understand that their people need more than a revolving door of hard skills. They must believe in themselves and in each other, and they want to feel that the company believes in them too. Getting to the root of what people need enables us to develop programmes that stick and create memorable (and of course, magical!) moments. 

How does Abracademy make learning magical?

Our learning philosophy is based on developing two core mindsets that unlock the magic of a company through its people. The mindsets are Belief and Wonder – inspired by magic of course!

Mindsets are muscles that need to be developed. Our Magical Moment workshops flex these muscles. We look at each mindset from a different angle and develop the skills, and behaviours, that bring it to life.

Our learning philosophy is also holistic, centred on peoples’ many and diverse needs. We use experiences as a method of unpacking and reflecting on learning. And, most importantly, we use magic to stimulate the brain by adding surprise, joy and vulnerability into the learning space. Magic is the perfect way to be in direct contact with the feeling of not knowing something. Leave your ego at the door and open up to explore the unknown in service of growth. 

Thanks to Priya Ghai for chatting learning and magic💡

Below is a short interview with Jay Pepera – Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Omnicom Media Group – talking about her Abracademy experiences. Thank you for unleashing your magic with us Jay!

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Meet the magician: Sonia Benito

By | Belief, Curiosity, Magicians, What's new?, Wonder

In her own words, there’s more to Sonia Benito than meets the eye. Her work is about movement and magic. Not a combination of skills you come across too often…

We met Sonia through the magic world of course. Specifically via Instagram, where she’s a little bit of a magical star! And since then we’ve worked with her on a couple of projects – with the Wellcome Collection and Royal Museums Greenwich. Both projects involved young people, where Sonia was not only a fantastic guest speaker / magician, but also a superb role model – able to make hard-to-please teenage jaws drop and inspire (we hope) confident future magicians. Ta-dah!

We had a chat with Sonia because we’re always curious to know what brought people to magic and what drives them forward. Here’s the conversation…

Tell us about you and magic…
When I was 13 years old, I saw magic in a little market and I bought a few tricks. I performed them to my family and friends. One of my old teachers at school was a magician and when he found out that I liked magic, he started showing me his tricks. He was doing magic with doves and I love animals. After 2 or 3 years he passed away and another teacher from the school told me that he left a note. It said that he would like me to have all his magic materials. And so I had one of his doves! Then I bought another one and started to perform in villages in Spain. 🕊🕊

What impact has magic had on you?
It makes me feel unique. I can be myself. It might sound cheesy, but it’s the fact that magic makes people smile and can take them to a world where everything is possible. It makes me super creative to make it my own.

What do you find wonderful in the world?
Art in general. The way we express ourselves. I find life wonderful. The fact of being here and now.

What do you believe in?
I believe in energy and nature. I believe there is no religion apart from the respect we must have for each other to keep the balance.

Abracademy firmly believes the world needs more magic, do you?
The world needs more people who believe in magic! And it needs more art and people who respect, and enjoy it. To let go of your worries for a few seconds and enjoy what is happening in the moment. That it’s okay to feel vulnerable and not know everything (the secret to magic).

Any words of wisdom for future magicians?
Always be yourself. If you enjoy magic, others will enjoy it with you. Remember that the real magic is you – who you are, not what you are. You can do magic with anything! As magic is everywhere 😉

 

There’s a further interview with Sonia in the first issue of our new magical magazine, The World Needs More Magic. If you’d like to receive a special gift copy of that, sign up for our monthly newsletter!

Sonia Benito
Magic and movement

Follow Sonia on Instagram
Find out more about her on her website

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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