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How Stage Magic Can Inspire Business Magic

Monte Wyatt & Brad Sugars, Jan 14, 2020


Stage magic is magical because it's designed to be. Its point is to create situations where it's easier to believe in mystical occurrences than in all the painstaking work and intricate details that go into the presentation. For example, when a blindfolded magician precisely describes an item belonging to a member of the audience, we're much more likely to label it ESP than to imagine that the magician and his assistant have memorized hundreds of specific phrases to describe any item an audience member is likely to have brought to the theater. C’mon, who does that?

Who works that hard? Effective magicians. And the harder they work behind the scenes, the more successful they become because it's easier to believe in magic than in the labor it takes to make something look effortless. The subtle lesson here is that a person with extraordinary powers has a value that the rest of us don't.

This belief holds true in business, too. Think of the late Steve Jobs, Apple's co-founder, who was often referred to as a magician who pulled off miracles no one else could accomplish.

There’s a reason people call such feats magic. Magical thinking makes us feel good: Hey, I can't do what Steve Jobs did! He had superpowers no other mortal could hope to have! Let's face” if Steve Jobs were just a regular guy who worked super hard, the rest of us would have no excuses for failing to achieve the success we say we want.

We believe Jobs actually was a magician” though not one with supernatural powers. Jobs was a magician like the one in the classic magic trick The Miser's Dream, whose showmanship concealed a lot of very hard work. And like successful stage magicians who string together a bunch of minor tricks to create major illusions, Jobs very carefully combined the business disciplines found in any company into a single integrated idea designed to astonish audiences. And we're not just talking about the home computer, the iPod, and the iPhone. Jobs and Apple worked their magic into every factor of their business.

A while ago, we were in the middle of a city on a trip and discovered we had left our iPhone chargers at home. With time before our train, we walked to the Apple store. Through its giant glass doors and windows we were able to admire its pristine layout of long tables set with row after row of Apple products. That was it. No merchandise on the floor. No sales counters, nothing extraneous. Everything on view was a subtle reminder of the effortlessness that Apple promises its customers.

At 9:45 a.m., the Apple store wasn’t yet open, but there was an Apple employee outside, using an iPad to set up tech appointments for the small crowd of customers who were already waiting. Through the windows of other stores, we could see other employees, on the clock, waiting to open their shops precisely at 10.

Once inside Apple, as everyone else went to their tech appointments, an employee immediately greeted us and took us to a wall of accessories. As we talked with him about our trip and favorite places to travel, he ran our credit card through his iPad and the receipt spat out from a hidden printer. There were no counters to come between us and there were no slamming cash register drawers. The effect was that we were having a conversation, not conducting a monetary transaction.

We were on our way in no time; yet, for the rest of the day, our minds kept returning to our Apple experience and how it felt like a magic show, where all of the technology, practice, planning, support, and mess of modern commerce was invisible. It's a tech company with a human face.

Adding zeros is our term for how it’s possible to take what’s in front of you and increase its value by adding a zero to it.

Now think about any aspect of your business and how adding a zero to the end of it makes it that much larger. For example, if you added a zero to the return on investment (ROI) you get from your marketing efforts, and a zero to your average lifetime customer value, those two increases would multiply each other, and the resulting number would be large. Exponentially large. Now imagine that every aspect of your business” team morale, revenue, margins, customer loyalty, sales, everything” has a zero added to it. The result is ginormous.

Consider how Apple added zeros to its store:

  • An employee already on the clock makes appointments for people so that the moment the doors open, the store wastes no time in making money.
  • Glass doors and windows are as large as possible and clutter is removed to emphasize Apple’s streamlined approach to life.
  • Technology is used to increase an employee’s ability to engage with a customer.

Like a magician finding a coin in midair where the rest of us saw nothing, Apple has taken the ordinary and found value in it. Every one of its investments (windows, employees, inventory control, technology, etc.) has had zeros added to it, increasing its value. More important, each zero-enhanced investment multiplies the value of the others, creating exponential growth.

And this is just a single store, just one of the many opportunities Apple has for adding zeros. Is it any wonder they’re among the largest companies in the world?

To recap, adding zeros is the idea that it’s possible to take what’s in front of you and increase its value by adding a zero to it. Now think about any aspect of your business and how adding a zero to the end of it makes it that much larger.

We'd love to hear from you. Where are you adding zeros in your company? And where can you? Thank you for sharing.