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Using magic to demonstrate leadership

By Josh Curtis, AAC Government Affairs Director

In July I attended the NACo Annual Conference. During the opening general session, David Kwong, an illusionist, magician and crossword puzzle maker, shared his insight on the thought processes of magicians to “pull back the curtain on magic” for the crowd.

Using magic tricks, Scrabble hacks and a deck of cards, he taught county officials how to see the world from a different perspective and learn valuable lessons about being leaders, according to a NACo article about the opening general session.

“Magic in a sense is a puzzle. It’s a way to challenge your brain to see if you can work out the solution,” he said.

Well, the first thing we need to address: is magic not inherently manipulative, and are you deceiving people? You can take it that way, but Kwong is asking you to use your powers for good. There are ways you can use illusion to increase your own command and control in life to get a step ahead. That’s the spirit of what he’s talking about.

Kwong said a fundamental aspect of magic is preparing ahead of time and described the principle of magic, which occurs when there is an excess amount of preparation that an audience would doubt went into a trick.

He explained a trick that he performed at a man’s house. The man knew of Kwong’s work and wanted he and his friend to come over and do some tricks. Kwong did several magic acts. At the end of the night the man begged for one more. Kwong had been planning for the final trick well in advance.

He described the “deepest, darkest secret of magic” as the illusion of free choice: If you can get your audience believing that they are dictating how the trick goes, they will more readily buy into the illusion.

Kwong and his partner had arrived at the house two hours beforehand to set up the final trick. They went to the back yard and buried 52 cards in the flower beds. They also made a map and memorized it so they could point to any card the guy might draw. Adding to the illusion, he and his partner arrived at the house late. They said they had had trouble finding the address. After the man talked the duo into preforming one final trick, Kwong asked if there was an open space that has lots of room to accommodate the trick.

The man said “let’s go to the back yard it’s just the spot you are looking for.” It was totally his idea so he would never have dreamed that cards were buried out there. The homeowner was stunned when he was told your card is under the yellow and red flower beside the fencepost. The perception was built up so much that he had no idea that it was even possible for cards to be back there. After the initial shock, Kwong said there is a two of hearts under the big green leaf next to the sprinkler. Then his partner pulled out an Ipad and played a video of the duo hiding all 52 cards earlier in the day.

Kwong compared this to having a good idea at work and convincing a boss it was his or her idea, which will result in the idea moving forward. He referred to the “choice of architects,” where someone controls the choices of others or nudges someone to take a certain action, according to the NACo article.

Kwong transferred this concept to leadership, saying leaders know how to get an audience, followers or employees to make decisions that are good for them, according to the NACo article.

“You’ll find when you can empower other people to make decisions, the overall fact is that they will be more engaged in the outcome,” Kwong said.

He showed off his magic skills to the crowd by doing sleight-of-hand card tricks, pulling a dollar bill out of a kiwi, and using random Scrabble words where the scores added up to the numbers on the bottom of the dollar bill pulled out of the kiwi, according to the NACo article. I figured how he did this trick, but I don’t want to give away all his secrets.

“My hope is that you can take some of these principles and think about them and apply them to your life in not a manipulative way but rather embrace them as a way that you can get ahead in your own situations and have more control in your own life,” he said.

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