magic

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
– Arthur C Clark

Magic has been on my mind of late. Like a lurking suspicion. A sneaky little thought trying to get out. Because, you see, magic and creativity have something in common and understanding what that is will help you, as a practitioner of the problem-solving arts, get paid a bit more. And that’s useful, right? But to begin with: sausages.

Magic and creativity have something in common

Nobody wants to see how the sausage is made, or so they say. I’d amend this slightly to say that while we all seem to want to see how the sausage gets made we all regret having seen it immediately afterwards. Therefore the proper way to say this is that nobody wants to *have seen* how the sausage gets made. We humans are foolish creatures, aren’t we?

This reclaimed meat based metaphor neatly describes why I have, until very recently. deemed the ‘Making Of’ documentary to be the worst idea to come out of Hollywood since the Star Wars prequels, and for many of the same reasons.

Like The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith, Making Of documentaries are designed on the assumption that knowing more about how something we love came to be will automatically enhance our opinion of it.

We are supposed to see the fall of The Republic and the rise of Darth Vader and come to more completely appreciate the events in Episodes 4, 5, and 6. In reality learning that Darth Vader was once a petulant, pouting man-child with mummy issues somewhat distracts from his later appearance as the most feared being in the galaxy. In the same way, a Making Of documentary is supposed to give us a sense of being involved, make us feel that we have seen something secret and special and thereby become even more besotted with the movie. The usual result, however, is to undermine the illusion and make the movie a little less magical.

“A magician never reveals his secrets.”
– Anon

Until recently I believed that the Making Of was a universally bad idea. But then I watched Backstage with Disney On Broadway. Not only did this change my mind about the irredeemability of the Making Of but it helped me understand how creatives can help their customers appreciate the value of their work and, in doing so, get paid properly.

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In Backstage with Disney On Broadway we see how Disney brings to life their animated movies as big budget live musical productions. If movies bring us clever card tricks then the theatre makes yachts disappear before our very eyes. The theatre is a place where we conjure up the impossible and transport the audience to a new world and it all happens live. With this in mind I immediately expected that I was about to have the magic of Disney On Broadway ruined for me by yet another artless cobbling of behind the scenes footage and dull interviews. But that didn’t happen.

Instead felt, having seen the Making Of, that there was even more magic than I had previously suspected. This baffled me. Seeing how the trick is done should have made it seem cheap and silly; a kind of “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” moment. Finally I realised that, far from seeing a show-all, what I had seen was just another show.

It was, in essence, a tease that only deepened the mystery

Certainly Backstage with Disney on Broadway did include some revealing information. We saw the the complicated apparatus that can make a genie appear from nowhere or turn people into lions. But there was never the impression that they were showing you exactly how it worked. It was, in essence, a tease that only deepened the mystery rather than anything approaching practical insight. Furthermore I was left with the distinct impression that being involved in a production like this required a sort of collective mania. This wasn’t the control centre, it was the mad house.

What Disney, or at least the makers of this particular Making Of, had realised then, was that if people insist on seeing how the sausage is made then it’s your job to come up with a glorious fiction to satisfy that desire. Base your fiction on fact, of course, but do not confuse information with entertainment.

Do not confuse information with entertainmentClick To Tweet

Writing about this now, I am reminded of the short videos that Apple puts out whenever they release a major new product. These videos, on the surface, are about how the product is made. But what they really do is offer a glamorous vision of the production process while deepening your belief that this is a company full of obsessive compulsive aluminium polishers.

And that brings me back to the challenge of getting paid for creative work.

The end result of the creative journey is, when done right, a product or service that is utterly new but somehow immediately feels obvious to anyone who looks at it. This is the “of course. Why didn’t I think of that?” reaction that you should always be looking for.

It is very hard to appreciate the amount of work that has gone into making something new

You see, to the casual observer, someone who has not been through the crushing grind that is an unavoidable part of true creativity, it is very hard to appreciate the amount of work that has gone into making something new. Invisible to this person are the myriad dead ends, the endless searching for answers that were right under your nose, the scrapped solutions, the almost but not quite right answers, the blood, the sweat and the tears.

**When you see magic don’t look for fairy dust, look for sweat. But if you want to make magic, never let them see you sweat.**

This is where creativity and magic meet. Just as magic relies upon what is hidden, so too does creativity depend on delivering something to the user that feels effortless. But if something feels effortless then people undervalue it. And if showing that effort would harm the magic then we seem to be at something of a dead end. But not if we learn something from Disney and Apple.

If something feels effortless then people undervalue it

If you want people to pay for your magic then what you need is showmanship. Just as Backstage with Disney On Broadway is theatre about theatre masquerading as a tell-all documentary and Apple lets you in on how it makes things in ways designed less to educate and more to enhance the image of them as obsessive geniuses, you must learn to make people aware of the effort behind you work not in a crass way but in a way which builds a feeling of awe.

If you want people to pay for your magic then what you need is showmanshipClick To Tweet

I am, by nature, agitated by those who want to make creativity into a mystery. But if a little mystery and a little showmanship is the difference between a world where creativity is valued – and we should note that both Disney and Apple make big bucks from that very thing – then even we warriors of truth and justice must learn to use a little razzle-dazzle from time to time.

Learn to use a little razzle-dazzle from time to time

The image you should keep in mind is that of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. This fantastic world has absolutely nothing to do with the making of candies and everything to do with the magic of childhood. When you take people on a tour of your Chocolate Factory, ensure that it’s more Willy Wonka than Cadbury.

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'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.' - Arthur C Clark Magic has been on my mind of late. Like a lurking suspicion. A sneaky little thought trying to get out. Because, you see, magic and creativity have something in common and understanding what that is will help you, as...
Aran Rees
Founder and Coach at Sabre Tooth Panda
Aran is a creativity coach, facilitator and communicator, founder of Sabre Tooth Panda and creator of No Wrong Answers: the hypothetical quiz. He believes that expressing creativity is all about how you and those around you relate to creativity both at an emotional and intellectual level. He helps his clients to get cosy with creativity to solve big problems and have more fun.