The Surprising Secret of Magic in Business

The Surprising Secret of Magic in Business

Magic is the art of transformation. Andrew Bennett uses it to teach people how to rethink possibilities and obstacles, opening the door to new ways of thinking and acting.

Andrew Bennett: Keynote Speaker, 2x TEDx Presenter, Leadership Consultant, Executive Coach, University Professor, and World-Class Magician at

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How can we create workplaces where every voice matters, everyone thrives and finds meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?

Andrew Bennett: First, what you described in your question has to be valued by leaders as a basic starting point. We credit Milton Friedman with saying the sole purpose of business is profitability and return on investment to shareholders. In his opinion, that’s the only obligation that a business has. I think his idea has been a prevailing focus for most businesses, but there’s a growing number of people and leaders who believe business can be so much more than that. It’s a shame when it’s not.

It begins with a leader who values people and the human spirit.

I’m very encouraged by the growing number of leaders and organizations that are creating the environment you’re describing. But it begins with a leader who values people and the human spirit. A leader who feels that it’s not enough just to have a profitable business. Someone who believes that business can be a place where people can become more of who they fully are. A place where people can bring their gifts and pursue what they care about—fulfilling that fundamental drive to make your life matter and to have meaning.

Igniting the Spirit

On a more tactical level, I’ve been doing consulting, coaching, and speaking on leadership and culture for 25 years. I believe there are three parts to your question. The first part is igniting the spirit or the heart. That means unleashing the energy available to all of us when we deeply care about something that gives us joy and fulfillment. Not just for us personally, but to make a difference in the world, serving our fellow human beings and knowing our life matters.

So how do we create those kinds of environments? From a leadership perspective, it’s looking at your organization for how it makes the world a better place and putting that first. Like all of our decisions about what we do and how we do it, is it in service of that deeper purpose? I come from Michigan, which is a big auto country. There are people who are making stuff. They’re making gaskets, mufflers, and assembling cars. It all started with Henry Ford, but if you look at his vision, it wasn’t articulated as a vision statement. He talked about the automobile becoming a way of life. It was not about profit. It was about families enjoying God’s Great Open Spaces. Those are literally the words he used. He realized the deeper purpose of his work. No matter what your organization does, if you take the time to look, you can discover it. Finding your deeper purpose gives people something to connect with. If they don’t, then there’s someplace else for them to do that.

Freeing the Mind

Another part is about freeing the mind. I think so much of what unconsciously is at play day in and day out is fear. No one wants to talk about fear. We’re afraid of talking about fear, but it shows up in the work environment. The workplace is fertile ground for fear to grow because of all the different power structures. Freeing your mind is about being aware of the role that fear plays in your life, but particularly as a leader in understanding how fear and anxiety influence how one leads. Becoming curious about that is super important. Being willing to have the humility and courage to lean into that and ask, where might I be unconscious of how fear is getting in my way? What can I do to not make it go away, but how can I work with it in a way that allows me to transcend it? And how do we address that as an organization?

Building the Culture

And that leads to the third part, which is building the culture. Building a culture where people lift each other up. Where we see the best in each other. Where the default assumption is that people do things because they mean well, not because they’ve got a sinister plot. So those three things have become the foundation in my practice for how you create the kind of environment you describe in your question. First, it’s inspire the heart and the spirit, second is freeing the mind, and third is building the culture.

You recently posted a fascinating quote on social media about the meaning of the word Abracadabra. You said almost all magicians use it but don’t really know what it means?

Andrew: It’s true. My nonscientific observation is 99.9% of magicians do not know Abracadabra is an Aramaic word that means what I speak is what I create. I was journaling one morning about 10 years ago and for whatever reason this question just popped in my head, what does Abracadabra mean?

Abracadabra is an Aramaic word that means what I speak is what I create.

This past Christmas Day, I celebrated 50 years of practicing, studying, and performing magic. Even though I’ve practiced magic for that length of time, I never used Abracadabra in my act. I thought it was a goofy word and was so cliché. But this one morning, I thought what does Abracadabra mean? I did some research and didn’t really find much other than it’s an incantation. I eventually found my way to the MIT Linguistics Department and sent them an email asking for help.

Within the hour it surprised me to get a phone call from Noam Chomsky. Now, Noam Chomsky is an intellectual force. I’ve read his books and have seen documentaries featuring him; however, I didn’t know he worked at MIT in linguistics. He told me it was almost like a newsroom environment where something comes off the ticker tape and people ask who wants to run with this story! An administrator received my email and asked, “Does anybody know what Abracadabra means?” Noam said it really caught his attention because he didn’t know its meaning. He called me and said I will research it but just wanted you to know we’re on it. So a couple days later he calls, and he says, “Are you sitting down?” He then said Abracadabra’s history is Aramaic, which is pre-Hebrew. They say Jesus spoke Aramaic, and he said it means, “I create that of which I speak.” There was a really long pause on the phone and he said, “Can you believe it?”

That’s how I discovered the meaning of Abracadabra, but I rephrased it so it would be easier to understand and more accessible. I changed it to “what I speak is what I create.” I actually have a trademark on it. But that’s the way I discovered it. It’s part of a much bigger story about my search for meaning in magic that’s coming into the spotlight now. A year ago, I formed a group of magicians from all over who are using magic for deeper purposes beyond entertainment. We meet twice a month online to support each other. We don’t talk a lot about tricks. We talk about the purpose we’re using our magic for and help each other think about ways to use magic to help people think in different ways. We have our first 3-day event in Chicago in October. The Magic on Purpose Group will work with the Association for Managers of Innovation leading a 3-day meeting.

Unfortunately, magic has been trivialized over the centuries. Its roots are in ancient tribal communities where shamans and medicine women and men would use simple magic tricks to give people a “Wow”—a sacred moment. It was a moment where you’re in touch with the Divine. It’s the experience of seeing something you thought was impossible being made possible. It’s this invisible force that is greater than your understanding of the material world.

Note: This is a preview of the full interview. The complete interview was selected by Apress for publication and continues in The Future of the Workplace.