In Pursuit of Magic

Would You Know It When You Find It?


For me, there is very little difference between magic and art. To me, the ultimate act of magic is to create something from nothing: It’s like when the stage magician pulls the rabbit from the hat. ~Alan Moore

The rabbit was in the hat the whole time.

Not so magical, now, huh?

There’s a weird thing that happens when someone learns a magic trick, and it happens in an instant. This precise moment can teach us a lot about our businesses, relationships, and life in general.

The Situation

Imagine you’re at a magic show and something happens that really, truly, affects you. It turns your whole world upside down, and you can’t seem to let it go.

You know there’s a trick to it, but you can’t possibly imagine how that could be.

You leave the show, and you’re still thinking of it for days afterward. It’s like a fishhook in your mind that keeps digging in deeper and deeper.

Eventually you decide you’ve had enough, and you’re going to find out how it works even if it kills you.

You drive to one of the few remaining magic shops, and tell your story to the guy behind the counter.

“Yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about,” he says. “You probably don’t actually want to know how it works. It’s kind of advanced, but if you really want it, I’m not going to say no. It’s in this 5 page pamphlet and it explains everything. That’ll be $200.”

The Decision

It’s a lot of money for a single trick, but considering how big an impact it had on you, $200 is actually kinda cheap to finally know.

“Now, once a secret’s told, the secret is sold. There’s no returning the secret, so there’s no returning your money. Got it?”

You nod and swipe your card. He hands you the pamphlet.

30 seconds later you look up from the pages and say, “It’s just mirrors?”

“It’s just mirrors.”

And then it happens. This peculiar moment. Something snaps:

“That’ll never fool anybody!”


Before you dismiss this scenario as being too far fetched, let me tell you from personal experience, it happened all. the. time.

I worked at a magic shop in Universal Studios for a little over a year. This was before Harry Potter world was built, and we enjoyed a monopoly on the magic business at the park for a glorious year and a half.

People would see a magic trick demonstrated, have their mind blown, buy the trick, and come back later saying this would never fool anybody.

All the time.

They’re fooled so badly that they’re willing to spend good money to learn how it works, so they can do it themselves, and immediately discount the method.

What In The World Is Going On?!

Methods are too simple.

I think it really boils down to that.

When we look at people our industry who have achieved so much, we feel compelled to figure out what it is that they’re doing different. We give everything to know what they know. We go to seminars. We attend workshops. We go on retreats.

And they share their secrets.

Except; there are no secrets. They’re guarding empty vaults.

We keep thinking there has to be something else because the answers are too simple. But, that’s what makes them a genius solution. The answers are so painfully obvious, people ignore them.

When you truly wrap you mind around this little truth, it’ll blow your world apart. It’s often the simplest methods that get the most results. Stop trying to make things too complicated!

In the world of magic it’s almost always string, mirrors, or sleight of hand.

In the world of business it’s almost always great customer service, providing value, and follow-up.

Stop chasing secrets and start practicing your basics, and you’ll be light years ahead of everyone who is chasing the next big secret.

Let them believe in fairytales while you work your magic.

Blinking In Business

If you’re a mentalist, like me, you’d instantly recognize the number 793.8. I’ve often thought of getting it tattooed somewhere on my body it’s that important.

What is it?

The Dewey Decimal number for the library’s Magic & Mentalism section.

First Mentors

The mountains of North Carolina isn’t well known for being a hotbed of magic, so the authors of the 5 or 6 books in the McDowell county library were my first mentors. Every day after school I’d spend 2 hours reading & re-reading every page of each magic book on the shelves.

If you’ve never read an instructional magic book, there’s a peculiar thing you’ve probably never thought about.

How do magicians practice without a volunteer?

The answer in all the magic books from the 50’s I grew up reading is to run through the routine while standing in front of a mirror. This gives you the best approximation of how a spectator would see your trick.

This helps you understand a volunteer’s sight lines, how to hold your hand to make sure nobody sees the card hidden there, and so on.

Mental Hiccup

There’s a peculiar thing that happens, though. When you’re practicing that secret move nobody is supposed to see, your brain “helps you out” by making sure you blink when you do it in the mirror.

It’s the weirdest thing.

To you, the trick looks perfect. Every time you do the “move,” there’s absolutely nothing to see. . . to you. In the mirror, it seems flawless.

You think you have all the moves down perfectly, but you’re completely unaware of your habit of blinking.

Until you try it out in real life, for a real person.

“I saw that.”

You’re more surprised it went wrong than they would be had it gone right.

“There’s no way they could have seen the move!” you think. But there’s no arguing they nailed you.

How?!

It’s a complete mystery to you.

The problem is, you’re completely unaware of your blinking habit. It’s completely subconscious.

Much like using verbal fillers like “uhhh,” “umm,” “like,” “ya know,” etc. They fly right under the radar.

Flash Forward 70 Years

Nowadays everybody has a whole production studio in their pocket; HD video cameras in every phone.

They see everything.

Now, you can record your routine, and replay it exactly as you performed it.

The camera doesn’t blink.

Now you can get an unbiased (and brutally honest) view of how you’re actually performing. No illusions.

You need an outside view of your performance to identify your weak areas. Improving is almost impossible without it. Otherwise your tendency to blink will keep you blind to what’s going wrong.

Blinking In Business

How many managers & CEOs have you seen who are driving their business into the ground, but they’d rate themselves as fantastic leaders?

Weird, right?

It’s the same mental hiccup that helps you protect the idea of who you are against the reality of who you are when they’re in conflict.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

Few people are capable of honestly & accurately evaluating themselves.

Fewer still are willing.

Better Than Video

As good as having an unblinking eye is for improving, there’s something that works even better: a real life mentor.

Having someone who is an expert at identifying where you’re “blinking” in business & life, and who can show you what to do instead, will help you improve the absolute fastest way possible.

It’s an unfortunate reality that those who would benefit the most from this kind of help are the least likely to seek it out.

If you, however, are interested in helping yourself get more out of life, let’s talk.

I’d love to help you stop fooling yourself.

Effect First Thinking

When a magician is creating something new, there are 2 parts of the equation.

  1. The Effect: What do I want the audience to experience?
  2. The Method: How am I going to make that happen?

In a good show, the magician puts most of his time into answering the first question as clearly as possible, and then devoting excessive amounts of time & effort to figuring out the second question.

He allows the effect to dictate his choices.

When it’s a decision between two options:

  1. The easy way that diminishes the effect, or
  2. The difficult way that enhances the effect

The good magician will choose the second option every time.

It’s not unusual for a magician to spend a couple years working on a method if it’s the difference between an ok trick and a perfect trick.

Backwards

Sometimes, however, a method can be so ingenious, novel, or fun that a magician tries to come up with a trick that would justify using that method. This, however, rarely creates something truly spectacular.

To use a common saying, “This is the tail wagging the dog.”

Your Business

Many people who aren’t where they want to be suffer from “Method First Thinking.” They allow where they are to dictate where they want to go.

So often when I ask clients what they want, they can’t tell me. If you don’t know where you want to go (the what), focusing on the how isn’t going to do you any good.

Get absolutely clear on what you want in your life, and then figure out how to make that happen. Not the other way around.

Focus on the effect, first & the method becomes secondary.

The Magic of a Simple Business

Here’s something super cool about my life: Steve Martin and I are on the same career trajectory.

Sure, he’s 30 years ahead of me, but I’m close on his heels.

Little known fact about him is he got his start working at a magic shop in Disneyland in California.

One of my favorite weird jobs I’ve had over the years was selling magic at Universal Studios in Orlando.

There are other overlaps, but this is the one that matters today.

The one I worked at was an old-school magic shop, and we sold the hell out of floating cards, disappearing coins, magic playing cards, and all manner of gags.

This was before Harry Potter World, and all that jazz. No, we were telling people on a once in a lifetime vacation that they should wait to ride Jaws and come inside to see some magic, instead.

And they did.

We would pack them into our tiny demonstration room and then we’d start our spiel show. It was a well rehearsed, carefully choreographed 15 minute demonstration of magic tricks that were easy to do, but would amaze anyone.

Our small audience of soon-to-be buyers would “oohhhh” and “ahhhhhh.” They would think about all the ways they could finally impress that girl they’ve loved since 3rd grade.

We would perform miracle after miracle, all the while reassuring them that anyone (over 6 years old) could do what we were doing.

People had a hard time accepting that it really could be easy to do. “Because,” they thought, “if it were actually that easy to do, it would be that easy to figure it out.

We’d wrap up the demonstration and direct them to the counter where they could buy everything they saw us do (and more!).

They would fork over hundreds of dollars, and if it was a slow day we’d even teach them a trick or two.

We’d swear them to secrecy, take the trick out of the box, and then show them how it works.

They’d get a strange look on their face as their brain caught up to reality and then say:

But, that wouldn’t fool anybody!

How strange!

2 minutes earlier, they were completely baffled with no plausible explanation how such a miracle could even be possible. 2 minutes later they’ve seen the step-by-step process, and they’re convinced it would never work.

Why is that?

It was too simple

And that’s the biggest secret of all.

Success is simple. It really is.

We want it to be difficult. We want it to be a struggle. We want to convince ourselves that hard work is the only way to get ahead in life.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You can get results that look completely impossible (to someone on the outside) with methods that are remarkably easy.

The trick is knowing how it all fits together.

When I do my consulting work with clients, I’m often reminded of those people in the magic shop who are adamant that “This will never work!”

I get it. It’s too simple. You want it to be a miracle. You want to impress the world with how clever you are. You want to be a champion!

Well, let your results do that. There are easier ways of getting through life than telling everyone it can’t be done.

Don’t interrupt those of us who are doing it.

Stage Name

What I Learned About Personal Branding When I Picked My Stage Name

Maybe you don’t need a stage name. Maybe you don’t have thousands of fans who want to track down where you live. Maybe you don’t want to create an entirely fictitious persona for fun & profit.

But here’s why you should still care about branding.

Branding isn’t something only companies should think about. Anyone interested in getting more out of life should think about their branding, and here’s why.

Personal branding allows you to take the lead in how people see you. It allows you to control the narrative others use when talking about you (and if you brand correctly they will be talking about you). If you craft a distinctive brand, you can position yourself as an expert in your field instead of being just another person who does the same thing as everyone else.

About 8 years ago I was the tour manager for Brian Brushwood. One late night after a show we were talking about showbiz and I said, “I should come up with a stage name.”

That’s the instant everything changed.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but what started with that one idea was the beginning of crafting my own brand. Taking ownership of how I choose to present myself to the world has improved my business, established my career, and even helped in my personal life.

Here are the lessons I’ve learned from creating not only a stage name, but an entire stage character, and how you can apply that experience in your own life (even if you never intend on going into showbiz).

Get Specific

In the magic world it’s not uncommon to see a business card that say, “Perfect for all occasions!” Really? How about funerals? Do you do those? Don’t think so.

The more general you are, the fewer reasons you give someone to pick you. Beige makes no statement.

When considering my character I knew I wanted to have fun on stage. I don’t want to come across as taking myself too seriously.

That’s where the “Jonny” part comes into play.

And then I added the tagline: “Psychic of the Year 2017!” It’s a great litmus test for my audiences. If they start laughing right away I know they understand it’s a joke. If they compliment me on the achievement, I might have to be a little less subtle with the comedy.

Sidenote: When I came up with that tagline, it was 8 years ago. 2017 seemed like it was so far away. How time flies, right? So, at the end of the month I’m going to update it to 2027. I think that has a nice ring to it, and it’ll be more obvious that it’s a joke again.

So I got specific about what kind of experience I wanted my audience to have (fun!), what venues I wanted to work (absolutely zero children), and what kind of material I choose (only mind reading). The more specific I got, the easier time I had finding people who wanted me. Instead of saying, “I’m great for everything!” I’m able to say, “I’m perfect for your event because here are my specialties, and here’s where they overlap with what you have going on.”

This has paid off numerous times for TV opportunities, show bookings, and all the way down the line. Instead of being lumped in with all “magicians” I’m able to stand out because I’m distinctly unique as compared to everyone else being considered for the slot. It’s the law of supply & demand: the more rare something is, the more money it can demand.

It also allows me to turn down opportunities I know aren’t a good match.

Without getting crystal clear on what I’m about, I’d have no way to judge what’s a good fit and what’s not. (That also means the people thinking about hiring me have no idea what to say “yes” to, either.)

What’s the Narrative?

After my show when people talk to their friends, I want them to mainly talk about how much fun they had, and how much they laughed. Then I want them to talk about how they were able to do things they had no idea they could do, and wonder what else they might be able to do if they put their mind to it. And, lastly, I want them to talk about what a fun, smart, engaging, likeable guy I am.

Once I figure out the experience, I can then work on choosing tricks that will do the best job of telling that story. I now have a story that guides my marketing. It guides my interactions with people I work with. It informs every decision I make.

Same goes with your own story.

What story are you telling yourself? The answer to this will tell you what story you’re telling other people, too. It affects the people you choose to date. The jobs you take. What you allow others to do to you.

In short, everything.

That’s the power of your story.

Reputation Building

Proverbs 22:1 “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

But it’ll also make you rich.

When you answer all the questions about who you want to be, and then put those answers into practice, you’ll start building a reputation. That reputation will make or break your career & personal life.

Your reputation, like trust, is built slowly. A good reputation is built even slower.

To destroy it can take only a moment.

It’s like a tree; takes years to grow, but you can chop it down in minutes.

Everything you say yes to contributes to your reputation. Everything you say no to contributes to your reputation. Sometimes it’s even more important to say no than yes. . .

Anything that doesn’t meet the bar you’ve set for yourself should ruthlessly be cut from your life. The higher your standards, the better your reputation. The higher standard you set for yourself, the bigger the rewards you’ll get because of it.

Allow Yourself to Grow

When I first started figuring out who “Jonny Zavant” is, I was all over the place. I did a trick with a pet cockroach that spelled words people were thinking of.  I had a mohawk.

I thought I was punk.

But my show is much less aggressive than punk, so all the grungy fonts and dirty textures I was using over my imagery didn’t fit the experience people had.

I was heavily influenced by my mentors, and I was mostly parroting what had worked for them. Once I allowed myself to really settle into what I wanted to say instead of what others were saying, I really settled into an approach that worked for me.

Be Prepared for Resistance

It felt weird when I first started introducing myself as Jonny Zavant. It was awkward. I felt stiff.

My mom didn’t like it.

She said the name I already had was strong enough, so why not just use that.

My longtime friends gave me shit about it. “Going Hollywood, huh?”

Eventually people got on board, and it’s just part of what makes me “me.”

What’s Your Stage Name?

Maybe you won’t go so far as creating a stage name for yourself. Maybe you’ll never get in front of an audience, either.

But you should still make time to deeply consider how what kind of reputation you want to build for yourself. It affects your personal & professional relationships in ways you’ll never know.

My friend CJ’s favorite saying is: “A man is only as good as his word.”

What a powerful statement! And it’s exactly what you need to think about when you’re doing your own personal branding.

Now, when you start making changes, you’ll see resistance from your friends, family, and coworkers.

Maybe they resent your success. Maybe they’ll think you’re just being fake. Maybe they like you the way you are, and don’t think you need to change.

Whatever their reason for wanting you not to change (& their desire to keep you in the box they’ve chosen to put you in) doesn’t mean you’re obligated to stay there.

Figure out who you want to be, and then do what you have to to make sure that’s the person people talk about when your name comes up.

Do it right and it’ll make you wealthy.

Words Are Magic

Just now I was looking out the window letting my mind wander as I do quite often, and a weird thought popped into my head.

Put the right words in the right order and you can get someone to give you money, fall in love, or even start a war.

That’s magic.

Persuasive writing is one of the most powerful skills you could ever hope to work on. And why writing instead of speaking? When you speak, you might in front of a room full of 2,000 people but you’re only going to connect with them in that moment. If you write the same words, you now can reach anyone from then until the end of time.

There are authors who died centuries ago, but whose thoughts remain just as relevant today as when they were first written. (I’m looking at you Marcus Aurelius. . .)

If you want to get better at writing words that create action (specifically someone taking dollars out of their wallet and handing them to you), then check out the Boron Letters. It’s a series of lessons framed as letters from a father writing to his son from prison.

The website is atrocious, but don’t let that keep you from digging in. There’s gold in there.

Go find it!

Magic of Success

Magicians are in the business of creating experiences that are absolutely mind blowing. No matter how impossible it seems, however, tricks work by making use of natural principles of nature.

If you look at people who are massively successful, it can seem like it happened as if by magic. They started a company and *POOF* they’re incredibly successful.

Success, no matter how incredible, is the result of effort applied in accordance to certain fundamental principles. I’m going to explain how magicians do what they do to help you understand what it takes to be successful in your own way.

I’m not supposed to do this.

I’ve consulted for Criss Angel. I’ve performed at the world-famous Magic Castle in LA. I’ve entertained United States troops stationed overseas.

I’ve been in magic my whole life, and I know my way around the world of mystery.

What I’m about to tell you is absolutely forbidden in the magical community; I’m going to reveal the secret to every single trick you’ve ever seen in your life.

Not only that, once you’re in the know, I’m going to explain exactly how you can use that knowledge to conjure results in your personal & business life that will look like pure magic to outsiders.

Anyone looking in won’t be able to comprehend how you can get incredible results, but you and I will both know there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Here Goes

Magic is boring.

There, I said it.

That’s the biggest secret in magic; just how simple it truly is.

People want magic to be this exotic thing that lives in a secret dusty room holding arcane knowledge, rituals, spells, and even a hex or two. But when it comes right down to it, magic is actually elegant in its simplicity.

Sure, there are magical masterpieces requiring feats of engineering and technology that are phenomenally complex to create, but no matter how complicated the machinery every single trick you’ve heard about is built on fundamental psychological principles that work across all cultures.

Those principles reveal truths about how we, as people, navigate the world, make decisions, & think about ourselves.

I’m going to dive into what it all means for business, relationships, and beyond.

*pulls a book on the shelf which swings open to reveal a dusty room, and walks in*

The Secret To Every Magic Trick Ever

 “The magician creates the context for logical assumptions that are later shown to not be true.” ~Jonathan Pritchard

Forgive me for quoting myself, but I want to make sure the world knows I said it first.

There’s a lot going on in the quote, so let me break it down piece by piece, and explain how it applies to other worlds outside magical performance.

The Magician…

This is the agent of action. This is the person who is making things happen. This is you.

Since prehistory, magicians (shamans, spirit guides, etc) have fulfilled a very important role in societies as someone who understands the forces of nature, and uses that knowledge to bend reality to his/her will.

They are considered to be in possession of knowledge that is beyond ordinary comprehension, and capable of creating miracles.

I love that idea because it is so very close to reality. Everyone knows something that seems so obvious to them, but appears completely mystifying to anyone else. In this way, we are all magicians of our own lives. We understand the world in a unique way, and we can all use that power to create amazing results.

…creates the context…

Context means everything. Context is the reason a comedian can call someone a name and everyone in the room laughs, but if you try it at a bar you’ll get a lesson in manners outside in the parking lot.

Context is the basis for relationships. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Everything exists in relationship to everything else in the universe. It’s the circumstances and facts around an idea or situation that helps shape its meaning.

How context is built, and used, has far-reaching implications.

A magician is on stage in a theater. People know that the magician is going to be performing tricks, and that it is a performance. These are all parts of the puzzle that come together to provide a context for the audience to enjoy the magical performance.

The experience is further crafted through the performer’s words, actions, music, lights, and every other tool of stagecraft at his disposal. Every element in use helps create a context which creates a reality where magic lives.

Just like the magician, you create the context in which other people perceive you. Everything you do, everything you say, everything you wear, etc. creates the context in which people can understand you.

Once you realize you are in control of how you are presenting yourself to the world, you can start taking ownership for the results you are getting (or not).

…for logical assumptions…

“I am turned into a sort of machine for observing facts and grinding out conclusions.” ~Charles Darwin

The magician shows a coin in his right hand, drops it in his left hand and closes his fingers around it into a fist. With the wave and snap of his fingers the coin vanishes.

Magic!

Your eyes saw the coin in his right hand, and watched the hand turn over above his left palm. You know the coin drops into the left palm because gravity is a fundamental force of nature. Logical.

And that’s where the magician leads your mind astray.

It’s logical to assume that if you turn your hand over, the coin will fall to the floor.

What’s not logical is to think a person has spent 20 years learning how to hold a coin with the muscles of the hand in a way to make it look empty from above.

The magician doesn’t announce, “Behold, my empty right hand!” He just behaves in a way (creating the context) that would make you think it’s empty (logical assumption).

If he were to state “My right hand is empty” he knows you would immediately challenge him immediately. Instead, he behaves as if the hand is empty, your mind tells you it’s empty, and you believe it. After all, why would you lie to yourself?

To help us navigate the world, our minds help build guidelines and general rules about how the world works (like gravity will make a coin fall from an open hand when turned over), and uses these as shortcuts to decision making.

These assumptions operate at a level that precedes conscious thought. You aren’t even aware that your mind is doing that for you. If you want to discover what kind of assumptions you’re working with, look to the major points of conflict in your life. You’ll be sure to find beliefs and ideas about what is true about the world that is out of alignment with reality.

The most powerful way to change your perception of the world is to challenge your beliefs and fundamental assumptions about reality. It can be uncomfortable, but if you want change in your life, you’re going to need to work on the assumptions that are dictating your reality.

…that are later shown to not be true…

In the example of the coin disappearing, your assumptions about coins dropping towards the floor creates a narrative in your mind that tells you that the coin is now in the magician’s left hand.

The more you trust your own conclusions (based on “logical” assumptions) and the longer you hold those beliefs, the stronger the magical effect will be when it’s revealed that things aren’t how you thought they were.

In the context of a magic show, this experience is fun. It makes people laugh, clap, and gasp with wonder.

In the context of the real world, this experience can be devastating. You thought you had the contract and your client (seemingly) suddenly goes with another agency. You thought your partner was faithful, and you find out they’re not.

The list can go on forever.

And, it can be incredibly empowering.

You thought you couldn’t depend on anyone else, but the whole community shows up to help you (The plot behind, “It’s a Wonderful Life”).

Things aren’t always as they seem, and if you find yourself in a reality where things don’t match up with how you thought they are, then it’s your assumptions that need revising.

Conclusion

That’s the secret to magic and success.

Context is everything, your assumptions dictate your perception of reality, and sometimes life isn’t what it seems (and that can be a great thing!).

If you’ve found this article helpful, I’d sure appreciate you sharing it with your friends. Let’s help make the world a better place by promoting great material!

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns feel free to leave a comment, or message me directly. I read everything that comes through the inbox.

Let’s start a conversation.