The Magic of Business … How business leaders can embrace their inner magician, to find new sources of innovation and growth

October 12, 2018

A rabbit out of a hat, a card trick, the mystery of something appearing that wasn’t there before. Can you recall the first magic trick you saw? No matter what the trick was, the feeling it left behind is what stayed with you–the awe, the wonder and the excitement, the idea of greater possibilities.

I have worked with Turkish business leader Tanyer Sonmezer for almost 20 years. Whenever I arrive in Istanbul, he greets me in his office overlooking the Bosphorus with a big smile, often a hug.

Having trained as a mechanical engineering at the Middle East Technical University, he instead chose a business career, spending a decade as a general manager at Michelin. Since 2002 he has been the leader of Management Centre Turkey (MCT), taking the organisation from a small training company to the most trusted education and networking platform for business in Turkey today. To most business leaders, MCT is Tanyer Sonmezer.

He is ubiquitous in the boardrooms of Istanbul, but he has also led change programs in Greece, Ukraine, Belarus, Macedonia, Moldova and Dubai. Along the way he gained a masters in marketing, an MBA, and then constantly topping up his toolkit with programs at Harvard, Oxford, Stanford and beyond. And he’s written two books, with two more on the way – look out for The Fourth Manager. Growth strategies and innovation workshops, design thinking or 6 thinking hats. He’s your man.

Asked what his role actually is he says “chef, magician, pilot, photographer, and keynote speaker aside, I prefer to be an ordinary hero for those who love making ideas happen”.

In September he joined me on stage in Odense, for this year’s Thinkers50 European Business Forum. Whilst the great names of business education were here talking about the future of blockchain, sustainable innovation and revolutions in management thinking, I asked Tanyer to talk about his passion for magic. As a child he grew up working in an amusement park, and quickly acquired the fast hand of a fairground entertainer.

Today, he embraces over 100 magic tricks to explain the realities of business, the opportunities of creativity, and engaging people to think differently, to change their minds, and look deeper at what they see. Here’s an interview with Tanyer Sonmezer just after walking off the stage:

In many ways, running a company requires knowing a little bit of magic. Here are five simple lessons in using a magician’s approach to help navigate today’s challenging business environment:

Trick 1. Know your audience.

You cannot forget who you’re performing for–the audience is the most essential part of an act. Different performances will resonate with different audiences.

Years of adapting and adjusting my performance as a magician has helped me today to shift my message depending on who I’m meeting: a customer, a partner, a venture capitalist, or even an employee. It is important that I go into each meeting understanding what will be mutually beneficial to both parties and perform accordingly.

Our customers want to hear the magic of how our technology will solve their problem–how do we increase mobile application testing efficiency by running hundreds and thousands of test cases on multiple cell phones and tablets, making sure their app works on each and every one?

Our investors want to understand the strategy for growth and what that means for their return on investment.

And our employees want to hear the optimistic future of the company and where he or she can help drive the momentum. Each audience needs a message that caters to them.

Trick 2. Show them what they want to see.

How do you convince the audience that the seemingly impossible is, in fact, possible? This is the core role of a magician. We all know that people don’t step into a box, get sawed in half, and walk away completely unharmed. Similar to performing an illusion that requires the magician to push the limits of the human mind, leaders need to persuade others to trust and follow and believe in their vision, strategy, and product.

The best magician in business was Steve Jobs, who was quoted as saying “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Remember when the iPod first came to market? No one realized they needed (or wanted) music in their pocket. But Apple sold 600,000 iPods in its first year.

Successful companies provide a solution to a problem or challenge that the market may not yet be experiencing. A true leader and visionary must convince customers to make a purchase before they know they need it or can implement it.

Trick 3. Add a little mystery.

The most important element in magic, mystery, is the idea of not knowing how something is done but somehow seeing it happen right before your eyes. In business this mystery is referred to as a company’s value proposition or key differentiators.

A successful magician never discloses how a trick was performed and will continuously evolve by adding new tricks into his or her repertoire to keep the act from getting stale or mundane. Companies must do the same: constantly improve, innovate, and push the envelope to create new barriers to entry in the market and further distance themselves from competitors.

Trick 4. Make it personal.

As important as change and evolution are to success, personalization is equally as imperative. Performing magic taught me that the value of a personal touch is immeasurable and invaluable.

Capturing a look of amazement in an audience member or making eye contact with someone at that moment when the impossible occurs is priceless. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for every problem; and to best serve my customers, make them happy, and solve their complex problems, I need to work closely with them to offer a unique solution tailored to their specific needs.

Trick 5. Build up to the magical moment.

That moment when the tiger appears in the empty cage or when the magician disappears into thin air in flames is the kind of magic that everyone reacts to.

The business environment is very similar. There is nothing like that moment when the customer suddenly “gets it” and gives you the nod, signaling you have managed to impress him, or the investor suddenly seeing the light: the business potential in your idea, your dream, your technology, or your execution. And there is nothing like that feeling where you realize your audience just had that magical moment.

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