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Does innovation happen like magic? No. Innovation takes a lot of hard work. However, according to Stefan Thomke, professor at Harvard Business School, innovation and magic have more in common than you might think.


Great innovations, like the iPhone, create a Wow! effect when they are first introduced. These innovations, just like magic tricks, make us wonder: How did they pull this off?

Hide the solution

Creating a Wow! effect has a lot to do with showmanship, but that is not the only secret. Magicians take time to understand the nature of the problem that needs to Magic Rabitbe solved—for example, how to pull a guinea pig from an empty hat. Once the problem is understood, it still may take months to figure out a solution. Paradoxically, in spite of all this effort and hard work, to create a Wow! effect the magician has to hide that solution. To impress the audience, the trick needs to look like an effortless feat, inspiring awe and admiration.

In the idea generation phase of the innovation process, innovators similarly start by spending considerable time discovering the real problem. Next, a lot of effort is put into finding a solution. Most innovators, understandably, take a lot of pride in their engineering feats and often want to show off their solution to the consumer. But who wants to see all this effort? All the buttons, wires and complexity? We just want innovations to work and to solve our problems. Steve Jobs understood this well and made innovations like iTunes, the iPhone, and the iPad look like a magic trick, with all their complexity neatly hidden behind a slick exterior and ease of use.


What else can we learn from magicians? Well, that failure is part of the process. Even if you are performing at the top of your abilities, things will still go wrong on occasion. After all, for a magician, failure, practice and improvement are part and parcel of the work to be done. How does your organization deal with innovation failure? Is it similarly considered to be an integral and necessary part of your performance?

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Stefan Thomke, 2014, Innovation is Magic, Really, Harvard Business School Blog