The magic of mastery

A magic trick works precisely because we don’t know how it is performed.

A sureshot way to ruin a magic show is to find out how all the tricks are performed. Because we like to be dazzled by magic, we don’t do this. We preserve the magic by keeping its performance a secret.

Savants across fields seem like magicians. When Seth Godin speaks in public, TM Krishna sings a carnatic raga, or Magnus Carlen plays speed chess, they appear to be performing one magic trick after the other. And since we want to preserve the magic, we don’t try to think about how they do what they do.

With the right training and practice, anybody can learn to perform a magic trick. Mastery seems like magic, and like magic, it can be learnt.

Magic in our pockets

In the world of Harry Potter, wizards and witches stayed in touch by sending each other owls.

Given that the book was set in a pre-internet, pre-smartphone era, sending scrawls of paper attached to owls was seen as a ‘magical’ means of communicating.

In the 25 years since the series was invented, we have far superior means of staying in touch. I am sure nobody would trade-off communicating with a smartphone or via video conferencing with owl post. Not even the wizards and the witches of the Harry Potter world.

Yet, given that we have grown up along with these technologies, we fail to recognize them as being magical.

Arthur C. Clarke was right when he remarked that ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. The innovators among us are those whose eyes shine with the same wonder on seeing new technology, as those of a little child when she flicks across the magical pages of the Harry Potter world.