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Stories From The Road: Park Avenue, New York

3 min read

People see what they like to see and it’s the magician’s job to make them look in the right place at the right time. It’s all about how you frame the trick. Or in life, the conversation.

Recently I’ve been sharing stories that illustrate one of the five fundamental narratives a leader can tell to move people to action.

  1. The who I am story.
  2. The who we are story
  3. The what we have learned story
  4. The how can we change story
  5. The how to see things differently to improve your life, work and the world around you story.

Today we’ve a great example of how-to-see-things-differently from Isaac Rodriguez, President of The Provident Loan Society. Provident Loan is a not-for-profit that’s been serving New Yorkers since 1893.

Isaac understands the importance of seeing things differently because at a young age he fell in love with magic.

When I was six I got a magic kit and spent hours learning all these tricks. The first thing you learn is something called the Magician’s Choice. Magician’s Choice works like this.

At this point Isaac took a quarter out of his pocket and with a flourish of fingers and a turn of his wrist put the coin in his right hand. He then presented me with two closed fists and said:

Okay, pick a hand.

I, having seen where he’d put the quarter, picked his right hand. And sure enough, in the palm of his right hand, sat the silvery profile of George Washington.

Now, what if you hadn’t seen which hand I put the quarter in? Then which hand would you have picked?

He put both of his hands behind his back, made a big show of moving the quarter back and forth a few times between them and brought forward two fists.

Okay, now, pick a hand.

This time I picked his left hand. At this point he withdrew his left hand and revealed the coin sitting in his right hand. Well, yea me, I thought, I choose the correct hand.

Then he said:

If you’d picked my right hand I would have just revealed the quarter without removing my left hand. You would have ‘picked’ the correct hand either way. You see. Magician’s choice.

People see what they like to see and it’s the magician’s job to make them look in the right place at the right time. It’s all about how you frame the trick. Or in life, the conversation.

I’m not saying that being the boss is about playing tricks on people, certainly not. But the idea of how to get people to look at a situation has been important to my development as a leader.

I could easily see that Isaac was a dynamic leader with great presence. He made things visual—literally. He didn’t just explain to me how a magic trick works; with his eyes twinkling, he involved me in the experience. He continued with:

Years ago I was on the board of the Magician’s Society of American. This was an association started by Harry Houdini in 1902. And I was having a hard time with one particular member. He complained about everything all the time. I could never satisfy him.

Finally, a colleague of mine—the President of the Sweetheart Cup Company—told me: “Isaac, don’t ever wrestle with a greased pig. You’ll get dirty. And the pig loves it.”

It’s funny advice right?

But it’s also a form of Magician’s Choice. I’d only been looking at the guy and his problems. I didn’t see that he was taking 90% of my time and energy when there were dozens of other members that were waiting for me to lead them.

My friend made me look at the situation differently. And in doing so, made me realize that it’s okay to have one person who complains. I started listening to the guy’s complaints, considered if they were relevant for everyone else and if not, just thanked him for sharing his experience.

I’d never led like that before. Before that I was trying to make everyone happy all the time. As a leader sometime you have to make the Magician’s Choice about what’s important and what’s not. That’s my job.

As Isaac learned, helping employees see things differently is sometimes as simple as framing the conversation in the right way.

What conversation are you having at work that could use some re-framing? Think about a time in your own life when you took on a new perspective. Was it when you got your first pair of glasses? When you moved to a new city or country? When you learned a second language? Tell this story before you propose your next new idea or change initiative. We suspect it will help you connect more quickly with your team and get them to consider your idea with fresh eyes.

Let us know how it goes.



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