Family/CommunicationLeadershipReflectionNovember 6, 20170Practical Magic

Sometimes, believing in magic is the most practical way forward.

The pow­er of poet­ry is to use reg­u­lar words to cap­ture some­thing rare.  My son has always been a poet in that way, even as a lit­tle kid. Once, when he was about five and we we were dri­ving past a neigh­bor­hood of brand new, cheap­ly-built, all-the-same-except-for-col­or hous­es, thrown up quick­ly to respond to the ’90s Col­orado hous­ing boom, he said, “Those hous­es are so emp­ty it makes me want to cry.”

He’s still doing it: fram­ing insight as poet­ry. Just the oth­er day, he told me that he, his wife, and a friend are think­ing about going into busi­ness togeth­er.  And one of the rea­sons he thinks it will work well is because “they believe in each oth­er’s magic.”

It res­onat­ed so deeply for me. I knew exact­ly what he meant, because my busi­ness part­ner Jeff and I also believe in each oth­ers’ mag­ic, as do my hus­band Patrick and I.  In fact, in all my best per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al rela­tion­ships, there’s an ele­ment of believ­ing in each oth­er’s magic.

To believe in some­one else’s mag­ic is to know that things that per­son wants do are pos­si­ble, even if you don’t under­stand them and could­n’t do them your­self — and that the per­son will accom­plish those things, even if you don’t under­stand how that will happen.

A small exam­ple: a cou­ple of years ago, my hus­band said, “Would­n’t it be cool to have a built-in TV on the screen porch? It would­n’t get in the way of the view.”  I said yes, with com­plete faith that he would make that hap­pen, even though I did­n’t have the faintest idea how such a thing could be done. And — voilá — now we have a flat-screen TV that hangs down from the ceil­ing of the screen porch, at exact­ly the right height for view­ing, but with­out com­pro­mis­ing in the least our beau­ti­ful Hud­son Riv­er views. I still don’t real­ly under­stand how he did it.

This has also hap­pened count­less times with me and my busi­ness part­ner Jeff. Twelve years ago, I said to him “I’m going to get this book pub­lished,” and he com­plete­ly believed me, even though I had nev­er done it before and the odds were long. Two years ago, he said “We should cre­ate a part­ner­ship with this start-up vir­tu­al real­i­ty com­pa­ny,” and I com­plete­ly believed him, even though I did­n’t real­ly under­stand why that was a good idea, or how we would do it.  Both things hap­pened, and turned out to be tru­ly ben­e­fi­cial for our business.

Believ­ing in some­one’s mag­ic isn’t blind faith. It’s faith based on prac­ti­cal expe­ri­ence: you observe the oth­er per­son has skills, expe­ri­ence and insight that you lack, and can apply those assets in ways that seem mys­te­ri­ous to you because you don’t share them. And so when he or she says “I can do this” or “We should do this,” you take that leap of faith, based on what you know and have expe­ri­enced of that person.

I love this idea so much, because it cap­tures one of the most pow­er­ful ele­ments of good lead­er­ship, good part­ner­ship, and real inno­va­tion: believ­ing that oth­ers can and will do things that you your­self are not capa­ble of doing — and, some­times, that are beyond your under­stand­ing. Believ­ing in oth­ers’ mag­ic allows us to com­bine our indi­vid­ual pow­ers to reach new heights, to do things that none of us could have done by our­selves. It’s why diver­si­ty — of all kinds — is so crit­i­cal to suc­cess. Through work­ing with oth­ers who are not like us and believ­ing in their mag­ic, we can leapfrog our own lim­i­ta­tions to solve our most intractable prob­lems together.

It requires real humil­i­ty, though. The essence of believ­ing in some­one else’s mag­ic is being will­ing to acknowl­edge that you don’t know it all; that oth­er peo­ple under­stand things that you don’t — and per­haps nev­er will.  For lots of us, that’s espe­cial­ly dif­fi­cult when the oth­er per­son is younger, less edu­cat­ed, a dif­fer­ent gen­der, race, or reli­gion than we are. Believ­ing in the mag­ic of some­one we see — con­scious­ly or uncon­scious­ly — as being “less” than we are is both par­tic­u­lar­ly chal­leng­ing and par­tic­u­lar­ly valu­able. When you tru­ly believe in some­one’s mag­ic, it’s vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble to hold on to dis­mis­sive prej­u­dices about that person.

Next time some­one in your per­son­al or pro­fes­sion­al life sug­gests a way to move for­ward or solve a prob­lem that you don’t under­stand, or can’t quite see: before you say no, take a moment. Ask your­self, “Do we believe in each oth­ers’ magic?”

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