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?”