Thursday, September 13, 2007


Success isn’t accidental. That’s what I used to say to those magicians who would smugly dismiss David Blaine’s phenomenal success as a fluke. The truth is anyone who’s consistently successful is doing something right, something that works, whether we see it or not.

Motivational speakers and success gurus advocate a technique called modeling to improve performance in whatever you’re doing. The concept is simple enough: In any field there will be those who have far surpassed the norm and achieved extraordinary success; modeling is simply the process of determining what actions are accountable for those top performers’ success and duplicating them. It’s actually a very practical approach. Imagine if you went to a lake to fish and saw one man with no fish and another with a full basket. Who would you model your fishing after? Who would you watch to see how it’s done?

What does this mean for the magician? That if he wishes to succeed with his magic he should look at the best in the field and model his behavior accordingly.

I can almost hear people saying, “The best? Are you saying that Blaine and Angel are the best magicians?”

In a strictly pragmatic sense, yes they are, and you can throw Copperfield and a few others in to boot. This actually reminds me of a creative writing class I took in which I made the mistake of saying I liked Stephen King. I spent the rest of the hour with essentially the entire class asking, “You think Stephen King has talent?”

Well, Stephen King is the best selling writer of all time. It seemed to me then, and now, that he obviously has talent or he wouldn’t be able to connect with so many people so consistently. He might not be to your taste, but he is talented and one of the best writers in history.

I guess “the best” is always going to be a somewhat subjective proposition, but who’s the most popular certainly seems like a reliable yardstick upon which to measure. In all honesty I don’t care much for Criss Angel, but I recognize that he is talented and is doing something right, and I’m interested in knowing what that something is.

Now, if you have no ambitions of performing magic for anyone other than family and friends, or a camera, your interpretation of the best is likely to be much different from mine. Similarly, if your desire is to perform only for other magicians, modeling the actions of a Blaine or Angel isn’t likely to get you far – might even get you beat up. If you want to bring your magic to the widest audience possible, however, they are the performers you need to study because they’re most popular among the general public. Again, they’re doing something right whether we can see it or not.

Modeling is not imitation. No matter how well you imitate someone else you’ll forever fall short of the original. This isn’t about copying a performer’s style or their material – it’s about learning what they did in their careers to end up so successful. Were they especially good at getting their name in the papers? Did they take bold risks that paid off? The idea is to find out, as precisely as possible, what specific actions led to their success. And when you find a characteristic that most top performers share, it’s gold. A characteristic shared by multiple magicians at the top of their game is definitely one you should cultivate in yourself.

This is why I’ve always been a big fan of interviews – I get a new magic magazine I’m going straight for the interview. That’s where you can hear first hand from a performer what he or she has done or is doing to achieve success. You can learn much from their success and mistakes if you’re willing to open up and listen.

So I guess the real question is, who would you model yourself after? This isn’t about favorites. I’m an admirer of Larry Jennings and Dai Vernon, but I wouldn’t want to model a career as a magician after them, no matter how much I favor their work, as they performed primarily for other magicians. This also isn’t a practice which can be applied only to living performers – the great magicians of yesterday can also prove great models, although you do have to take the differences of their time into consideration when studying their success.

Modeling is definitely something to think about if you’re interested in reaching the largest possible audience. See you next time.

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