A Fundamental Principle

Dear Friends:

We’re delighted to have another article from our Associate Dean, Larry Hass, this month. Larry’s work always makes me think deeper and in new ways. I expect it will do the same for you. Enjoy!

Larry New

A Fundamental Principle

Larry Hass, Ph.D.

Over the past couple of years I have used these columns to discuss some key insights about the (show) business of performing magic. In February 2013 I revealed my “Fundamental Secret” for performing better shows. Last October I discussed the “Fundamental Mistake” I see many performers make. Here I will share a “Fundamental Principle” I follow for enriching my magic . . . and my life. Here it is:

In the age of information overload, the focused shall inherit the earth.

Indeed, I have long believed that hand-held smart devices, with their bings, burps, pings, rings, and alerts, turn us into homo interruptus. But recently I have been thinking a lot about the extent to which digital distractions split our attention and diminish our engagement.


One part of this has been the increasing number of meals I’ve had during which my dining partner leaves his or her cell phone face up on the table, and spends the entire time interrupting our conversation to send texts, check emails, search for files, or answer calls. Have you had this happen to you?

I continue to be struck and somewhat amazed by this behavior. For none of the people doing this were rude, boorish people—not at all. But somehow they had lost sight of how insulting this kind of behavior would be. And they had no awareness of how they were compromising the quality of our time together. They were there, but not there. Things were said, but interrupted. Start and stop: their participation remained superficial, fragmented, and unsatisfying.


The other part of my reflections on this has been recent empirical studies from places like Stanford and the University of London, demonstrating that multitasking substantially lowers productivity and effectively lowers IQ. To be precise, the studies demonstrated that when people were multitasking they had far greater trouble organizing their thoughts, filtering out irrelevant information, and switching from one task to the next. In effect, their IQs fell to within the range of an average eight-year old.

But to multitaskers it doesn’t feel that way. To them their output feels prodigious, or that they are an exception to the rule. Yet the University of London studies tested for that, too; they showed the more firmly people believed in their ability to multitask, the greater their inefficiency was.

So obviously, when it comes to dinner with a cell phone or the power of multitasking, many people are in the grip of an illusion . . . and perhaps a subtle addiction to continual stimulation, or “fear of missing out” (FOMO). Be that as it may about “many people,” the question is what are we going to do: you and me? What are we, as creative magicians and aspiring performers, going to do?

At this late date in the digital era, the results are in, both empirically and experientially. If we want to have quality interactions and relationships with people, if we want to go deep, if we want to experience levels of complexity and challenge that make genuine learning happen, if we want to become really good at something through focused repetition, if we want to create artwork that’s original and expressive of self, then we must say “no” to digital-age distractions, and reaffirm a rather old piece of wisdom: one thing at a time.

Every New Year season I come up with a motto that I especially want to embrace in my life during the year ahead. I write the motto on note cards and leave them lying around my house at meaningful locations: by the coffee maker, in my magic studio, by my computer, in the dining room. And for 2017 my motto is: “One thing at a time.”

Because when it comes to deepening relationships, conducting business, booking shows, writing with quality, creating a fine piece of magic, or performing it with excellence, it seems clear that “the focused shall inherit the earth.”

Go forth, stay focused, and prosper!

One thing


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