The Bigger Picture

Dear friends:

Tobias here, writing while Jeff and Abigail are back on the East Coast, celebrating at “The Rites of Spring,” an annual gathering that has been going on for 40 years. As they travel, I’m finishing up work on my new book Beyond Applause, all about how to manage and market a successful business as a magician or other independent performer. I thought I’d share two of the main ideas from the book with you today, in hopes they might inspire you, not only in your magic, but in your business, and even in your life.

The two ideas are these:

  1. Success begins with knowing your purpose.
  2. It helps to view things–whether those things are tricks, shows or businesses—as systems.

Let’s start with the first. Why do you need a purpose?

Because if you don’t know your purpose, you’ll simply wander about, like Alice, going nowhere in particular. In fact, many great stories are all about the protagonist finding his or her purpose. Once you’ve discovered the purpose of something, you’ll know how to make that thing a success, and how to measure that success. Purpose gives meaning and value.

It’s easy to talk about purpose, and having a need for one—but not always so easy to actually define that purpose in a way that is both inspiring and actionable. One of the great secrets of designing a business, or show, is clarifying the purpose of that thing. A general purpose can be almost as useless as having no purpose at all. “I want to work to solve world poverty,” is just such a general purpose. It sounds noble, and I salute those who want to do that.

However, “I work to lift villages in India out of their extreme poverty by empowering the people, and particularly women, in those villages to start small businesses. I do this by offering microloans and access to basic business education.” That’s a purpose stated in such a way we can take action on it. If you want money for that purpose, I know what I’m investing in, and I’ll know how to measure your success.

So—that’s just a bit of why purpose is so important, and why I spend a whole chapter in the book on how to discover and clarify your own purpose.

The second idea is that of seeing your business, or trick, or show, as a system. Here’s a segment from the book I particularly liked:

Systems Thinking
I find it useful to think of a business as a living system… a puppy, for example. The puppy’s “product” is the joy she provides her owners. But she can only do that if she is healthy and happy. For that, she needs to be fed regularly. She needs to be bathed, walked, and kept out of danger. She may need regular visits to a veterinarian for shots, vaccinations, etc. She may need training so that she knows what her owners expect of her, and what will make them happy. When people buy pets, they often fail to think of all the expense and responsibility they are taking on. When they don’t feel that the benefit provided by the puppy outweighs all the expense, the deal is not a success. Over time, the owner’s and the puppy’s assessments of whether the relationship is successful or not will shift.

Like that puppy, your business needs your attention to all it’s different needs. If you remember to feed your puppy, but never bathe her, you’ll have problems. If you train her to sit and to roll over on command, but fail to house train her… well, you won’t be getting the maximum enjoyment from that puppy. Your business is the same. It needs you to pay attention to all its different parts and needs in order for it to thrive. Failure to attend to any one of those needs can bring the rest tumbling down, even if all the other aspects are excellent.

It may be easier to see how the systems approach applies to a business, than a particular piece of magic or a show, but I assure you, it does. We’ve all seen an otherwise wonderful piece of magic ruined because the performer makes a bad joke while performing it, or sets up an expectation that doesn’t get resolved. That’s because that particular piece is a kind of organic system, with all the different parts affecting all of the other parts. One of the first rules of directing is that everything matters. The words, the story, the quality of movement, the tone you set, the character of your props—everything! Because it’s all part of the system, and once you’ve learned to see it in that way, you’ll know how to make it better!

Thanks for taking the time to come with me on this little journey of the mind. I hope you find it helpful! Beyond Applause will be out sometime in June—and we’ll be letting you know where you can find it just as soon as it does.

In the meantime, let me draw your attention to some of our news here at the Magic & Mystery School.

Jeff will be appearing this week for a show, lecture and workshop at Smoke & Mirrors magic theater just outside Philadelphia.
Show tickets here:
Lecture tickets here:
Workshop Admission here:

At the end of June, we have our second Magic for Beginners Class, taught by Jeff McBride. In the greater world of education, it’s rare for the real masters of a subject to offer their expertise to those just beginning in the pursuit of that. But Jeff taught this class once earlier this year, and really enjoyed it. So, we are offering the class again this last week of June. If you know someone who has just discovered a love of magic and wants to make sure they are on the right path with their studies, please let them know. Send them here to learn more:

Just after that, Jeff and Larry Hass will be hosting Lance Burton’s Teen Seminar at this year’s I.B.M. convention in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Jeff will also be a featured lecturer and is performing on the gala show—and as a special “value added” event, will conduct one of his “Super Session” workshops late Saturday night. Make sure you sign up for that early if you’ll be attending the convention! You can sign up for this in advance by emailing Simone at

That’s all for now. Watch this space for more in just a couple of weeks—and enjoy the summer weather!

Best wishes.

Tobias Beckwith

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