February 26, 2010
News & Opinion: A Book in a Briefcase?
You might expect a business book to come in its own briefcase, but yesterday this landed at my desk: It's not a business book, but a book about the history of Magic (1400s-1950s), and it's a whopper. Weighing almost 20 lbs., this Taschen deluxe edition could be about pretty much anything, and you'd be drawn into it. Here's another image that shows the scale: It's huge. The information is vast, the images are gigantic, and you can barely stand it being on your lap for too long. It's easily the most overwhelming book I've ever experienced. But, I admit, I feel compelled to keep looking at it. It's like sensory overload. I really wish Jack and Todd would have considered this format for The 100 Best Business Books of All Time, but if anyone from Portfolio is reading this, they'll likely be glad they didn't. And to tie this more into business, I did find an interesting story in the book last night that struck me. It was about Harry Blackstone, who, during one of his shows, was quietly notified that the joining building to the theatre was on fire. To get everyone out safely, without panic, he explained to the audience that his next trick was so big, that everyone had to quickly get outside, one row at a time, please. The audience shuffled out promptly, but formally, and realized when they were outside, that he had just saved their lives. "Magic shows offer an environment where mechanical malfunctions and human error can flourish, and illusionists spend their lives confronting these onstage disasters. Experience teaches them how to quickly develop contingency plans that will prevent the audience from realizing that some part of their trick has gone awry. This ability to calmly stare catastrophe in the eye is what allowed Blackstone to instantly devise a strategy that prevented a deadly calamity." It might be a stretch, but I bet there are some good business leaders out there who might be able to relate to this in some way. The greatest point of Magic, and business books, is to show people that in any given situation, one doesn't always know everything - there is always more to learn, more to discover, and more to experience.