Abracadabra

About the most impressive magic trick in the professional world

Two magicians work for Magic Corp, where their job is to do the things you’d expect -- guess people’s cards, make knick-knacky objects disappear, pull a really long handkerchief out of your pocket. The usual.

Magician 1 is a special talent: expert technique, flawless execution. When he makes that spoon levitate, I mean -- it really dances. At his finest, he’s the envy of all of his magician colleagues.

Magician 1 is also inconsistent. He forgets things that he was supposed to do. He has to be prompted repeatedly for updates on overdue tasks. He always seems to have an excuse as to why his projects haven’t gone as planned.

Magician 2, meanwhile, does not have the same gifts as her talented colleague. She’s had to work much harder than he has just to become proficient at the craft. On its artistic merits, her performance is...adept. Never dazzling, though, in the same way as Magician 1’s.

But damn if she isn’t razor-sharp in execution. 

All over Magic Corp, Magician 2 is revered -- somewhat for her talent, but especially for her professionalism. She’s always on top of things, rarely late and never having to be reminded about anything she’s committed to. She communicates clearly, consistently and proactively. And if she mentions in passing that she’ll help someone do something -- say, get a rabbit out of a hat -- she’ll update them the next morning to say it’s been done, half the time with the other person having forgotten they even talked about it. In other words, Magician 2 does what she says she’s going to do, so consistently that people shake their heads in amazement.

Throughout the working world, there are lots of Magic Corps, with lots of Magician 1s and 2s. When most people think of a rare talent, they think of Magician 1 and those occasional displays of brilliance. And Magician 1s themselves often overestimate their worth, ending up baffled and hurt when they’re not celebrated for their talent.

The reality is that in a professional environment, Magician 2 is the much more rare and valuable breed. People who show flashes of brilliance are a dime a dozen. The real standouts are those who consistently do what they say they’re going to do, which means that to get ahead you’re better off having average talent and exceptional ability to execute than the reverse. And because that ability comes from effort and discipline, this means that being exceptional is mostly in your control: it’s more about skills you can cultivate than it is about your level of natural talent.

In other words, even if your job is to literally pull rabbits out of hats, the real magic trick is not magic at all.