Effortless and magic

When I was a kid, I am guessing around eight, I joined a magic club. My fascination with magic and the desire to be magical led my parents to finding a local club in Launceston where we were living at the time. From memory I went to two or three nights at the club and became disillusioned. Other than being the only child in a club of grown men, the magic didn’t seem so magical. Each week, you were able to take home a magic trick, then come back and perform it on a darkened stage, quite a long way from the ‘audience.’ I realised that magic largely came back to lots of mirrors, optical illusions and fake walls. I became disillusioned with the illusion of magic and quit the club.

Wouldn’t it be cool if magic was real? When we were kids our parents went to great length to encourage us to believe in the magic of Christmas, Easter and other elements of whimsy.

As we became adults, the magic can disappear. As our childhood starts to fade and adulthood emerges we are taught the importance of hard work in attaining success.

“There is no substitute for hard work.”

Thomas A. Edison

Yes, life wasn’t meant to be easy, but surely it doesn’t need to be hard.

“Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage: it can be delightful.”

Former Australian Prime Minister John Malcolm Fraser, borrowed from George Bernard Shaw

Successful is not easy, it needs luck.

“I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.”

Thomas Jefferson

Hard work only produces ‘luck’ when one learns from mistakes, minimising repeated failings, and with each stuff-up learning and growing. Picking one up, and making progress, like a ninja warrior. I launched Square Holes 15 years ago, and have been running businesses for 21 years. My failings are too many to admit, and it only creates luck when we learn.

The biggest lessons come from the hardest of times. Those big failures are nasty.

Hard work is overrated.

Have you ever tried with avail to open a challenging jar? People throw all their muscle and might into opening the jar, passed it around the room, often to the strongest person, and they often also fail. Then someone grabs the jar and ‘POP!’ It is open, and everyone says…

“yeh, but we loosened it.”

After several decades or more of opening jars, I recently discovered the secret to opening even the hardest to budge, and it ain’t grit and hard work. Let’s say it’s my little secret to opening jars, perfected over much time. I recently reflected on said discovered skill, and pondered that the secret of success isn’t really about hard work, but working towards making something difficult effortless.

Effortless is about taking the complicated bits out of a process, as much as possible removing the friction, and shortening the path from A to Z. Chaos isn’t effortless. Poor customer service isn’t effortless, nor is a business without any systems and processes to make it easier to produce a consistent product and/or service.

People shop online because they feel it overcomes the frustrations of going to shops – finding parking, rude sales people, and poor store layout. People stop using taxis as the filtering of potential drivers is so poor. It is perceived as the exception rather than the rule to get a friendly and competent driver that arrives on time and knows where they are heading. Online retail and the likes of uber have largely grown from technology making the experience as effortless as possible, and reducing pain and anguish. People stay with horrible banks, insurance companies and the likes because the process to change is far from effortless and definitely not magic. Life is too complicated without added effort.

The hierarchy of competence takes people from unconscious incompetence (not knowing what we don’t know); to ultimately reaching the top of the competency mountain able to work with intuitive unconscious competence – just knowing, without consciously thinking.

It can take a long time of working towards being a zen master in any profession. Be it magic, metaphorically opening jars or whatever it may be. However, critical is for individuals, businesses and others to seek to ever learn and grow not through hard work but towards effortless. Ever seeking to make what we do easier for all – ourselves, team, customers et cetera. This does seem logical, but often we fail.

Often for our business and government progress doesn’t mean better, it can actually make things worse. Think about banks and other services removing people from all dealings, even the most complex and personal, has nothing to do with making things more effortless, and more about maximising their escalating profits. Or, retail, hospitality, taxis and even the likes of uber not employing people with appropriate competencies and personality to make it effortless.

The focus of business and government can be on obsessively using of technology to reduce staff costs, and perhaps removing friction to make things more effortless. This can also make our services a bit boring. The process is so effortlessly systematic, it gets a bit dull and uninspiring, with definitely no magic, all finished with a message to our phone …

‘How would you rate our service.’


When things get too effortless they can get boring, and life gets boring and a bit vanilla.

Everything can seem so effortlessly commercial – technology to replace people.

CX design of business and government doesn’t tend to have any magic.

Many of our favourite retailers such as Haigh’s, Apple and Nespresso balance technology and humans well. A lovely person behind the counter, seemingly really caring and helpful, making our experience about us, rather than feeling like we are on a manufacturing line.

Business and government injecting a bit of MAGIC into their increasingly boring CX effortlessness. The rise of the artisan will continue to rise, as more people understand the joy of working hard towards perfecting their profession, their craft and uniqueness, now with a growing global market for handmade seemingly effortless magic.

In 2020 let’s evolve the conversation away from an obsession with sheer hard work, hoping and wishing for luck, or boring effortless systemisation, to hard work towards effortless and magic. In 2020 I hope to see more effortless magic.

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