Indistinguishable from Magic

As a business, when it comes time to tell the story of what it is we do for our customers, how much do we actually need to explain to people?

Case in point, last year my car started losing power at low speeds. So I took it to the mechanic, who told me the clutch was dying and needed to be replaced.

At the time, I could have asked him to explain to me every single step involved in the process of replacing a clutch. And if I had, he probably would have told me. But to what end? Would me knowing these details have done anything to improve the overall repair process? Most likely not.

Likewise, I didn’t choose to do business with this particular mechanic on the basis of knowing what all of those steps were. My partner had recommended him, and I agreed to the repair on the basis of his quote and the promised turnaround time.

For all intents and purposes, the actual details of the repair may as well have been magic, as surely as if the mechanic had waved a wand and made it happen.

Half a century ago, science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke established three core rules that he used when creating his stories. The third of these was as follows:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

I think about this often in relation to storytelling for businesses. How oftentimes, it’s less important to spell out the details of the way in which something happens than it is to tell the story of the end result.

As discussed, my car wasn’t working right. I got a quote, made an appointment, and dropped off it at the shop. A few days later, my car was (magically) fixed.

I needed a logo one time. I hired a graphic designer and told them what I was looking for. Later that week, several possible logos (magically) appeared in my email inbox.

Not long ago, I was craving Mexican food. Our family went to a restaurant, told the waiter what we wanted, and fifteen minutes later food (magically) appeared at the table.

Bippity. Boppity. Boo.

I never saw the car being fixed. Or the logo being designed. Or the food being made. I didn’t need to. My need was for a working car, an attractive logo, and a full stomach. And in each case, that’s what I ended up with.

So maybe, borrowing from Clarke, we can say …

“Any remarkably delivered service is indistinguishable from magic.”

Of course, we can always choose to share some details about how the trick is done. What some of our processes are. The tools and materials we use.

Although to be honest, no client has ever asked or seemed to care whether I do my work using Google Docs or Microsoft Word. Or whether I do it at noon or midnight. I’d happily tell them if they did. But it never comes up.

My guess is that for them, those details are part of the magic.

And the most compelling thing about magic is not exactly how it works but what kind of transformation happens in the end. A magician pulls a white rabbit out of what used to be an empty top hat. A fairy godmother turns a pumpkin into a carriage and some mice into footmen.

Bippity. Boppity. Boo.

So what kind of transformation is that that your business offers the world? In what way does your particular expertise and insight serve your customers? How are they changed for the better between the moment before they come to you and the moment after you do something for them?

Whatever the answer is, this is the story you should be telling. Not just what you can do. But what you can do for them to make their life or their business better than it is now.

The difference only you can make.

The value only you can offer.

The magic only you can do.