Kostya Kimlat brought a little bit of magic along with a powerful message to the Dakota Hospital Foundation Community Leadership Dinner, held May 23 in the Muenster University Center on the University of South Dakota campus.
He did perform tricks that were mind-boggling. He correctly guessed a word that an audience member was thinking of. He made playing cards seemingly disappear and reappear.
“My job as a magician is to know how you process information and to use that sort of against you in order to create the perception of magic. My job is also to influence and control the perceptions,” he said. “Perception is all in how we use it and we are using it every single day, whether we are aware of it are not.”
The secrets that magicians have been using for centuries “are the same ones that have been used by leaders, by generals, by teachers, by lawyers, by politicians, by parents to control their children, by children to manipulate their parents,” Kimlat said. “For me, magic is not about deception; it’s about perception and it’s our ability to influence how it is we see the world.
“The secrets that I will share with you are specific because I know that we have business leaders, we have community leaders, everyone has different positions, different job responsibilities, but the secrets of perception connect to everybody,” he said.
Earlier during the banquet, as it does every year, the Dakota Hospital Foundation presented scholarship awards and presented its annual Community Health Service Award (see related story).
Kimlat is known as “the business magician.” He is world-renowned speaker, entertainer and the author of a forthcoming book, “Think Like A Magician.”
In 2006, he was the youngest magician to appear on the cover of “MAGIC” magazine and as an entrepreneur, he founded See Magic Live, which trains and books magicians for events across the country.
Kimlat unravels centuries-old principles of perception and secrets of communication, empowering people to be more effective in their business and everyday lives.
Every Perception Is A Choice
“Does perception play a role in your business? Does perception play a role in your life and your organization?” he asked members of the banquet audience. “The question is then, what are you doing about it? How are you controlling it, how are you influencing perception and do you know how is it you are being perceived?
“We all know the famous phrase, ‘Perception is reality.’ What does that mean for us? It means that sometimes, there’s a problem with the reality and we have to fix the reality of a situation and we have to make things better.”
Kimlat said that for most of the organizations that he meets, the problem isn’t reality. Often the problem is with perception, creating awareness and creating understanding.
“Each one of us has the power to impact people’s perceptions because we’re making impressions on each other all of the time. So the next question is, who are you making impressions on?” he asked. “Who is your audience? Most people don’t think about having an audience, but every one of us ... has an audience.”
Kimlat added that audience also has an audience.
“After all, whenever we influence people, when we talk with them, they’re going to be talking about us,” he said. “What are they saying about us and are we in charge of those stories that they tell about us, about their experience in our hospital, our organization, our Foundation?”
“My message today will be all about the fact that every perception is a choice. How do we make those best choices in order to get to the minds of our audience?” asked Kimlat who has been working as professional magician for 22 years. “My job has been to approach a group of strangers who are drinking or hanging out, and don’t even know who I am ... I’ve found that there are certain patterns in the way that people are approached and the way that people participate and my job is to create what we call a moment of astonishment.”
Kimlat was born in Kiev, Ukraine and was forced to leave with his family following the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
“When I was 9 years old, we moved to the United States, first living in New York and eventually settling in Orlando, Florida. We could only bring two pieces of luggage per person and $50 per person. My dad had two master’s degrees in engineering but he had to work in a steel factory from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the first year as our family started our new lives in the United States,” Kimlat said.
His family shipped 10 boxes of books from Russia to the United States which arrived in America nearly a year after his family. He said he got started in magic first by visiting the library and reading every book on the subject that he could find.
“When I was 18, I wrote my first book of card tricks and I decided to hit the road and I got on a Greyhound bus, and I did a tour of the U.S. for two weeks,” Kimlat said.
Over time, as he became more well-known across the U.S., “people started inviting me to teach magicians around the world the tricks I was coming up with and the psychology and eventually the business side of it,” he said. “What I saw was that there were many artists in every individual city that were fantastic at magic, but they were starving artists. And I realized that being good at something and being successful at it are two very different things.”
In 2010, Kimlat started See Magic Live which features 75 magicians in 15 states.
“I travel around the country and talk to every kind of group – lawyers, scientists, doctors, NASA engineers,” he said.
During his appearances, Kimlat said, he is commonly asked how he performs his magic tricks.
“At first, I didn’t know how to answer that. I always felt bad because that question was kind of like a wall that existed between me and audience,” he said. “The question of how is a very powerful question, a very natural question, but the truth is that sometimes it is not a question at all.”
Some people say how, he said, with a question mark, and some say it with an exclamation mark.
“Part of it is that experiencing the exclamation point is so much more powerful, which is not to discount the question mark, because the question mark is the reality of the situation, but the exclamation point is the experience,” Kimlat said. “In magic there are two sides to every trick. There is always a method and an effect. The method is the reality of the situation – it is how something is done and the effect is the perception part.
“The reality corresponds to the question mark; the perception corresponds to the exclamation point,” he said. “Most organizations that I talk to don’t have a reality problem. They have a reception problem in trying to communicate what it is that they do and how it is felt and experienced by people.”
Many organizations begin to appear more like jugglers than magicians, he said.
“Jugglers will spend 10 years practicing so they can show off their skills. Magicians have to spend the same time practicing to hide our skills. It’s not fair, because I have to work so hard and then no one can appreciate the real work that I’m doing because if you saw the real work, then there wouldn’t be the experience of magic.” Kimlat said. “When you’re talking to other people and you’re presenting to them, how are you coming off? Are you coming off as a juggler – look at me and look how busy I am? Or, are you the one simply creating the magic that makes people say ‘how did you do that?’ Man, that was really good. You helped our community. I don’t know how you did it, but you make it look so effortless.’”
He asked members of his audience if they feel they’re in a position “where sometimes the best things you do are when you become invisible and people don’t even know that you did your thing? How do you get people to see what it is what you actually do? If they don’t care about your methods then what we have to do is communicate the power of our effects.”
Results Versus Effects
In magic, Kimlat said, results are very different than effects.
“Results are measurable, results are tangible, but they are not effects. When I ask most people to look at the list of the methods that they use and I ask what is the tangible result from all of these methods, what I hear usually is ‘I get to keep my job and make some money.’ Which is a simple result,” Kimlat said, “but that really doesn’t get them up in the morning; it doesn’t get them excited.”
Results are tangible and measurable, he said -- “things like sales per square foot, how many patients we have coming in, how many were healed, how many people we helped, how many people we hired, how many hours we worked. Those are results, but they are not effects.”
Effects are completely imaginary, he said.
“Effects are the perceived impacts of those results and effects are so powerful because they exist completely in the mind. And that’s the realm that I work in as a magician,” Kimlat said.
Effects, he said, are the most powerful thing we have.
“How does this relate to business? The effect is different from a mission statement and a vision statement ... because the effect is all created with your audience in mind,” he said. “What are they perceiving, not what you’re doing but what are they perceiving in their minds?”
Examples he shared with his audience included a hardware franchise that communicates the effect to each individual customer that “you can do anything.” What they’re really saying to their customers, he said is we’ve got your back. “We’re here for you; we can teach you how to do anything, you can get any resources you need. Thanks to us, you can do anything,” Kimlat said.
He said his clients include community centers across the country. Their audience is their own staff, so when they got together for their convention, they came up with the slogan “I enable individuals to live up to their aspirations.”
“Doesn’t that sound much better than ‘I help people work out?’ By changing the language, you’re making it so much more powerful and as your audience changes, so does your effect,” Kimlat said. “Methods are great and methods are important, but people don’t care how hard we work. Results are important; results are tangible, but they’re quickly forgotten. It’s the invisible power of effects that hang on and give us such a feeling that anything is possible.
Kimlat told the audience that people donating to the Dakota Hospital Foundation represent a method.
“The result is the scholarships and the programs and the slide shows showing everything that’s going on in the community. But what’s the effect that all of you are creating together? That’s a much more powerful thing,” he said. “What effect are you creating for your audiences?
“You do this in your personal lives and you do this in your professional lives. I want you to think how hard you are working and the results you are achieving and also think about when you leave the room, what is that invisible effect that you are creating for those people,” Kimlat said.
Most people start thinking of their methods first, he said.
“They look at their own skills, they look at what they can do and they go, ‘what job can I get with these skills?’ By thinking method first, they limit themselves,” Kimlat said. “What I want the young students in this room to do is to think about the effect that you want to achieve ... then you work backwards; then you worry about the methods. That’s why magicians say that anything is possible, because we’re really not creating the impossible, we’re creating the perception of the impossible.”
The effects that people can create, he said, include building trust and creating hope for the people they are helping.
“What I really think the effect that the (Dakota Hospital) Foundation creates for the community is confidence in the future. When you see that 1,000 kids have been born in the hospital thanks to one person helping, and when you see the upgrades that are happening in the community,” Kimlat said, “when you see everything that is being done here – I think that’s the ultimate effect.
“When you leave here, you know that you’ve contributed to something great and you have confidence that the future for your kids and your grandkids will be even better than it is for you now,” he said. “That’s the most powerful effect. That’s the Foundation’s effect and I want you to think about what is your personal effect. When you go out there, what is the effect that you are creating for other people?”
Our perception becomes our reality, Kimlat said.
“So, in life, what do we have these days? We have rain, we have difficult times, we have the economy, we have all of these things, but if we change our perception then none of those things have us,” he said. “And that’s a choice. We all have a power to change the perception and to change the perceptions of others. I want you to know that every one of you has the power to change people’s reality and sometimes it can be as simple as changing their perceptions first.
“What perceptions do you want to create? What do you want people to think? What do you want them to feel?” Kimlat asked. “That’s why anything is possible because this is all in our heads. We have the power to transform that and I want you to know that every perception is a choice that you make and you have the power to influence each other and, as you have clearly shown by being here together tonight, you have the power to affect your community as well.”