Interview 48. – Ian Rowland


Ian Rowland (The Mind Man) helps people and companies to be more successful. He is a freelance writer and corporate speaker based in London. Ian is also a Member of the Inner Magic Circle, and an expert on cold reading and related persuasion psychology.

Twitter: @IanRowland1


Describe something that has recently amazed you and how it made you feel.

I see amazing things around me all the time. Mostly, I suppose these ‘amazing’ things fall into two categories. One is nature and the outdoors, beautiful scenery and especially the magic of early morning light, sounds and scents. When I go for early morning walks through woodlands and greenery it always makes me feel that there’s an enduring enchantment about life and nature, and that anything is possible.

The second category covers all the incredibly talented people I know and the things they can do. Only the other week I went to see the latest show by ‘Hermetic Arts’, the production company formed by my friends Chris Lince and Carrie Marx. The show, called ‘April’, was an incredible theatrical production, great fun yet also impossibly clever and intriguing, and Carrie’s performance was just sensational — the equal of anything else I’ve ever seen in live theatre. Not long after that I saw guitarist Ana Vidovic in concert. Her technique is beyond amazing and to see her playing Bach, for example, really encourages me to believe there are no limits.

On a more personal level, I’ve just completed an amazing 18 months in my own life when I finally learned how to overcome an addiction (sugar) that had dogged me all my adult life, lost over 36kg in weight and got fit, running 20km per week. This could well be the most amazing experience of my life. I learned so much and it made me feel that I could achieve almost anything.


How would you personally define wonder, awe and curiosity? And how do they relate to each other?

I don’t know. I think you’d have to ask a philosopher. It seems to me that wonder is the joy of the gap between what we experience and what we understand.

Someone once said that all of science comes down to those moments when someone notices something and says, “Oh, that’s odd… I wonder why that happens?” I think something similar happens in the creative and performing arts. Most creative people say they value the time they spend just ‘playing around’, which occasionally leads to an idea or theme that they think is worth working on and developing.

Curiosity is the intention to follow that initial sense of wonder and see where it leads, what it will reveal and teach us.


What inspires you to be creative? Do you have any ‘rituals’ or an environment that aids your creativity?

I don’t regard myself as creative so I can’t really give you an answer.


What do you love about magic?

In my view, it’s the ultimate performing art. A good magician has to look good, have good stage craft, know how to write a script and deliver it well, be creative in terms of coming up with material and presentations, be likeable and (in most cases) at least occasionally funny or humorous, engage with the audience, involve and work with members of the audience and, on top of all that, perform whatever secret stuff is involved in creating the ‘impossible’ experience, the moment of wonder. The deception has to be achieved in real time, with no second chances or re-takes.

This is a very tough challenge, or combination of challenges, and there are very few people who can do it all and do it well. This is why I find it so much more satisfying to watch good magic performed well than I do to watch almost any other kind of performing art. I have great admiration for all performers, including singers, comedians and variety acts, but it still seems to me that the magician faces the greatest combined set of challenges of them all.

The other thing I have always loved about magic is the ingenuity involved. Most magicians develop a ‘twin track’ mode of thinking. It starts with the relationship between the effect (what the observer perceives) and the method (what’s actually going on). But you can extrapolate from this to many other aspects of life, such as the way someone behaves and the underlying emotional history that leads to that behaviour.

This is why I think most magicians develop very flexible, agile minds. ‘Lateral thinking’ comes very naturally to us because it’s the essence of creative deception. It’s only by being able to think in unusual ways that we can devise the methods we use.


What do you think hinders an audience from experiencing wonder when watching a magician?

Magic leads to wonder, methods lead to knowledge. So anything in a magical performance that acknowledges the method, or even that a method is involved, detracts from the wonder.


Where do you think our sense of wonder comes from and what can we do to cultivate it?

I have to start from what I said before: wonder is the joy of the gap between what we experience and what we understand. If this is the case, then cultivating a sense of wonder would involve two steps.

The first is to be open to experiences, especially new experiences, rather than remaining inside the prison of the known, the safe and the familiar. Without fresh experience there can never be fresh wonder.

The second step would be to focus on, and to celebrate, what we don’t understand or can’t fully account for. In history, there have been people who have shied away from the unknown, regarding it as or a threat to their own power and authority. But others were attracted to the unknown and fascinated by it, which led to all the amazing discoveries we’ve made. This is how we created the incredible world of magic technology that we are all currently privileged to enjoy.


Tell me about Ian Cards ( How did you start making them and what’s the fascination for you?

Everyone knows about origami: folding paper into shapes and patterns. Kirigami is the same except it involves preliminary slits and cuts as well as folds. A puzzle enthusiast and genius called Angus Lavery was the first to think of kirigami with playing cards. He pioneered the idea and came up with an amazing series of designs. I was lucky enough to be taught the basic principles by him and I just took it from there. I was fascinated by this very limited ‘canvas’ and what might be possible to achieve within it.

I don’t have any skill or talent for it except clumsily trying 99 ideas that don’t work and go nowhere before blindly stumbling across one idea that might work. For me, the fascination stems from these happy, fluke discoveries of what’s possible.


You literally wrote the book on Cold Reading, how deep can you go with “reading” someone’s mind and have you had any scary moments?

Thank you, but I think it’s fairer to say I wrote a book on cold reading. There are many others, some of which may be considered better than mine depending on each reader’s personal preferences.

There aren’t really any limits to cold reading. You can tell people about almost any aspect of their life in considerable detail. This is necessarily the case because of how cold reading works: you provide the words but the client provides the meaning or significance. So there is no limit except the client’s own awareness of their own life, feelings and potential.

I haven’t had any scary moments and, I may be missing something, but I don’t think cold reading has anything to do with scary moments. But in a broader sense, I don’t fear anything anyway, so nothing ‘scares’ me as such.


Recently you told me you were a “recovering skeptic”. Can you explain what you mean by that? Are there parts of the skeptic movement that frustrate you?

There was a chapter in my life when I was drawn to the skeptical community and wanted to be part of it. I felt it was doing important work, combatting pseudo-science and so on. Over a period of time, I came to feel that their views and mine didn’t really align, and that most of the people I’d met within that community were just as irrational as the people they were keen to criticise.

I was also filled with a sense of futility. Michael Weber put it very well when he said, ‘For every TV show debunking something, there are two more rebunking it.’ I remember a time when I’d just returned from a big skeptics conference and was feeling inspired by all the talks and lectures. Then I opened a supposed ‘quality’ broadsheet newspaper and saw a lengthy article, splashed across two full pages, about how companies could use graphology as a useful recruitment tool. And we still have astrology columns in newspapers.

The fact that people are still having debates about astrology, ESP, assorted gods and related emotional trinkets should be a clue that whatever the skeptical community thinks it’s doing, it isn’t making a great deal of progress and perhaps ought to change its strategy. But this never happens. They’re still locked into ‘us v. them’ thinking and flawed debates between black and white. I think that if someone asks the question, ‘Do psychic powers exist?’, they’re fundamentally missing the point and haven’t a clue what they’re talking about. However, these are unpopular opinions and probably not very well considered. So these days I just keep quiet and keep my distance.

What stood out for you? Any questions? Things you disagree with? Write a comment and join in the discussion.

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