Rubens Filho is a man not afraid of change. He was a lawyer, then a creative director for many years. Now Rubens is an entrepreneur, innovator, CEO and Director of Spells at Abracademy. He believes the world needs magic. Abracademy wants to change the way companies think by helping them understand the magic of their people. Using magic (yes, real magic!) as a tool, Abracademy helps people and teams connect, and collaborate. They’re putting belief and wonder back into business.
Can you describe something that has recently amazed you? How did it make you feel?
Witnessing people learn something new about themselves never ceases to amaze me. The process of self discovery is beautiful and mind blowing. When someone has a realisation, there is a sparkle in their eyes. They light up with excitement and positive energy. It’s magic. And so rewarding to see this happen.
How do you feel when others experience magic?
I love to see all the different reactions. People tend to have ‘childlike’ emotional reactions, they put aside reason. There’s laughter and it comes from the heart. Some reactions are loud, some quiet, and others can’t stop laughing!
What does the word wonder mean to you?
To me, wonder is when there is space to not know everything. I love to acknowledge moments of not knowing. They bring a sense of novelty and a wow! Then you wonder what the hell is going on?! It’s a beautiful and powerful moment. And it’s connected to curiosity. Because right after wondering about something, I want to investigate what’s going on. I become curious.
After months of lock down in London, I recently had a weekend in the countryside. Out walking, I saw a round, green fruit hanging on a tree that I couldn’t identify. I come from Brazil so my fruit references are different to the UK! I discovered it was a nut, not a fruit… a walnut to be exact! I never knew that familiar brown and nobbly Christmas nut started life like this! I had a little moment of wonder there.
Has magic been a lifelong hobby/career or is it something you got into later in life?
I discovered magic in my late teens, 16-17 years old, and started practising it then. For more than 25 years it was just a hobby. But for the past six years it’s been part of my professional life, which has been exciting. In Abracademy, we use magic as a canvas, or tool, for learning. We want to help people and organisations to become more curious .
“The world needs magic” but why? What can magic offer us?
Life can be difficult. We face many moments of change and transformation, and we need tools to help us cope. Magic is the tool we use to help people understand how we operate as humans and how to connect in deeper ways.
I say this often: magic is much more than rabbits in hats! There are so many aspects to magic. There’s the psychology and neuroscience of magic as well as the mastery of it. And it works at many levels – as entertainment and as a unique learning tool.
You can create interesting learning spaces using magic. People are often guarded in training workshops. There are preconceptions about what’s to come or training fatigue. Some will resist learning new things that clash with existing knowledge. But magic brings a new and unexpected element to sessions. People open their minds to new possibilities.
There are so many things people don’t know about their own brains! Magic makes the most of those glitches and gaps, and that’s where it really shines in the learning space. Our participants experience, learn and perform magic. That way they actually feel wonder. It enables them to see the world from a new perspective, gain insight about themselves and embark on new journeys.
The playfulness magic brings is truly unique. It opens people up in a way that a top-down approach to learning doesn’t.
You switched from the corporate world to Abracademy. What prompted the change?
I worked in the advertising industry for a long time. That fulfilled my creative needs – I created campaigns, travelled and won awards. It was exciting! But a sense of purpose was missing. And the quest for that purpose led me on a new journey. I left advertising to study for a Masters in Digital Management. That’s when I found my purpose and Abracademy happened. Our initial mission was to help young people improve their self esteem and sense of belonging. It brought me the purpose I was looking for. I felt I was doing something meaningful, and with positive impact, at last.
What are the aims and scope of Abracademy?
Abracademy aims to unlock the potential of people. Our workshops help people understand themselves and others.
Using magic as a learning tool is like looking in a magic mirror. It helps people to have a better grasp of their emotions. Consequently, you can recognise your strengths and weaknesses, and have better relationships. Work can be a more human and empathetic place, less threatening and more full of opportunities.
Abracademy keeps experimenting and innovating to discover more about the impact magic has. We know it’s a universal language of joy. And we know we can use it as a bridge to connect people – different generations or teams. Just those two benefits open up so much and help make the world a better place – a more magical place!
How can magic make someone a better innovator?
Magic is the moment the brain experiences something it doesn’t understand.
Using magic, we create an inquisitive, non passive, learning space. And we invite people to stay there a while. To be ok with not knowing everything and not relying on Google! We do this to encourage problem solving. By engaging participants in the magic and how it’s done, they come to understand that there are also many solutions to other problems. Once you’ve experienced this brain state, you can exercise it to continue to be more innovative.
Using this technique, companies can find many powerful solutions. And help their people feel creative confidence by unblocking their negative self perceptions. We give them back the confidence to try things, to not fear making mistakes or being judged.
Are there parallels between the worlds of magic and advertising?
Yes, many! But for me, the most important similarity is attention control.
In the advertising world, products have different features that a campaign could highlight. But creative teams choose one and focus all the consumer’s attention there. Sometimes they even misdirect to sell a product! It’s the same with magic. The magician steers the audience’s attention away from things they don’t want them to see.
Another common factor is designing to trigger emotions. Both magicians and ad campaigns reach for peoples’ emotions. Both do so in order to create bonds with their audience. And both need to understand their audience. They must put themselves in others’ shoes, empathise.
The third parallel is that both are entertaining! Great brands entertain to engage, get and keep customers. Magicians do the same to keep their audience happy and fulfilled during a performance.
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