Ideas are what keeps business alive. Without a constant influx of new ideas, any business will slowly flicker like a candle in the wind and, eventually, die.

JetBlue had a great idea—let’s treat airplane passengers like human beings again—and they put it into action. As a result, JetBlue keeps growing, adding more and more routes, producing many thousands of happy customers. Starbucks envisioned a fifty-cent cup of java as a three-dollar experience; it’s now testing the concept of evolving into a music store that also serves up that java. Starbucks’s constant evolution shows us that the best companies never stop generating new, exciting ideas. GM realized that the future of the auto industry went beyond fast and comfortable cars and conceived a great new idea: a communication service called OnStar. First, OnStar increased GM customers’ satisfaction; then, it morphed into something entirely new. OnStar’s automotive development process became the catalyst for the meteoric rise of the satellite-radio industry.

The big difference between today and decades past is the speed at which ideas must come for businesses to thrive. The slow nurturing of ideas is a luxury that is now behind us. IBM reminds us that we live in an on-demand world. Dell lets us customize computers that are shipped within twenty-four hours. Lands’ End lets us design our own clothes on the Web. Build-a-Bear Workshop allows children to make their own stuffed animals with personalized voice recordings inside. These innovative business ideas went from inspiration to execution in record time.

To survive today, you must be able to come up with more than just great ideas; you also need to be able to produce ideas on demand. To accomplish that task, you have to explore new ways to innovate.

Competition for time, money, and space demands that we think differently to stay ahead. At home, we have to come up with new ways to balance work, family, and friends. At work, we are told to think out of the box and to be creative or risk obsolescence in our careers. Collectively, we struggle with finding creative ways to keep up, to stay competitive, to adapt to new technology, and to succeed.

But as the world demands new ideas, it also resists them. At most companies, true innovative thinking is allowed so long as it’s “safe.” Thinking outside the box is accepted—if it comes with a guarantee that it works. Executives buy into new ideas only if they have seen the ideas executed somewhere before. Creativity is fine, as long as the new ideas are not so fresh and original that they trigger our fear of the unknown. This reality dictates that you need to reexamine how to present ideas and persuade others to adopt them. Failure to do so is not an option: More than ever before, obsolescence is fatal.

My goal in writing this book is to help you produce new ideas on demand by unlocking your creativity and to give you the tools to put those ideas into action. The process uses the principles of magic as a metaphor for thinking differently, generating new ideas, and implementing innovative business solutions.

The use of magic as metaphor may seem implausible. But so, too, were the ideas of charging $3 for a cup of coffee; or charging $120 a month for what used to be free TV; or asking as much as $2.99 for a ring tone on your phone. In fact, at one time, I was a skeptic about the concept of mixing magic with business. I thought that magic was fine as entertainment, but when used as a metaphor with business, people would immediately think of “illusion” and “trickery.” This type of response would provide an insurmountable obstacle to the benefits of the message.

A long-standing friend and business associate named Stan Rapp thought differently. Stan is an icon in advertising. He is the cofounder of the world’s number-one global direct-marketing agency, Rapp Collins, and bestselling author who predicted the rise of one-to-one marketing. Stan knew of my success in helping companies generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales through creativity and new ideas. He knew of the fifty-some industry awards I have received. He also knew of my history with magic; how I began performing when I was six under the influence of my magician great-uncle; my appearances in nightclubs and on national television; and my use of magic to warm up my audiences during lectures on innovations in marketing, sales, and advertising. Stan believed in the idea that the magician’s performance has a parallel in the performance of outstanding business leaders.Both have a way of disarming defenses, making people open to new avenues of learning, and leaving the audience with a long-lasting impression. (Who doesn’t have a childhood memory of having a coin pulled out of his or her ear?)

Pushed by Stan, I began exploring new ways of using the world of magic to teach business creativity and execution. It took me a year of thinking, researching, and using friends and business peers as “guinea pigs” before I developed the confidence to believe that magic does indeed work as a metaphor.

I quickly found out that the business world agreed. Executives from big global companies like AOL, Nestlé, and L’Oréal embraced the concept that this two-thousand-year-old art of prestidigitation holds secrets, methods, and processes that could help the business world solve problems.

Since my expertise is in marketing, I will draw upon examples from advertising, branding, and sales. Yet my conclusions can be applied to a range of business challenges—from change management to organizational development, to new product development and technological innovations. While the focus is on business, I hope you will also find yourself instinctually applying the lessons to your own personal life.

A quirky magician by the name of George Miles—trade name Merlin—will teach the lessons in this book. Merlin is part me and part personification of all the famous and talented magicians I have met in my life. These include: Al Flosso (the Coney Island Fakir), Tony Slydini (the legendary close-up magic artist), Dunninger (a great mentalist and legend), and the real George Miles (a true vaudevillian magician and, in real life, my great-uncle).

As a twenty-five-year member of the Society of American Magicians, I honor my pledge to uphold the principles of magic. Any secrets revealed are those that either are commonly discussed or pose no threat to the livelihood of magic professionals. You, on the other hand, are under no obligation to share the secrets revealed in this book. You may choose to keep to yourself the business lessons that you will learn in this book as they will assist you in your path to newfound success. But my experience teaches me that, like any great magician, you are going to show off the effect of success with pride.