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Magic and the modern business world

Faculty | Oct 16, 2018 |

When you think of “magic,” what comes to mind? A magician’s show? Ancient rituals?

Most likely you are not picturing a group of business executives in a conference room.

However, Timothy Malefyt, clinical associate professor at the Gabelli School, says the “theory of magic’s a really useful way to explain some business practices.”

In his new book, Magical Capitalism: Enchantment, Spells, and Occult Practices in Contemporary Economies, Malefyt and his co-editor Brian Moeran explore how magical practices can be found in contemporary capitalist societies.

For example, in advertising, Malefyt explains that one starts with an unknown: “You don’t know if the customer will like this ad.” Similarly to how magicians rely upon magical rites, advertisers often use “formulas” to feel comfortable in their presentation to a client, such as habits surrounding the time they present or the way everyone is sitting at the table.

“Magic offers a way to make a connection and effect change through willful beliefs and ritual practices,” Malefyt adds.

While today’s executives may not realize their rituals mirror those studied for years in less-developed societies, Malefyt has found that even modern marketing practices borrow the belief that there’s a piece of the puzzle we can’t get from technology.

“Big data doesn’t solve problems,” Malefyt emphasizes. It “doesn’t get into the why.”

After gathering and displaying the data, analysts are still tasked with interpreting it. “It really is about closing this uncertainty gap,” he says.

This line of thinking is not incongruent with Fordham’s tradition of providing “a broad and well-rounded education,” Malefyt continues. In his role of advisor for the global marketing with consumer insights concentration, one goal is to help students answer this question: how do we take business challenges and look at them as human problems? He hopes students can use what they learn about how people act and think to help further the understanding of human complexity within their future organizations.

Whether you believe in magic or not, Malefyt says that “magical thinking is a modern way to create these extraordinary connections between things, people, organizations, and beliefs.”

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