I was struck by this elusive quality over the weekend, when my dad, a long-time Knight Ridder executive, shared news of the death of his friend, respected journalist Steve Lovelady. Echoing the themes my dad noted with the clip he forwarded, this reference to "magic" pervaded the obit:
"Steve Lovelady was a magician," said James M. Naughton, a former [Philadelphia] Inquirer executive editor, who said Mr. Lovelady's talent came so easily that The Inquirer's owners had little appreciation that he was one of the masterminds behind many of the 17 Pulitzers the newspaper won under the editorship of Eugene L. Roberts Jr.
"I doubt that we would ever have captured the Pulitzer Prizes we won without his touch," said Arlene Notoro Morgan, a former Inquirer editor and now associate dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism....
[Former Inquirer editor Maxwell E.P.] King recalled a time when he, as city editor, took a dull story with high potential to Mr. Lovelady, who rolled the copy into his typewriter and went to work.
"What came out was astounding: magical, lyrical, and perfectly capturing the potential of this story," King said.
It's touching to read an account of clear successes flavored with references to magic that never disavow the accomplishments themselves. This resonates in the age of explaining and tracking back everything.
Here's why I think about magic, at all, in business. We talk a lot about the mingling of art and science in our business. And, it's not just that technology has forever entered the scene to enable convergence, scale, delivery, distribution, measurement, analytics and optimization. As we conceive, design, message and market to consumers -- even with whatever degree of focus on the art -- there is a mechanical and a concrete science to what we do. This is especially the case on the direct-response plane. The media progressives I most respect embrace the continued interplay of art and science as we evolve. It's not one or the other.
And as we as individuals tread the paths of our careers and interact with clients, management and our innermost selves, we might find that the intangibles matter. I know they do to me. You come to realize what's innate and what's learned; what's a fixed value, versus what's fluid and can continue to evolve. And then there's this X-factor. There are those people you encounter, maybe only a handful, who have this untraceable quality that is nothing short of magic:
The aggregate value of real-life skills and experience is clear. But when it comes down to it, there's just something to be said for touch.
In these frenetic times, I was calmed by my reading of the Lovelady tribute. Here, where intellect, leadership, journalistic practices and the resulting achievements are honored -- so is the intangible. As we look around our own circles, it's clear the difference someone makes is not always the output of gravitas, credentials or identifiable experience. So, in our efforts to impart greater degrees of science, just as we preserve the art of what we do -- let's give a nod to magic.