Welcome to another episode of The Widest Net Podcast. I am your host, Pamela Slim, and I am joined today by my guest, Andrew Bennett. Andrew Bennett is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, coach, two times TEDx presenter, and professor at American University in Washington, DC. He also teaches in the White House Leadership Development Program. Andrew specializes in leadership, organizational culture, and personal development.
He’s also a world class magician and a member of London’s Magic Circle. Andrew is on a mission to revitalize the human spirit and has worked with over 140 organizations, including Google, Microsoft, and Habitat for Humanity. His first TEDx talk, The Magic of Words, has been viewed over 600,000 times. Andrew, welcome to the podcast. Thank you, Pam.
It’s so great to be with you. We have known each other a long time, which gives me kind of a fun inside track that I can’t wait to share with our listeners. But I’m so excited to interview you for this podcast. As we’ve talked a lot before. I feel like in work that I’ve done with Body of Work and then The Widest Net many ways.
When we think about the what of work that we do, work that is deeply meaningful, work that makes us feel good when we’re doing it is often very infused with our own personal experience. And once we have that work that we’re excited by, then we can use the tools in the widest net of sharing it, scaling it by connecting with partners. So for today’s conversation, I’m really thinking more from a body of work perspective. You have made meaning and some really interesting models from some pretty difficult life situations that I know you’ve spoken about very publicly. So bring us into your personal story that’s led to some of the current work that you’re doing, which, in your words, is revitalizing the human spirit.
Yeah, well, thank you, Pam. I think the personal side of things has informed the professional side a lot, and it’s the highs and the lows. I’ve had some amazing opportunities in my life, some amazing blessings in my life, and I’ve had some really tough times, starting at a very early age when I lost a lot of family as a kid. There was kind of this stage of loss in my childhood and then another phase of it, another round of it as an adult. And it was so kind of intense, the losses, that it was to the degree that I kind of had to say, okay, looking up towards the heavens, like, okay, you got my attention.
I’m getting more than kind of the normal person’s share of pain here. There’s got to be a point to this. And so I worked very hard to understand what that was about and have fortunately been able to shift the suffering into service. That sounds a little corny, but that’s really the way I think of it. And that’s the shift in my own mindset that’s happened from going through all this tough, painful stuff and coming out the other end saying, well, how does this help me make the world a better place?
How does this help me help others? So I lost my mother and my sister to a drunk driver when I was three years old. My father remarried a year later, and he took my older brother, and they went, started a new family, and I was left with my mother’s parents, who raised me. And my dad really wasn’t involved in my life. I saw him at Christmas, and I saw him on my birthday.
And we lived in a very small town, so he lived only 2 miles away. And then my grandfather, who basically had become my father, had a mental breakdown when I was 13 and took his own life when I was 16. And then my grandmother, a few years later, contracted spinal myelitis, and it was a cruel end of life for her. Nine months of having to spasm for every breath. So this intense pain and suffering as a kid and then as an adult, I built my dream home.
It became infested with toxic mold. I sued the builder, lost the home. It was condemned, lost everything I’d invested in. It went bankrupt, moved into an apartment building to start over. It was struck by lightning, burned to the ground.
I’m laughing only because we’ve had this conversation where I’m like you and Job, at a certain point, we were like, what? Lightning and fires and flood? I know what’s next? Like a swarm of locusts.
And you do have to laugh when the fire was burning. As I said, you get to this point where, I mean, like, I was literally standing, looking at the apartment burning to the ground, and I looked up at the sky and I said, okay, you’ve got my attention.
What is this all about? And then shortly after that, my wife of 15 years, she and I divorced.
So all of that just was so intense. And running parallel to that was my work, my work in. I spent the first ten years of my career climbing the corporate ladder. Ross Perot was my mentor. And then for the last 26 years, I’ve had my own business doing leadership development.
So there’s all these good things happening, but then behind the curtain, there’s all this hard stuff going on. And it just felt I think the hard stuff made me very conscious of the preciousness of life. I think my grandfather’s suicide and my trying to understand how someone who I thought had it all figured out could take his own life and basically send this message that, no, this really isn’t worth it. Trying to reconcile that made me look very deeply at life. And so it informed the work that I was doing in the business world and with leaders.
And so the way I look at my work now is leadership and the world of work in the context of this bigger picture of life and making sure that what we do matters and what we do helps other people. And what we do is deeply aligned with for me, it’s a spiritual thing of, we’ve been given this gift of life. How do we honor that gift? By making life the best it can possibly be. By serving other people.
It’s indescribable. I mean, as many times as we’ve talked about it right in hearing the story, when you just understand what that’s like for many people who suffer any one of those losses or experiences, it can be so overwhelming. And so I just am always moved by it. And when I think about it in relation to deep roots that you have around the work, you can probably imagine your life could have gone so many different directions for some people, just completely numbing out, not caring about anything, just having a disregard, being fatalistic. But it feels like for you it actually moved more toward love and healing and restoration, which is beautiful and amazing.
I’m so thankful that it shaped that way. Not that it’s been an easy journey. Talk about the role that magic has played in your life. I got introduced to magic by Nin and Grandpa when I was seven years old. They gave me a magic set for Christmas and I got hooked.
I really took to it, so I became very serious about it. And Grandpa was a banker in our little town and so he would brag to people in the bank about his grandson Andy doing these magic tricks. And someone invited me to do a magic show for their Halloween party that was at the Grange Hall. Grange hall in farming communities is kind of like the community center for farmers. It’s a hall and they have meetings there and so they were having a Halloween party and well, let’s have Andy.
I was seven years old, and so I got up there to do some magic tricks from my little magic set and it just kept growing from there. Thanks to my grandparents nurturing of that, they encouraged me and Grandpa wrote my jokes for my act.
I just got more and more serious. Someone told us about a magic convention that happens in Michigan where, where I grew up every year. And Grandpa told me how to contact the Chamber of Commerce there and write to them and find out about it. And they took me to the convention. And so I started getting into the world of professional magic as a little kid.
And so when I was twelve years old, I started my first business, which was Andy Bennett and Company: Unusual Entertainment for All Occasions.
I love that tagline. We got magnetic signs that we’d slap on the side of the car whenever it was time to go to a show.
So I started doing shows and getting paid for them and when I was 14, I had my own TV show, The Andy Bennett Show. And then that was filmed on Saturday mornings. And then Saturday evenings, I was the opening act at a place called Louie’s, which was the local strip club. I was 14 years old. And so I got $95 for 15 minutes.
That gig. Those are big dollars in those days. Those were big dollars. That was 1975. And so I put myself through college doing magic.
Never thought I would do it professionally. I loved it. Loved it. But I had this image of what success was. And success was like Grandpa.
It was Grandpa put on a suit, and he went to the office in the morning. So that’s what success looked like to me. So I got a job in the corporate world, and as I said, Ross Perot, I was his personal assistant. I met him. I was in the right place at the right time.
Met Ross Perot. He invited me to be his personal assistant. General Motors was buying his company, Electronic Data Systems. So that year for the holiday party, I did a little magic in the lunchroom in the office. And Ross didn’t know I did magic, and so I entertained everybody.
And he came up to me afterwards and he said, Andy, that’s real clever, how you do that magic. From now on, whenever you do a business presentation, I want you to use magic in it. And so I started figuring out but he said, don’t make it just a magic trick. Don’t just do gratuitous magic. Use it.
Use it to make a point. And so I started working on that, and the first opportunity he gave me was for the General Motors Board of Directors. And I was, like, 23 years old, and we had this proposal for General Motors. They had to invest it was to invest a ton of money in a communications platform. And he said, I want you to present it, and I want you to use magic doing it.
And so I won’t give you all the details, but it was a huge hit. It was amazing. But when I started to do the magic trick for the Board of Directors, I looked around the table, and the body language was like, oh, no, they think I’m crazy. But then when the moment of magic happened and I made my point, it was pandemonium. It was like a children’s birthday party.
And they were applauding and laughing and standing up in their seats. And I looked back at Ross, and he’s got his arms crossed, and he’s just smiling and nodding his head at me like, See? I told you so. That was when I really started bringing together that passion for magic into this. I guess, in general terms, using magic as a communication tool.
And it’s profoundly powerful. And I’ve been working at it ever since then, just trying to get better and better at using magic to help people learn and help people get points, maybe more quickly, certainly keep them interested.
It is something like comedy where I could imagine some of the reticence around the room, because we’ve all probably been at more of an amateur situation where somebody’s trying to be funny or they’re trying to do magic, where you sit back in your chair saying, I hope that this works out, because it can feel so awkward. It really is one of the highest level of skills of communication, coordination. And imagine mixing that like I know I’ve seen you do in keynote presentations, is to me such an elevated level of communication. Is it ever scary to do it, or have you done it for so long that it’s just part of the way that you practice everything together? Yeah, it’s so much of what I do and I’ve done it for so long that it’s a joyful part of speaking or workshops when I move into that space of I’ve been teaching at American University for the last three years and it’s all been online.
I started doing that during the pandemic. And so I really geared up. I got three cameras, I got lights, I got microphones, I set up special spaces where I could do magic online. And so I’ll be teaching and I’ll say, well, let me give you an example. You want to go over to the magic camera and everybody’s little kids, yeah, let’s go to the magic camera.
So I just flip a switch and go over and I do the magic. So it’s this joyful part of it and it’s taken a lot of work and a lot of trial and error to get it to a point where it’s not distracting, it’s not overwhelming the main point, it’s a means to an end. It’s a tool.
So when I first started incorporating magic into it, people would come up to me afterwards and they’d say, how’d you do that bowling ball trick? So that was a lot of the responses that I was getting, was about that. And I always felt like, that’s not what I want you to walk away with.
So as I kept refining it and tuning it, I remember the first time that I really felt like I was getting on track was a client recorded the session and they had five cameras and one of the cameras was pointed at the audience. And so when I watched the playback, I watched just the audience view and I would do a magic trick and then people would pick up their pens and start writing. And I said, okay, that particular trick and message are working. That’s the outcome that I want, is that the magic stimulates something that they feel strongly enough to write it down. And so the magic is just an integrated part of the real purpose, which is to help people.
And it’s so interesting. So now you have taken that with a lot of the key principles that you’ve learned. And you’ve trained now for many decades in magic, with also the decades of work in organizations working in the context of organizational development, leadership development. You’ve developed a model that you call The Restorative Mindset Model that has the components of Appear, Disappear, Restore.
Tell us how that came to be, because it feels like that is that further codifying of ingredients in the vernacular of Body of Work, right skills and strengths that many people would just consider to be in a totally separate part of their life. You have brought forward as design elements to also be not just using in a live setting, but also using a model. So tell us about the development of that and what is the model? How do you use it? Yeah, the model emerged when I was really at the lowest point in my life.
And so it was kind of almost like a cosmic thing when I got that magic set. I’m seven years old. I’m sitting under the Christmas tree. I open the tear off the paper.
There it is, Mr. Magic set by Adams Magic Company. And I open the lid, and there’s a sheet of paper on top that says, here’s the first three lessons of magic. You’re going to learn how to make something appear, you’re going to learn how to make something disappear, and you’re going to learn how to restore something. And so then there are specific magic tricks for appears, specific magic tricks where you learn how to make something disappear. Magic tricks for restore where you maybe cut a piece of rope and then you make it magically come back together in one piece.
So appear to disappear, restore were those first three lessons. And then all these years go by, and the things that I shared earlier, all the losses after the fire, after my divorce, I was just at rock bottom in my life. I was clinically depressed. My business was struggling because I’d been so distracted by bankruptcy and mold and fire and the health issues that came from the toxic mold in the house. And I was just at rock bottom.
And I was lying in bed one night, and I looked up and I said, God, why did you leave me? Because I had been estranged from God for decades. When my Grandmother died, that terrible death that she died. I remember I went to the chapel in the hospital that night, and my Grandmother’s brother was a Baptist minister. And he came up to the chapel to see me, and he came in and he sat down next to me and he put his arm around me.
And I said to him, and so I would have been, I think, 24 years old. I said, do not tell me about your God. And I just felt like, life is too painful. There can’t be a God. It’s got to just be a crapshoot.
I had walked away from God but I was lying in bed. It was 2009, and I said, god, why did you leave me? And I heard it wasn’t an audible voice. And who knows if it was my subconscious? I don’t know how these things work.
But I got a message. And the message was, I didn’t leave you. You left me. I’m always here, and I always love you.
And the next morning, I got up, and as I do every morning, I was journaling, and for some reason, Appear, Disappear, Restore popped into my head, remembering the first lessons of magic. And I just wrote that down on the page Appear, Disappear, Restore. And I’m looking at it, and I thought, what do I want to appear in my life? What needs to disappear from my life? What do I need to restore in my life?
And I just started writing about what those things were. And then that led me to making choices about choices that would cause those things to appear in my life, choices that would make certain things disappear. I developed some really unhealthy coping habits during this depression, drinking a lot, among other things.
Now with this clarity about what I wanted to appear, I got clear about what needed to disappear. There were things that needed to be restored, my faith, relationships. There were some relationships that needed to disappear. So that structure just became this plan. And within six months, I met Jennifer, my wife, who is my everything.
She’s incredible since then. Those years since then have been the best years of my life. And so shortly after I met Jennifer, I shared a story with her about my Grandfather’s suicide. And I had written it as just kind of a cathartic exercise. I wasn’t writing a blog or anything, but I shared it with her.
I was feeling like I could trust her, and it was something I wanted to share with her. I’d never shared it with anyone, and I shared it with her. And she said, you need to start talking about this in public. And so I remember the first time I shared the story of my Grandfather’s suicide was in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There were 600 people in the audience, and I shared the story of his suicide.
And I had gone through enough healing over that that I was able to tell that story not from a wounded perspective, but from a healed perspective. And the response was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. It was so much deeper. There was a woman who came up to me afterwards, and she asked me if she could hug me. And I said, sure.
And so she hugged me, and she laid her head on my chest, and she just started weeping. And she kept saying, I needed to hear you today. I needed to hear you today. I have no idea what was going on with her, but I saw the impact of how sharing my story could help people on a level that meant a lot to me and clearly to them. So suddenly now my work is kind of infused with something very meaningful, something that felt like, this is important that you do this kind of work that you do, work that reaches people on a very deep level.
And so then I started to think about this Appear, Disappear, Restore. And it’s different applications. And I started working with leaders on what do you need to make appear in your organization? What needs to disappear? What do you need to restore?
And it kind of took on a life of its own. McDonald’s invited me in. The Chief Information Officer, McDonald’s invited me to speak. He had a leadership conference in San Antonio for three days, and he said, I want you day one. I want you to start us off for 45 minutes.
I want you to talk about Appear. Day 2, 45 minutes talk about Disappear. Day 3, 45 minutes talk about Restore. So they framed each day around those three concepts, and then they ended up adopting Appear, Disappear, Restore as their strategic planning, high level structure. And they still use it.
That was ten years ago, and they still use that. And it rolls down to every individual where each person identifies, here’s what I want to make appear in my work. Here’s what needs to disappear. Here’s what I need to restore. And there’s a linkage all the way up to the top.
So you can use it personally, you can use it professionally. It’s great for starting a new chapter in your life. It’s great for rebooting your team. It’s kind of magical.
Pun intended, and it sort of sounds like a book to me, wink wink, says the person who’s talked to you about a book. I love it, and it’s so powerful. Thank you for sharing so openly about the journey, because the way that you do show up, again, having spent lots of time with you on Zoom, seeing you speak in person, I think the way that you do show up the kind of vulnerability and energy that you bring to a context where you are talking about business things. You and I both, with our background in organizational development, can geek out, right about getting excited to create healthy leadership cultures. There’s really a joy that I’ve seen in the work that you do to be working on some of the foundations.
But when we look at these unique ingredients that you’ve infused, and then in particular, knowing the personal story behind it, that, as you said, can feel magic, serendipitous, spiritual in the context in which you understand it. I think a lot of people who are listening can really relate to sometimes. That part of work that I don’t think often we give enough credit to, of really leaning in and listening first to ways that we can be using our skills and gifts. But also there’s a part of it that I see in your work and the way that you demonstrate personal leadership in this, of really demonstrating vulnerability. Is it scary sometimes when you are even something like sharing a metaphor of magic?
Here you are working at the White House, or when you’re working in a large corporation, if you’re using metaphors of magic, if you’re sharing some of your personal story, do you ever feel nervous about it? How do you manage that part of the experience? I don’t Pam, but I do remember times when I was very worried about using magic or exposing more of my inner life. I do remember times when I was afraid of how I might be judged and what might happen as a result of that. Will a client not want to work with me because they don’t take me seriously, because how can you take a magician seriously?
Magicians do birthday parties, and magicians are liars and all the baggage around magic. But I guess over time I’ve seen it just has such a powerful impact that I think what has come to rest in me is this absolute faith that the good that comes from sharing the personal stuff. If if somebody sees that as a weakness, they’re at a different stage of development. And they’re not the kind of people I want to be working with.
They’re not ready for going there.
But the people who will benefit from it, that’s what it’s all about.
So no, I feel so confident in the magic and the sharing that it’s absolutely essential that I do those things. And it’s what I want for I think about when I met you, I think you were on the verge of publishing your Body of Work. I think so, yeah.
And I think I was so excited about that because it’s what I dream of for people, that you can bring all of you, all of you to work again. I think because of the intensity of my life, it’s precious to me. And the idea that you bring all of who you are, your talents. Magic is a talent for me. I have an affinity for it.
You bring the things that you’ve suffered through, those are unique to you. They give you gifts. You bring all of that to play. And so that’s kind of my dream for people, is that you can just be this one and only you to bless the world.
I think it’s such a powerful example, and it’s one of the benefits of getting older and getting more secure, as you said, in the work, where you can wish well for everybody. But you do begin to understand in the context of The Widest Net, really, those ecosystems where you want to be playing, there are plenty of opportunities for people who might have a different way that they view business or a way that they might separate personal and professional work. I just was teaching a Tiny Marketing Actions class this morning, and somebody was asking a question about do you have two different instagram, one for personal and one for professional? And I was giving an example. I know for me it’s just too much work to think about moderating myself.
Pretty much what you see is what you get often clients to be or friends, which then became clients, which then are friends after, and everybody just gets all mixed up together. So that is personally for me and people can make different choices about it. I just see in the example of how you’ve integrated things where it really does create a very powerful experience for people who are there because we can just feel the difference between something that’s more of a cerebral model that may be solving a business problem. The person who’s delivering it doesn’t necessarily you can’t really feel their passion or their motivation for it when you can begin to make those connections. And it doesn’t mean in every situation that you necessarily describe every part of your own life journey to them, but it’s the way that you show up so open.
I love in the way that we’ve had conversations throughout the years where you have had that experience many many times, especially after speaking, where people come up like that woman did, often silently or just feeling like you are a safe place. That, to me, is this demonstration of your mission of really restoring that human spirit in work environments with so much dysfunction that we see within the political world, within organizations and different environments. What kind of hope do you hold for the possibility that people actually can experience the joy of bringing their full selves and really allowing their spirits to show up in these kinds of work environments? Well, fortunately, I am surrounded by people who are amazing.
Just knowing so many people that just are good people gives me a lot of faith.
It’s very spiritual for me because my belief is that we are inherently good. I mean, you think about children. I mean, we protect children with our lives. They’re these precious beings and we’re born good. The world can make us fearful.
And I think that when you were talking about political and the strife that exists in the world comes from people being afraid.
To me, the greatest challenge and opportunity is for us to learn how to deal with our fears. The fears that trigger reactivity in us, that ends up dividing us, that ends up making us go and find a weapon to protect ourselves to instead of listening, attacking all these dysfunctional things that are tearing apart the world come from fear, being afraid. And if we could learn to see that, to be self aware, to see it when it’s happening and to make different choices about how we manage that fear instead of taking up arms to instead listen, if we can learn how to manage our fears, we can create heaven on earth. I think it’s the greatest opportunity. We have.
And I have faith that people can do that because I see people doing that all the time and I believe that that will prevail. I believe that. It’s like Martin Luther King Jr. Said.
What is it, the arc of justice?
The arc of time is long, but it bends towards justice. Yes, I think that’s it. Yeah, it’s just this idea that change takes a long time and it’s two steps forward and three steps back, and it’s not elegant, but it does bend towards justice. It does bend towards a better place. And I believe that the force I know you love Star Wars, and I think, yes, George Lucas did the best job of articulating spirituality that anyone has ever done when he called it the Force.
I really do. I’m serious about that. I think there is this force in us, and it’s a creative force, and creativity contains within it destruction. Sometimes things get destroyed in order for something new to be created and that that force is within each one of us. And I believe that that long arc bends towards greater creativity, greater possibilities for us to be able to feed the people on the planet, to not kill each other.
I believe that in the long run, that we’re going to learn how to manage fear, how to lift each other up, and I think that we are pioneers in that journey. And I want to be right on the front lines of that. Absolutely. I had a conversation a while ago with somebody who’s a very dear friend of mine who does all kinds of work here locally. And it’s interesting because he was using that same quote and in frustration saying, it seems like I’m seeing all the time examples of how it’s actually not bending toward justice, which we see ongoing, but part of the conversation we had that feels very much resonant with what you’re talking about.
And going all the way back to your personal story from the beginning of the conversation is it really is where all of us are there helping to bend it. I feel like that is our job as individuals thinking of just why are we here at this particular time in history, in the specific locations where we are? That to me, it’s because we have a purpose and we have a role, and that is to aid and to aid each other. So I’m really helpful. I’m very thankful that you are doing your work where you are.
I know we have all kinds of folks who are doing their work here and that is the kind of thing, I think, that really can end up making systemic change. So I appreciate that very much. You can do it. I think you and I spend most of our time in the world of work, and I think the world of work is a wonderful place to be creating that kind of shift. We may not be able to change the world, but we can change our corner of the world.
And so we may not be able to bridge the divides in the United States of America, but I can bridge the divides in my team and create an environment where people do listen to each other, where they have different views and they’re able to listen to each other. They’re able to start building on those different points of view. Instead of tearing each other down, they build on them and they create something amazing. Out of difference, we can create a microcosm of the kind of world we want to live in. On our little team.
I think work is we spend at least 40 hours a week at work. That’s a lot of time to be able to spend creating a functional container for relationships. I am 100% with you. Well, I am glad that you’re spending your time that way and that you shared with us here today. How can people find you online and what’s the best way for them to connect with you?
Andrewbennett.com so that’s the website that’s all about. The restorative mindset and my contact information can be found there. And then if you do a search for me on YouTube, Andrew Bennett, you’ll see my two TEDx Talks come up. And I also have a YouTube channel with some other videos. I’d love it.
Well, thank you so much, Andrew, for sharing time with us today. Thank you. Pam for those of you listening, make sure to check out the show notes at pamelaslim.com for all the resources that were mentioned in today’s show. And I also want to thank my 31 Marketplace production team, La’Vista Jones, Tanika Lothery, Jose Arboleda and the award winning voice of God Narrator, Andia Winslow.
Until next time, be sure to subscribe to the show and enjoy bill building partnerships, organizations and communities that grow our ecosystem.