The Omnivorous Magician: Success Magic Requires Both Hunting And Gathering

The Omnivorous Magician: Success Magic Requires Both Hunting And Gathering


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In one of my first ever sales jobs, my boss told me there are two types of sales people: hunters and farmers.

Hunters went out and got new business -big flashy deals- while farmers got under the skin of existing clients and extracted year-on-year growth from their spend.

Both have different probability spreads and both are useful to any organisation -and most especially a commercial organisation. (By the way, if you don’t think you are in sales then you are being sold to. You could be the hairiest, part-time, liberal arts teaching aide in all of Sweden and you’re still in sales.)

Because we have recently problematised the extent to which agriculture serves as an effective spiritual metaphor, we are going to go with hunting and gathering rather than hunting and farming. Our metaphoric omnivore is Neolithic and happy.

Why I say you are all in sales is that anything you are paid to do involves the uneven distribution of awards and favour. You are in competition with others for your share of this distribution. Above you will see how starkly uneven the distribution of actual wealth is across the planet.

Let’s begin with that.

It’s basically the same on a country by country level: The bottom half of the US population controls just 2.5% (!) of the country’s wealth. That’s a triangle with a really fat base.

In your mind I want you to invert the above triangle and put them side by side. The inverted triangle represents the amount of wealth or opportunity available to the corresponding population segment, so the large fat chunk of the new triangle corresponds to the tiny elite at the top of the old one.

We shall call these the Omnivorous Alchemist’s Triangles. (OAT… Because it’s agricultural and thus ironic.)

The OAT distribution is more or less fractal. Since the emergence of agriculture this is how we apportion opportunity and status in almost any sized system. Even in supposedly non-commercial fields like academia the funding and speaking opportunities are disproportionately allocated to the top of the pyramid while the unending army of grad students at the bottom live on ramen noodles and hand-me-up clothing from their more successful little brothers.

This is how people get paid in the corporate world, this is roughly what book sales and advances look like, this is how traffic breaks down across the entire internet and within specific verticals -a few at the top get the most while the rest of us are more or less horizontal in one or two layers and our share of the rewards more than halves with each layer down we drop. (ie the pointy bit of your imaginary triangle gets smaller as the first triangle gets fatter.)

So opportunity as the politicians sell it is more or less a lie. It’s a lie that anyone can get rich, that the rising tide lifts every boat because reward distribution is almost always shaped like the bastard OAT.

The one good thing about what is frankly a really shitty system is that, once we know its rules, once we know which probabilities you need to nudge first, you can develop a better plan.

From right now your chances of being the next JK Rowling are vanishingly slim because you are in the fat-ass base of the OAT with the rest of us great unwashed. She is at the top, enjoying all those rewards you covet. What you need to do first, in the words of Kathy Griffin, is to fuck your way to the middle.

1. Enter the forest

Whether hunting or gathering, you first have to step into the forest. You need to ensure that you are playing the right game and that said game is dynamic enough to eventually yield drastic results.

Example:

If you took London out of Britain, the country’s average income and inequality would look like the Netherlands… flat and undynamic. The difference between the take home income of a bus driver and a professor isn’t all that much when compared to other countries.

However, with London put back in the country, the top 10% are 100 times richer than the bottom 10%…. and in London itself that difference is 2.5 times greater. (Sidebar: New York is a big reason why American figures are so similarly terrifyingly asymmetric. The richest country in the world with 40 million on food stamps and a major city with a “real” unemployment rate of 50%. Of course, we’d both look decidedly more sick if we ignored the economic input of our monster cities. As our wacky mayor frequently mentions, London is a net contributor to the tax base, even if it so expensive to run… like agriculture itself was, super-cities are a devil’s bargain.)

I remember back in film school in Sydney Baz Luhrmann coming to talk to us. He said if you wanted to be a successful (Hollywood) screenwriter you had to go to LA. There was no avoiding that fact. You could live on the moon if you wanted once you were successful (because you had a bigger ‘opportunity chunk’ of the OAT then) but not beforehand.

Obviously your own particular forest differs depending on your objective but basically ol’ blue eyes was right: make it there, make it anywhere.

Entering the forest is selecting a dynamic enough system that best matches your ultimate goal.

2. When to gather

The probability of your ultimate success decreases as your become more successful.

Consider the reality show:

In your first week in the Big Brother house, all you need to do is not get voted off. You have an 11/12 chance of this happening. That’s a very high probability of success.

Once you are down to the final two, you have a 1/2 chance of success. That’s substantially lower. (Sidebar: until I stopped watching the show about 7 years ago I could always predict who would win from the final two because it was always the least popular one. The most popular one had a popularity of around 22%. That left everybody else actively disliking him/her. Don’t ever watch TV with me.)

The bottom of the first triangle is like the first week on Big Brother. You have a very high probability of making small gains.

Nudging these high-probability magical targets is gathering. What does gathering look like? It looks like shoaling, it looks like any broad, scatter-gun approach designed to increase your opportunities within a specific field.

Gathering is spell casting without a precise target. As you near the top it’s time to switch methods.

3. When to hunt

Whatever the route to your ultimate goal happens to be, try and picture it like this hypothetical organisation.

When you get close enough to be able to knock precise people out of the running for certain jobs, when you are close enough to know exactly which agent you need to convince in your meeting, when you are close enough to know exactly which office you are going to get or which competing online store you need to beat in the search rankings then it’s time to hunt.

Hunting is spell casting that uses specific names, specific targets. You are close enough to your goal to use contagion/entanglement. Hunting is spell casting that involves calling something up and asking it for precise favour.

Conclusion: vary your diet

It can be so tempting to go hunting right away. I mean why not? You already know you want to get to the top, why not just summon and ask for it?

Because the opportunity will show up and you won’t be ready to jump on it.

What would be the point of calling something up to implant the idea in the head of the world’s most powerful literary agent that they need a new kids fiction author with a genuine occult background if you aren’t positioned to take advantage of it?

You know as well as I do that successful magical results have an overwhelming tendency to show up in the least helpful way possible. Why would you exacerbate that?

No, in magic as in the surgeon general’s recommendations, go for the Mediterranean diet: mostly vegetables and whole grain, then fish then white meat, then a bit of red meat at the top.

And wine. There should always be wine.

9 Comments

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  1. 1
    Frater AIT

    Dude…you are the savviest, most business-minded and practical mage I know. You and Jason should be doing a seminar of some sort together.

    I mean, goodness.

    You’re a chaos magician…who went to Film School…that is practical, sensible and knowledgeable about how the world works monetarily. A rare bird, indeed. Awesome post.
    Frater AIT´s last blog post ..The Death-Litany of Saturn- Putrefication

  2. 3
    Scribbler

    Though I concur with the two previous comments regarding the brilliance of this posting, I have to admit that the one line that bothered me was “Since the emergence of agriculture this is how we apportion opportunity and status in almost any sized system.” That struck me as the sort of sentence that — if it had appeared in a wikipedia article — would have had one of those annoying “citation needed” superscript tags. For me it takes a slight leap of faith to grant you that a priori assumption.

    But I realize I’m one to talk, I make all sorts of leaps in logic in my postings, so,… whatever.

    Otherwise, your article makes me realize that I’ve only really just woken up to the fact that I’m in the forest. Though, actually, I really do think I’m much more of a farmer at heart.
    Scribbler´s last blog post ..RIP Liz!

  3. 9
    Nicole Ciccarelli

    You are quite a good writer and I enjoyed reading your take on becoming successful in a hierarchy structure. It is especially important to add the elements of magic and the unknown into the endeavors one undertakes. As long as the intentions are pure, I believe that anything is possible.
    I just recently posted about the hierarchy structure, check it out if you’d like.
    http://www.nicoleciccarelli.com

    Thank you for your words of inspiration, and intellect!

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