Home » The Surprising Secret That Solves Your Problems Quickly: Collins Key (Transcript)

The Surprising Secret That Solves Your Problems Quickly: Collins Key (Transcript)

Collins Key at TEDxSantaBarbara

Full text of magician Collins Key’s talk “The surprising secret that solves your problems quickly” at TEDxSantaBarbara conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: The surprising secret that solves your problems quickly by Collins Key


Collins Key – Magician

Imagine if you could take your brain and then turn it inside out. And then have access to the information to be able to solve virtually any problem.

It sounds pretty cool right? Well here’s how.

We’re going to take a look at problem solving in a very different way, one that can bring tremendous benefit to your life. And this is a technique I was first introduced to at the age of 12 when I began studying the art form of magic. And I’ve continued to develop it throughout my professional career.

And now best of all, this will be able to work for you, in your personal life, professional, or to help you create that next billion dollar idea. And in any field, sales, marketing, show business. It doesn’t matter.

Now throughout this talk I’m going to be revealing to you three core psychological principles that magicians have been using for more than 5,000 years. And all of these principles have one thing in common. They all revolve around the most important concept in magic. And that is the answer to every problem is hiding in plain sight.

So let me explain. Imagine you’re seated at a table and you’re given a problem to solve using nothing except for these items: a candle, some pushpins, and some matches.

Now you’ve got 60 seconds to figure out how to attach this candle to the wall in a way that when it’s lit, the wax will not drip down onto the table.

Okay, so some of you may be familiar with this, but for the rest of you, while you’re trying to figure this out, let me give you a little bit of history of where this came from.

Now this is a classic test of creative problem-solving developed by the renowned psychologist Dr. Karl Duncker. And it was first published in 1945. But although this is over three-quarters of a century old, Dr. Duncker’s assessment of how our cognitive brain solves problems hasn’t really changed at all.

Again it’s back to what I said earlier. The answer to every problem is hiding in plain sight.

You see the thing is we look right at the answer but we rarely see it. And in this case most people are so consumed with how to attach the candle to the wall using tacks.

Well, the real answer is right in front of them. You guys see it, the box? Again that’s what I mean by the answer is hidden in plain sight.

And again the reason we don’t think the box is one of the solutions is because not presented to us as such, it’s locked away in our brain and positioned simply as a container for the pins. Now Dr. Duncker called this functional fixedness, the cognitive bias that limits a person to using an object only in the way that is traditionally intended.

And the same is also true of ideas and concepts. For example, this candlestick problem was presented to you simply as a creative problem-solving test when in fact it also had a secondary purpose. It contained a very important clue, one that was hiding in plain sight, which you will need to unlock another facet of your cognitive problem-solving ability.

Now the thing is you probably didn’t notice because you weren’t instructed to look for it. So right now I’m giving you a heads up. There’s going to be one more clue hidden during this talk. So pay close attention to every detail.

Now to make all this a lot easier to understand, I’ve simplified the process into three words. The first word is Misconceptions. Most people think a difficult problem must have a complex solution.

The second word: Assumptions. We utilize information based upon prior knowledge and experience and we don’t think beyond those parameters.

And the third word is Expectations. The answer we expect to find often limits us and does not allow us to see what’s really going on.

Now I thought it’d be kind of fun to show you what all three of these words look like in action. And then we’ll dive into each one in a little bit more detail.

So for this here got a few bills, two, three, four, I think five dollars here. So here’s the goal. The goal is be able to take these bills. If I can do this properly we’ll actually be able to take them. On the count of three we go one, two, and three. I got it now transformed into five hundred dollars.

Okay now I have to say this. I can’t promise you’ll actually be able to transform money at your fingertips by the end of this talk. But you will be able to utilize these same principles. The same principles I just use to turn $1 bills into hundred-dollar bills to solve virtually any problem.


All right so let’s break this whole thing down right now starting with misconceptions, this exact same thing that happens with the candlestick problem.

You see most people are so focused on how to attach the candlestick. They can’t figure out exactly what’s going on with the box. It gets buried in their brains. And what happens, you have to force your brain to reassess everything about the situation, every detail to bring the information to surface and then be able to expand your ability to utilize cognitive thinking.

So I’ve got another little business. This is so fun I can’t wait to show you this. So this here is a little thing. So guys take a look right over here. We’ve got a couple cards. Six cards to be exact. Each card is different and each card has been selected for a very important psychological reason. You’ll find out why in just a moment.

So right now I want you to focus on just one card and remember it. Keep repeating the name of your card over and over and over in your mind. You got it? Great, I’m going to turn the cards over, start mixing them up.

Now if I did this correctly, all of you, yes all of you will have been influenced to choose the exact same card. And I’m going to remove your card right now. Let’s see if it worked. So it’s pretty crazy right?

So okay, so how does this happen? Like I said there is a psychological reason why these cards were selected but it is not so that all of you would be drawn to the same card. It’s so that all of you would focus on only one card and ignore the rest. And that’s where the misconception comes in because what you don’t know is that there are actually two separate sets of cards.

Again the answer was hiding in plain sight. And the reason you didn’t notice is because both sets of cards are actually very similar. So let’s say for instance in the first spread you selected the king of clubs. In the second spread it was replaced by the king of spades.

So no matter what card you chose in the first spread is not going to show up in the second spread. And to top it all off you were so focused on your one card. You didn’t even notice any of the other cards around it. This is why misconception is so dangerous and it often makes problem-solving take way longer than it really should.


All right now the next idea we’re going to tackle is assumptions, and more importantly false assumptions. So why don’t you take a look at this animation right now. And tell me which way is the key rotating?

Now some of you will assume the key is rotating clockwise. Others will assume the key is rotating counterclockwise. And both of those assumptions are wrong.

You see we assumed the key is moving in just one direction or the other. But I can assure you it’s not. Now if you’re more of a right brain user you would likely see the key rotating to the right. If you’re more of a left brain user, you’ll likely see the key rotating to the left.

But by switching your thinking from right brain to left brain you’ll be able to shift the direction of the key. Now this takes a little bit of practice but the results are almost magical.

So how does this relate to hiding in plain sight?

Well in this situation our brain thinks and assumes that there’s only one of two possible answers. The only two it readily knows and accepts. The key can rotate right or the key can rotate left. It’s inconceivable of why the key can be rotating in both directions at the same time.

But you see if we really study the image, we realize we don’t have enough information to determine the key’s direction at all. You see the key is solid black. There are no highlights, shadows, or any other distinguishing marks to give us the appropriate information.

Now our brain fills in these missing pieces and we assume, because our mind likes to work in an orderly fashion that what we see is the key rotating in one direction or the other. It doesn’t even occur to us that maybe we’re missing the relevant information to make an informed decision.

And we assume that what our mind tells us based on the way that it chooses to function at that moment that our logic is correct.

So the correct answer to this one is simply hiding in plain sight depending on your perception the key rotates in both directions.


Now there’s still one more crucial word we need to explore. And that is expectations. The answer we expect to find can blind us to what is actually happening. And this is what makes problem-solving so difficult.

Now a great example of this is when I was asked to be on the TV show America’s Got Talent. There was just one problem. At that time the producers of the show expected magicians to perform big flashy Vegas type illusions which I didn’t do.

Now the reason that America’s Got Talent wanted these types of acts was because the show was being taped in front of 6,000 people at Radio City Music Hall. And they wanted this show to feel huge.

But I noticed that none of the magicians ever made it past the first few rounds. So I started analyzing why. I mean they’re actually great in front of 6,000 people in the audience but to the millions of people who are watching on TV at home and then voting, there was a disconnect between the performer.

Again I analyzed why.

Well television is really an intimate medium. And the best kind of magic for television is close-up magic as it too is intimate. It draws the viewer in.

So armed with this new insight I realized the answer was right in front of me. It was literally hiding in plain sight. I didn’t need to perform big flashy Vegas type illusions. I needed to do small close-up intimate performances that would blow the minds of the judges and the people watching at home.

Now it took a bit of convincing to get the producers to agree to this whole thing. They definitely did not see it the way that I did at that time. But once I was able to refocus their attention back to what they already knew, which is that television is intimate, therefore the magic actually would be intimate as well. They said okay let’s do it.

It was a paradigm shifting away from magic to be done on America’s Got Talent. And I actually became the first magician to ever make it into the finals on that show. Thank you.

Now it all happened because I was able to shift the producers’ expectations of what they thought would work.

So right now it’s time for me to shift yours. As I mentioned earlier throughout this entire talk, I’ve given you two clues to the problems I’m about to show you right now.

Now you may or may not have noticed them. And if you didn’t, here’s a little hint. If you go back and watch this again, you’ll notice that every time I touch my key, say the answer is hiding in plain sight, I would point to the clue that you will need to quickly solve these next few problems.

Now there’s a chance you probably just didn’t even notice that you perceive as I touch my key just an irrelevant gesture. You didn’t expect such a simple action could contain the answer to what you perceived as a much more complicated problem.

So here are the challenges. The first one, how do you drink champagne from the bottle without opening it? Immediately your mind will start thinking of all these different solutions most of which probably have to do with a complicated way of getting the cork off and getting the champagne out without actually opening up the bottle. Keep thinking.

The next one here involves two glasses. A dollar bill suspended between them and a salt shaker. And the challenge is to get the salt shaker to balance on top of the dollar bill while staying suspended so when you let go it won’t drop down to the table.

Again the answer is probably a lot easier than you think. And also again if you want to learn these all you got to do is just watch this again and look for the times when I touch my key point and say the answer is hiding in plain sight.

Now this here is actually what people consider a bar bet. So if you’re familiar with magic and puzzles you probably recognize it. And it uses the exact same principles that magicians have been using all along.

If you had a bit of difficulty like figuring it out, don’t worry because it’s actually much easier to fool a really intelligent person than someone who maybe isn’t quite as sophisticated. I got you. I got you. But it’s really true.

It’s actually very difficult to fool children and I’ll explain why. For a really sophisticated person you will almost always talk yourself out of the simple solution. Even though it’s the right solution, your misconception will cause you to overlook the obvious.

Now this also has you call create a false set of assumptions. For example, a child will see a lady floating in the air and say, yeah well there are strings holding her up. A more sophisticated person would say, you see that I can’t see any strings. Plus it would take a lot of strings to support the weight of a person. They utilize information based upon prior knowledge and experience and they don’t go beyond those parameters.

And finally they create a false set of expectations. Because a magician passed a hoop around the lady, they allow this one simple action to blind them from the truth. It’s the perfect example of misconceptions, assumptions, and expectations all working against you. All stopping you from achieving your goal.

But once you master these principles you will be able to unleash the answers and realize the benefits that are always hiding in plain sight.

Thank you. Thank you all so much.


Resources for Further Reading: 

Mind is Everything: Dr. David Hendricks (Transcript)

Using Mindfulness to Deal with Everyday Pressures: Regina Chow Trammel (Transcript)

Reprogram Your Mind Through Affirmations: Marisa Peer (Transcript)

One Thing to Know About Your Brain That Will Change Your Life: Ann Herrmann-Nehdi (Transcript)