Recently I was honored to meet Philippe Petit at the IBM ConnectED conference in Orlando. I was doing a session on “Facing our Creativity Crisis” and Philippe was kind enough to sign some books and even some hammers (that will take another blog to explain).
Philippe was to be our guest speaker for our Opening General Session. He was advertised as a “high-wire walker” and before the session I heard many comments about how that was going to be done in the conference venue. For those who are unaware, among other things, one night in 1974 Philippe rigged a wire between the tops of the World Trade Center towers and in the morning he spent over 45 minutes on that strand engaging onlookers with his aerial poetry.
During his talk, he shared with us the story of those first steps on that wire and what that meant to him. Additionally he shared other stories of significant wire walks and the passion, tenacity, intuition, faith, improvisation and inspiration involved in living a creative existence.
At one point describing the first steps onto the World Trade Center wire, he had the lights dimmed and a spot light highlighted his figure. He spoke of his senses, the sounds of the city, the sights below and afar. He brought us into the moment. He described the sensation of having one foot grounded on the building and the other positioned on the wire. He had us feel what it would be like to shift the weight from the building to the awaiting and ready wire. On stage, when he shifted his weight off his right foot and stepped as if onto the wire, like all the others in the audience, I felt it.
I come from a background of technology sales and support. I’ve been a part of very significant companies developing magnificent business solutions. And I’ve been fortunate enough to represent these companies by telling our story to our clients and prospects around the world.
This was usually done by tricking out some computer with all the gadgets and features you can think of. I’ve spent days developing scripts that accompany the movements on the screen and worked to coordinate the message with the technology display. But Philippe cemented in my mind something I’ve been believing and acting on for some time. It’s not about the product, the technology or the demo. It’s about the feeling your audience experiences.
Philippe didn’t need a wire to convince us he could do it. He had the credibility of his past. When I speak of new ways to work, I really don’t need to demonstrate the product to prove it. I’ve lived it and have the personal stories to describe how liberating it is to experience a creative workday.
This isn’t to say that technology demonstrations are never useful. Sometimes we are describing things so foreign to the audience they need to see it to begin to understand it.
I’m sure that with the resources at the Swan Hotel, they could have rigged a wire across some portion of the stage to allow Philippe to show us. It would have taken extra resources. And for Philippe, as comfortable as he is on a wire, it probably wouldn’t have been an issue, BUT he didn’t need it to make us live the moment.
In his book “Creativity – the perfect crime” Philippe writes, “Place the creative act – not its attainment – in your heart. The wire-walker intent on safety deprives the onlookers of aerial poetry.”
Don’t let the demonstration of a technology be your “attainment”. Allow your great and convincing stories to be the “aerial poetry” your onlookers will remember most.
Thank you Philippe!
For those wanting to experience his story, check out his TED talk “The Journey Across the Wire” that includes the story mentioned above. Also look for the upcoming feature film “The Walk” scheduled to be released in October 2015.