Innovation/Global Risk

The Fuel of Persistence

By Shlomo Maital  



 Philippe Petit

Leadership educator John C. Maxwell writes a blog, Leadership Wired, which includes this amazing story about young Philippe Petit.   It was sent to me by a young woman who heard my talk on “Creativity + Character = Change the World” at Univ. of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.  The theme of my talk was the crucial importance of strong character, especially stubborn persistence and resilience, in creating world-changing innovations. 

   According to Maxwell,  in his essay “Passion: The Fuel of Persistence”, Philippe was an 18-year-old French street performer. While searching for venues for his high-wire balancing act, he read about the World Trade Twin Towers in a magazine in a dentist’s office in Paris.  He decided he would walk a tightrope between them.

   He worked on his dream for the next six years. He practiced his high wire act endlessly and saved money for a ticket to America. Petit ascended the Tower on a Tuesday night. With a bow and arrow, they fired a line from the north to the south tower and spent the night securing it.  Early Wednesday morning, petit mounted the high wire.  As thousands watched, the cops gathered to arrest him. Petit focused fiercely on his act, and made eight trips back and forth between the towers.  Then he turned himself in. 

   Your reaction?  Insanity? Madness?  What possible value did Petit bring to the world with his stubborn persistence?  A wasted six years of his life? 

    The value he brought to the world was to create a powerful narrative about the fuel of persistence and passion.  We can only imagine how many powerful arguments were made to dissuade him, to make him give up.  He never did.  In French ‘petit’ means small. But Philippe was anything but.  His dream was huge and his persistence to fulfill it was even bigger.  A great many successful innovators will strongly identify with Petit’s story. 

   As I told my Rotman audience, a survey I did once among Israeli microchip designers found that the two most important factors in successful innovation, according to them, were these:  resilience and stubborn persistence.   These are qualities we do not teach in MBA classes. And like our biceps, they become stronger with practice.  Practice them daily.  If you give up with small things, you will likely give up on big things as well.