Philippe Petit on Creativity: "The Perfect Crime"

Dubbed "the artistic crime of the century," Philippe Petit's smuggling of the equipment needed to string a wire between the two World Trade Towers in 1974, and the long walk in a high place that followed, electrified the world.

Many years later, in one of the more memorable IdeaFestival presentations, Petit eletrified the festival audience, talking about his life, problem solving, fear, how to make mistakes, the art of misdirection and, in the question and answer that followed, posted here, revealing details of a life singularly led.

Here are a few of the quotes from the talk that found their way to Twitter in 2010.

  • 'We should have courses in intuition in university because it is a great force.'
  • 'When I wire walk, I link two things with my wire that could possibly have been enemies and for a time are at peace.' - Brad Bigelow
  • 'It's a joy to solve a problem. When you have a problem, don't look for solution, look at the problem. The answer is behind its face.' - Ellen McGirt
  • 'Fear is a lack of knowledge.' - Ellen McGirt
  • 'A ladder is two posts that has a festival of holes - think space, not rungs.' - Ellen McGirt
  • 'We should not let fear fade the song of our soul.'
  • 'We are born with the impossible in us.'

Reflecting a little more on Petit's forthcoming book, Creativity: The Perfect Crime, the "criminal" part of originality, I believe, may be its departure from strict human reason and logic, which can only take the would-be creative so far. Having been to many, many festival presentations, that departure is critically important to the kind of change any of us get, that in some sense creative outcomes, whether they be in the sciences, in the arts or in economic development, depend the willingness to entertain "the impossible in us." Yes, of course there are impossibilities. But sadly, too many of us settle for the certainties; the rules, as is often the case, are self-imposed.

Live a little bit longer with that idea of yours. If it's truly original, no one knows that now.

Stay curious.

You can read a little more about Petit in this NPR piece. His book, Creativity: The Perfect Crime, will be available May 15.


"Positively Inhibited" Means "Yes," In Time

Looking for the right idea is a little like that promising first date. There's potential, but you also know from past experience that it pays to be choosy.

On the Edge of Chaos: Where Creativity Flourishes:

'While many people cite disinhibition as a crucial element of creativity — and it is — positive inhibition is even more important, [Dr. Robert Bilder, a psychiatry and psychology professor at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior] said. 'The ability to inhibit the first thing that comes to mind in order to get to the higher hanging fruit in the cognitive tree is one of the cornerstones of creative achievement....' The first idea is not usually the most novel one; pushing past the easy answer and reaching for a better one is a mark of creativity.

Have a great weekend.


h/t @cc_chapman

Full Video: Ariel Waldman's Hacker's Guide to the Galaxy

At the heart of something good there should be a kernel of something undefinable. And if you can define it, or claim to be able to define it, then in a sense you have missed the point. John Peel

This is perhaps my favorite quote from IdeaFestival 2013 because it goes to the beating heart of discovery: it will always be the work of amateurs, individuals for whom the "something good" is never complete.

While Ariel Waldman spoke at length of her love of space, the loosely drawn inner connections from her work with Science Hack Day also resonated with me because every discovery springs from an openness to experience, a willingness and capacity to feel things anew. It's what the IdeaFestival is all about. This is what I wrote last year, live-blogging her talk:

Segueing into Science Hack Day, an event for which she is probably more well known, she says that its mission is to regain a bit of the old excitement, of sheer possibility. The people who show up at one of those events are amateurs. They don't HAVE to know where their idea or project is going. She describes several hacks - building a wind tunnel to test a series of letters that will make a new typeface; or a lamp that lights up each time an asteroid passes the Earth; or a mask that would simulate synesthesia, aptly named, given the creepy image she display, 'syneseizure;' or a cocktail made with DNA. On the latter she issues a warning - 'it tastes disgusting.'

What if, she continues, one could listen to mapped sounds of high energy particle collisions? And in fact, she points out, one such instrument has been created, 'particle wind chimes.' There's more: given license to roam freely, to make new and maybe unorthodox connections, the creator of the particle wind chimes may have created something with real diagnostic potential in the hands of physicists. Formerly abstract concepts have been made available to the senses of researchers.

Find some time today to watch the video, which includes a terrific Q&A with MIT Technology Review editor Jason Pontin. You won't be disappointed.

Stay curious.


First, Ride: Debbie Millman Finds Her Cowgirl

Why do we stop experimenting early on?

Why do we walk away from the passions and the possibilities that might provide us meaning and income later in life?

Those thoughts from Jonathan Fields form the subtext of this fantastic video with IdeaFestival 2014 speaker Debbie Millman, who talks at length about her life choices and struggle with fear and self-doubt.

She says she "experimented all through childhood," trying on various characters like cowgirls. She loved "doing lots of different things," and it was in college that she realized that design could be a career. She graduated college with skills in design layout "and paste-up," and goes on to describe her post-college years as a decade-long time of decision. But, she says, she was "afraid to write, to paint," to create "things that didn't have a commercial value," and consciously chose a path that would provide her with security.

The first summer post-college, "I made every choice... based on fear."

Listening to Millman and Fields discuss the hold that fear can have on creative expression and meaningful work, I was reminded that creative, accomplished people, whether they work as entrepreneurs or in the arts, never eliminate fear. They just cultivate a skepticism about their own insecurities, the better to get on with it.

Jonathan Fields, coincidentally, is the author of the "Uncertainty," a book about how self doubt can cripple, so the conversation he and Millman hold is full of hard won wisdom.

Catch Debbie Millman and the other terrific people at IdeaFestival 2014 - many more speaker announcements are coming very soon! Festival passes are on sale now.

Stay curious


Creative work is messy work. Embrace the suck.

In a post at Fast Company, Leo Babauta lists a number of ways to stop delaying and get the hard work done. Two of them apply directly to the hard work of creativity and innovation.

First, "Let go of your ideal."

If this fear were gone, you could just do the task easily. So what is causing the fear? Some ideal you have, some fantasy about life being free of discomfort, confusion, embarrassment, imperfection. That’s not reality, just fantasy, and it’s getting in your way by causing fear. So let go of the fantasy, the ideal, the expectation. And just embrace reality: this task before you, nothing else.

There's a reason why we don't call the IdeaFestival the "IdealFestival." Because creative work is new work, there will be times when fear threatens to shut done the whole creative process. Don't let it. If you're not making any mistakes, you're not trying hard enough. And if your idea is truly an original, no one can tell you NOW whether it will work or not. The key is work toward your idea by making little bets, which brings me to the second point.

"Embrace the suck."

Doing something hard sucks. It’s not easy, and often you’re confused about how to do it because you haven’t done it much before. So what? Hard things suck, but life isn’t always peaches with roses on top (and a sprinkle of cinnamon). It sucks sometimes, and that’s perfectly fine. Embrace all of life, thorns and pits and all. Life would be boring without the suck. So smile, embrace the suck, and get moving.

This is key. As Oliver Burkeman said so well last year, the idea that our default state ought to be a happy state gets in the way of actually being happy because it makes us suspicious of all the other emotions we will eventually feel. There are few things as harmful to creative work as an unwillingness to live in the moment. One can find meaning in the hard work by simply reminding oneself that if it were easy, anyone could do it.

Stay curious.


Image: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Alexandre Dulaunoy

IdeaFestival/ICI, Inc. | 200 West Vine Street, Suite 420 | Lexington, KY 40507 | | phone: 866-966-4607 toll-free or 502-966-4607 | fax: 859.259.0986

Copyright @ ICI, Inc. 2014