I have just finished watching an amazing film based on the true story of Philippe Petit who crossed the 200 foot gap between the 110 story twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York in 1974.
The Walk is worth watching just for the vertigo inducing scenes of his perilous and spectacular high wire walk. The film is also an amazing recreation of the world famous towers I climbed during my gap-year trip round the USA in 1980. And which were of course destroyed by the terrorist attack on that terrible day 11 September 2001.
But for me the story also parallels many aspects of starting a business.
Perseverance – The first time the story’s hero sees tightrope walkers in the Circus as a young boy, he is determined to learn the skill. He spends his teenage years practicing his ‘calling’, by first walking on five ropes, then four, then three and two, before getting down to a single line tied between two trees. I wonder how many times he fell during those years of apprenticeship.
Overcoming failure – Petit’s first public outing is a humiliating disaster in which he falls into a lake due to performance nerves. It would have been easy to understand if he had chosen to end his ambition at that point.
Finding your audience/customers – Petit moves to Paris and develops his skill as an entertainer. He learns where the best places to perform are, and how to manage his audience.
Having a vision – Philippe is always looking for new and more audacious places to hang his wire, and spots the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral. He sneaks in at night and sets up his cable, before giving the early morning tourists something of a surprise view. According to the film, he chances across a photo of the World Trade Center towers in a dentist waiting room. In a close up scene he slowly draws a thin straight pencil line between the two buildings and immediately this becomes his obsession.
The passion to keep going – The training, planning and preparation required to walk between the twin towers before they are completed appears to be impossible, but it is Petit’s passion that drives his small team of ‘co-conspirators’ on.
Having a mentor – Philippe persuades high-wire expert Papa Rudy from the circus to teach him everything he needs to know to be able to walk between the towers. Including the most dangerous part of any wire walk, the last three steps.
Detailed planning and research – The walk is illegal, so the team have to do an immense amount of research on the building-site of the twin towers to work out how to get the equipment needed up onto the roofs in time for the crossing at first-light.
Valuing your team – There is a moment in the film, the night before the adventure begins, where Philippe is reminded by his girlfriend that he has not thanked his team for their contribution. He immediately wakes everyone up to express his appreciation.
Adapting to changing circumstances – During the night while setting up the equipment for the walk, Philippe and his accomplice Jeff have to hide for three hours balanced on a steel girder from the security guard. This prevents our hero from checking the cables on the other tower as originally planned. He decides to go ahead anyway and trust in the work of his team.
Celebrating success – Once the police release Petit and his team from custody they celebrate their incredible achievement with a champagne and a Chinese meal. Many entrepreneurs are too busy rushing onto their next goal, without stopping to recognize an important milestone or success.
Achieving the impossible – Most of the people Petit met in the build-up to his walk said it couldn’t be done and that he was mad. He proved them wrong. He believed in himself and his abilities in the way everyone starting a business needs to.