High-Wire Creativity: Philippe Petit

Posted Wednesday, July 2, 2014 - 11:05
Philippe Petit with his new book

Card tricks. Sleight-of-hand magic. Props. Audience participation. No, this isn’t a description of a hot new show on the Vegas Strip. These are a few highlights of the United for Libraries President’s Program, held Monday at the 2014 American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas.

Philippe Petit, the high-wire artist best known for his infamous tightrope walk across the World Trade Center in 1974, which was documented in the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire, was the featured speaker and he delivered a high-energy, often hilarious presentation on creativity and the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone to achieve maximum results.

“There is no creativity without rebellion,” Petit said. “You have to be free to create freely.” Petit’s philosophy on creativity and the creation process is outlined in his new book, Creativity: The Perfect Crime, and the book was a focus of his talk. He wasn’t making a sales pitch, however. Petit was self-deprecating as he discussed his work, stressing that it contains no recipe on how to be creative—the book is only about his own process, which he hopes will serve as inspiration. He said he hates the self-help creative book industry and was determined not to write a book in that vein.

Not surprising, breaking the rules to find creative inspiration is a major component of Petit’s philosophy. Upon entering the hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center, audience members were given a plastic fork. Together, Petit and the audience used the fork to discover new ways of using the utensil beyond its intended use: hair comb, shoe horn, picture hanger, Morse code device, and a dozen more. Petit encouraged the crowd to step outside of their comfort zones daily; to go to places that they would never go to find new ideas; to walk barefoot in places that require shoes; to close their eyes and walk around their homes. Retraining your brain to operate on new levels is key, he said.

“We take ourselves much too seriously,” Petit said. “We need to play, be silly, and remember our childhood.”

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