Pic by Jake Brusha

You might ask yourself; what does daredevil Nik Wallenda have to do with the likes of Uber founder Travis Kalanick? After watching his performance live right from the Leo Burnett building, I can definitely say a lot. Here are some lessons that this high wire artist can teach about upping our game and embracing risk.

Balance progress and stability: when Nik Wallenda was crossing the Grand Canyon, he noticed that the wire had become slippery due to gathered dust. That was the first of three stops he made due to changing weather conditions on his way to achieving a new Guinness record. Last night, it took him about six and a half minutes to walk the wire from the Marina City tower to the top of the Leo Burnett building. Innovation, like walking the wire, it’s not about speed but a balancing act. When scaling a project, understanding when to speed-up scaling a project or when to slow down to watch for changing conditions, is critical for success.

Have a Purpose: Nik Wallenda’s website tells a story about when he was asked about the purpose of his trip by a passport agent. His answer was “To inspire people around the world to follow their dreams and never give up”. Ask yourself: what’s driving your journey as an innovator? Not just what problem you are solving but how your solution helps people achieve higher goals.

Focus on success, not on the abyss: as we were watching Nik walking the rope towards us, tension increased. People couldn’t help but worry about the chance of him falling. As human beings, we tend to worry about external factors (wind, height, the abyss) rather than on what we can manage (how we walk the wire). Risk and failure are in our head. “Life is on the wire and everything else is just waiting,” Nick’s great-grandfather told him. When facing new challenges, I like to ask myself what’s the worst thing than can happen. Removing the angst of fear helps me focus on solutions.

Master your confidence by prototyping: in preparation to cross the Niagara falls, Wallenda practiced in a parking lot for almost two weeks. Firemen sprayed water at him while high-powered fans recreated the wind he would face during his upcoming event. Think about prototyping as a way to test assumptions before you go big. How can those small experiments help boost your confidence? After all, innovation is a mental game.

Use the Power of storytelling: if you are Nik Wallenda, the only person that has walked the high wire across the Niagara falls or the Grand Canyon, what do you do next? Cross the Chicago river from one of the most iconic buildings in Chicago, or go for a second walk, this time blindfolded. Nik’s story is full of human elements, a family tradition, his quest to follow his great grandfather’s steps, to break Guiness Records, his devotion to his family and to his faith. Remember the power of storytelling lies in the details. It’s more about the person behind the story than about the act itself.

Mr. Wallenda describes himself as a challenge-driven person. He believes you can always find a way to do something you desire through hard work and experimentation. A great reminder that, like walking on a rope, innovation is a balancing act.

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