Phillipe Petit crosses between the Twin Towers, August 7, 1974

How you can use Phillipe Petit’s secret for accomplishing great things

In 1974, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center complex stood as the highest buildings in the world. On the morning of August 7, Phillipe Petit, a 24-year-old Frenchman, stepped off the edge of the south tower to walk the wire he had rigged between them.

This was not an official stunt. In fact, Petit referred to it as his “le coup, the artistic crime of the century” and spent six years planning. It all led to roughly 45 minutes spent on the wire, where he made eight passes back and forth between the buildings — including kneeling and lying down on his back — before walking off the other side to the waiting handcuffs of police.

The entire story was captured by Petit and his crew and was later turned into a documentary called “Man on Wire,” in homage to the description from the original police report. “Man on Wire” was completed in 2008 and won several prestigious awards, including the Grand Jury Prize from the Sundance Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Documentary. The movie is terrific; I recommend you make an effort to see it.

I was reminded of Petit recently while watching a TED Talk he gave in March, ’12. As he described what it was like to take that first step from the edge of the building at the top of the world, I couldn’t help but think of how his words applied to every endeavor, every project, every effort we make.

Those of us who work at desks are not often faced with being on the edge, but there are certainly events that push us beyond our comfort zone and raise the blood pressure. Expectations, either internal or external, exert tremendous forces that must be dealt with in order to succeed. Here is how Petit describes these moments and how he quiets the “inner howl” that assails him. The words are his, the emphasis is mine:

On the top of the World Trade Center, my first step was… terrifying.

All of the sudden, the density of the air is no longer the same. Manhattan no longer spreads its’ infinity; the murmur of the city dissolves into a squall whose chill and power I no longer feel… I lift the balancing pole, I approach the edge, I step over the beam. I put my left foot on the cable. The weight of my body rests on my right leg, anchored to the flank of the building. I ever-so-slightly shift my weight to the left, my right leg will be unburdened, my foot will freely meet the wire.

An inner howl assails me: the wild longing to flee. But it is too late. The wire is ready. Decisively, my other foot sets itself onto the cable.

‘Faith’ is what replaces ‘doubt’ in my dictionary.

When he puts one foot on the wire, he has the faith — the certitude — that he will perform the last step. If not, he says, he would run away and hide.

You cannot have a project or goal if you don’t have faith. If not, it will be like ‘Oh, I hope, one day, you know, that success will fall from the sky and I’ll be there to receive it.’ It doesn’t work like that.

“There is no recipe, there is no algorithm, parameter or algebraic formula that I could give to say, “If you need to concentrate in duress or in an amazing moment in your life, do this or do that…” it all depends on who we are.

But I believe he has provided the formula: We have to know both where we’re starting and where we’re going, and we must have absolute faith that we’ll get there. If we do, taking that last step will be as certain as the first.

The big announcement from Apple wasn’t the Watch or the new iPhone

Apple Watch

A game-changer for the fitness industry, but not the biggest announcement of the day

Let’s be clear: everyone (except me, apparently) wanted a bigger phone. They’re going to get that with the new iPhone 6 and 6L. And the Apple WATCH, with it’s beautiful design, fitness tracking capabilities and deep integration with the iPhone is going to be a big hit. (A very big hit, in fact.)

But the announcement that stole the show was also the one that you might have missed. It was the introduction of Apple Pay. Apple’s new payment system will work in tandem with an NFC chip built into the phone and rely on the already-popular fingerprint scanning security features. In theory, it will make it simple for you to pay for nearly anything without ever reaching into your wallet.

At launch, there will only be about 200,000 place where you’ll be able to use this new process, but look for that number to grow very rapidly over the next couple of years. The reason this is such a big freaking deal is this: everyday, Americans process more than $12 billion dollars in credit and debit card payments. If they can convert these transactions to happen in their ecosystem, Apple stands to make a tiny percentage on each one of those transaction. A tiny percentage; so small no one will really notice. But pick almost any tiny number you like and then multiply it by 12 billion. The result won’t be so tiny anymore. That’s the size of the market, theoretically available for a cash influx, every single day.

Of course, they won’t get all of them and there are certainly competitors in the market. To be sure, Google Wallet has been around for awhile without making much of a dent in the market. But let’s not forget there were other MP3 players before the iPod and there were other phones before the iPhone and there were other tablets before the iPad. Apple has consistently shown they can become the dominant player in key industries by exercising a willful amount of patience and skillful execution. I fully expect Apple Pay to have precisely the same results.

Might be time to take another look at picking up some Apple stock. (AAPL)

(For a more detailed look at Apple Pay, see this article from The New York Times Technology section: With Apple Pay, a Push Into Mobile Payments)

When #everything has a #hashtag, #nothing does.

Hashtags might be the most nuanced thing about using social media. As a result, it can be tough (especially for someone new to the concept) to understand how to use them correctly. To help you get the most out of this small but mighty tool (and help you avoid looking… well, #stupid) here’s a quick primer on what the hashtag is and how you should use it.

Hashtags are any word that has the hash mark (#) attached. For example, in the headline of this article, #everything, #hashtag and #nothing are all hashtags. Ideally, people use these tags to identify items they feel are related to an overall concept or conversation. Here are a few examples from Twitter:

Be careful using hashtags to ensure your intent is understood

Two million tragic stories of loss… and one pair of Hello Kitty slippers. Be careful using hashtags to ensure your intent is understood.

When you see a hashtag, it’s intended to give you a clue to what the item is about while also linking to other items with the same tag. When you click on a tag, it’s like doing an instant search on the social network for all of the other items with that same tag.

This behavior can be powerful and useful. When the Superbowl was in Indianapolis, many of the messages on social networks from local users contained a variation of a Superbowl-related tag. It was common to see #Superbowl, #Superbowl46, or #sb46. One of the problems, of course, is that there is no official tag list, so there are often variations of similar tags. Additionally, on social networks with a limited number of characters (Twitter limits you to 140), it can be a challenge to add a relevant hashtag, let alone more than one.

Twitter will also use hashtags to show you topics that are “trending”, or rising in popularity. Looking at this list will show you what people are currently talking about and enable you to add your voice to the conversation. It will also help to highlight some of the problems with hashtags: Since there is no ‘hashtag authority,’ people can use a trending tag to have their post show up even if it’s totally unrelated. You can think of this as “hashjacking.” It’s annoying and makes you look like an obnoxious ass. Don’t do it. Here’s an example:

Rule of thumb: If you want to make your content easier to find, adding a hashtag can help. To be most effective, do a little research first and try to figure out which tag seems to make the most sense and use that. Try to limit your use of tags to just a few.

Some social networks, like Instagram, have no limits on the size of the comments you can add. As a result, you might see an image with several tags. Ultimately, this is completely up to you, but you might want to pause just long enough to consider a couple of things.

First, since there are no rules about hashtags, you’re free to add anything you want. But before adding a tag, you should consider if it has a ‘default’ use. Recently, I saw someone lamenting about a pair of shoes that had been eaten by their dog. They used the tag #rip in the post. I’m not sure if they meant this to mean that the shoes were ‘ripped’ or that they wanted the shoes to ‘rest in peace’, but the common usage of the tag is for the latter. So if you look at all of the photos using this tag, there are some truly heartbreaking stories about tragedy and loss…and one pair of destroyed shoes. Be cautious.

Second, consider how many tags you want to add and your motivation for doing so. If you want to tag that photo of the sky you took with #clouds and #beautiful or even #sky, feel free. This is especially true if you’re adding something new to an existing conversation. But if you feel compelled to keep going, adding things like #blue #monday #instagram #ig #awesome #cool #photooftheday #selfie etc., you might pause long enough to wonder why. Often, adding multiple tags allows people (and/or computer bots) to find and “like” your contribution. In many cases, the bots do this hoping that you’ll follow them back so they can use their inflated number of followers to peddle their influence.

If you’re just hoping total strangers find your photo and ‘like’ it…well, why? Sure, we all recognize that the point of social media is to find out how much people ‘like’ us, but do we really care if they’re total strangers? (There was a great deal of sarcasm in that last sentence.) On the other hand, you might use hashtags to categorize your own photos, so you can come back later and click a tag to see all of your other pictures of #mykids (and every other photo tagged the same) and if people don’t like, screw ’em! That’s also completely up to you (remember, there is no hashtag clearing house or police to tell you what you can and can’t do.) But: It might make you look a little odd, or desperate, or whatever, so keep that in mind. These are just people tapping a little button, they aren’t likely to follow you into battle or help you hide a body.

Look, all sarcasm aside, social media is supposed to be fun. So, by all means, join us and add your voice to the conversation. And if you feel that your contribution should be part of the greater collection, then add all (please, just a few) of the (related) hashtags you want. I’ll be looking forward to your contributions.

A simple life lesson: Learn to say “I’m sorry.”

Photo of the Russian Navy being displayed as a tribute to American Veterans at the Democratic National Convention

Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images

One of our kids has a seriously difficult time saying she’s sorry. I haven’t been able to figure out why, and we’ve all come to understand this small quirk. Understanding it, however, doesn’t mean we’re accepting it. We’re still looking for ways to encourage her to find the… courage? humility? to offer a sincere apology when she’s wrong. The latest idea: Having “sorry time” at the dinner table where we go around the table with each person offering an apology to someone else. I’ll let you know how it goes.

But this quirk doesn’t seem to be limited to my house. I see countless examples of business people, politicians, friends – you name it – who seem to be afflicted by the same thing. An example:

I read an article in Navy Times about a snafu and the Democratic National Convention. Here’s what happened:

On the last night of the Democratic National Convention, a retired Navy four-star took the stage to pay tribute to veterans. Behind him, on a giant screen, the image of four hulking warships reinforced his patriotic message.

But there was a big mistake in the stirring backdrop: those are Russian warships.

While retired Adm. John Nathman, a former commander of Fleet Forces Command, honored vets as America’s best, the ships from the Russian Federation Navy were arrayed like sentinels on the big screen above.

These were the very Soviet-era combatants that Nathman and Cold Warriors like him had once squared off against.

Is this a big deal? Well… sort of. It would depend greatly on whom you ask. But let’s assume for now that a significant number of people would find this blunder on the range of mildly annoying to extremely offensive. At this point, the DNC Committee really has only one recourse: apologize. Early and often. Simply offer a statement like, “We really screwed up here and we’re very sorry.”

Instead, the spokesman for the Committee said he was unable to comment and that he had to track down personnel to find out what happened. Notice how those aren’t the same things: One is simply accepting responsibility, the other is dodging it.

This is one of the big problems in government, businesses, and organizations of all sizes. What people want from leaders is the courage and humility to admit when they’re wrong, accept responsibility, and offer recompense when necessary. If they do that, then it’s up to us to accept it and move on.

To do today: accept when you’re wrong, take responsibility, and offer an apology. We’ll all be better off for it.

Is this the one thing holding you back?

I’M THANKFUL THAT PEOPLE FEEL THIS WAY ABOUT THE TEAM AT @RAREBIRDINC. THANKS @REISNICHOLS!

I’M THANKFUL THAT PEOPLE FEEL THIS WAY ABOUT THE TEAM AT @RAREBIRDINC. THANKS @REISNICHOLS!

Success is a funny (and often fleeting) thing. One day, you’re on top of the world, the next you’re tumbling into an abyss. Or, on a smaller scale, one minute you feel great, and the next — just one phone call — can have you wallowing in self-pity. But is success really so fleeting, and should our emotions be so delicately tied to outside influence? I think not.

In a recent post by author and sales guru Geoffrey James, he argues that the key to lifelong success “is the regular exercise of a single emotional muscle: gratitude.” I agree. He continues:

People who approach life with a sense of gratitude are constantly aware of what’s wonderful in their life. Because they enjoy the fruits of their successes, they seek out more success. And when things don’t go as planned, people who are grateful can put failure into perspective.

By contrast, people who lack gratitude are never truly happy. If they succeed at a task, they don’t enjoy it. For them, a string of successes is like trying to fill a bucket with a huge leak in the bottom. And failure invariably makes them bitter, angry, and discouraged.

I really, really hope you see your own attitude in the first paragraph and not the second. But if your gratitude exercise plan needs a bit of work, James has some thoughts on that, too.

The good news is that gratitude, like most emotions, is like a muscle: It gets stronger and more resilient the more you use it. (When I pause to consider this, I can’t help but be quietly aghast at some of the emotions my kids are turning into very strong muscles. Yikes!) James offers one key tip to help you become more aware of your own perspective toward gratitude and to build resilience that will push you toward more success in life. He says:

The best time to exercise gratitude is just before bed. Take out your tablet (electronic or otherwise) and record the events of the day that created positive emotions, either in you or in those around you.

Did you help somebody solve a problem? Write it down. Did you connect with a colleague or friend? Write it down. Did you make somebody smile? Write it down.

What you’re doing is “programming your brain” to view your day more positively. You’re throwing mental focus on what worked well, and shrugging off what didn’t. As a result, you’ll sleep better, and you’ll wake up more refreshed.

More important, you’re also programming your brain to notice even more reasons to feel gratitude. You’ll quickly discover that even a “bad day” is full of moments that are worthy of gratitude. Success becomes sweeter; failure, less sour.

This is outstanding advice. Just before I lay my head on my pillow tonight, this will be one of the things that I record being grateful for. Thanks, Geoffrey James, this is a reminder I needed to hear.

(If you need more, you can read his complete article on Inc.com.)