I admit, at first glance circus arts and business seem to describe opposite matters. But let me explain my thoughts on the title I chose. As defined by the Oxford dictionary, art signifies “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination (…), producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power”. I am sure you’ll agree with me that creativity, courage, innovation and emotionality of a product are essential to a circus and equally to the success of any business. Especially in today’s ongoingly changing corporate world.
By now, you’ve probably heard of the 4th Industrial Revolution, The Digital Industrial Revolution. We’re in the middle of it. Driven by cutting-edge technologies, disruptive business models and cultural changes, this industrial revolution shares commonalities with the first revolution in the 1800s and will (or already has) massively impact businesses’ leadership and organizational capabilities. This means now is the time to transform your organization, and face the impending disruption before being disrupted.
With the challenges of this revolution in mind, I endeavored to develop concepts to lead the process of transformation of an organization. I identified various wisdoms that we can learn from and apply to our leadership and organizational capabilities.
You probably wonder what you can learn about leadership from Cirque du Soleil. Before I’ll feed your curiosity, allow me to give you an idea about my connection to the Cirque.
There is no need to explain much about Cirque du Soleil. Formed in Québec in 1984 around the talent and passion of their founding artists, it has inspired the imagination of countless people across the globe, including me. I have seen several shows multiple times, the most being “O” in Las Vegas – an exceptional show which I’ve probably seen over twenty times over the past ten years. I admit that sometimes I went to see the Cirque more than once within a trip to Vegas. Cirque du Soleil goes beyond an excellent performance of what you think is possible. Not only have I been fascinated by the shows and the artist’s ability to carry me away into another world. For a few years now, I have also been intrigued by the leadership learnings that can be extracted from each and every show. Seeing behind the curtain offers a different perspective beyond just entertainment. In fact, the backstage is as prospering and inspiring as the show on stage.
Having insights gained from observations and discussions made with leaders at Cirque, I discovered that Cirque du Soleil embodies an unsuspected but fascinating source of wisdom. Learnings that can help other organizations tackle the challenges of the Digital Industrial Revolution. It offers a generally nontraditional business perspective and an unconventional way of leadership that can be an inspiring example for any business on the course to transformation.
So what are the critical steps to guide the transformation process of your business?
In order to disrupt before being disrupted, organizations need to approach the economic transformation with the right mindset, innovational power, a network of capabilities and transformational excellence.
In addition, executives will have to develop new leadership capabilities to guide businesses into the Digital Industrial Revolution. Leaders need to be connected to all members and matters of their organization. They need to be agile, able to share wisdom and act as a human to human leader.
Organizational and Leadership Capabilities
So why is Cirque du Soleil an outstanding example to validate MINT and CASH? How does this framework apply to this multi-million dollar business? And how can the wisdoms we extract tremendously affect our perspective on leadership and organizational capabilities?
Having the right mindset is the core foundation of everything Cirque du Soleil does. If you talk to an artist (in lack of doing so, I recommend to watch the video “Flow: A tribute to Artists of ‘O’ by Cirque du Soleil”), you will immediately feel their outshining passion and with it, the mindset that drives every show and every artist at Cirque. “Art is not about what you do but how you do look under the surface”, says visionary business developer and CEO of Cirque du Soleil Daniel Lamarre. “The connection to the audience is the key. Our artists are catalysts of emotions, radiating their energy and spirit to each guest in the audience. They are able to ignite the fire that lives within us all, make them reflect upon themselves, and inspire to reconsider the possibilities in our own lives.”
Excellence is the foundation for innovation and creativity. Cirque du Soleil artists have mastered perfection of circus performance, and by being excellent in what they do, they’re sharing the vision and confidence to let their imagination spin off in all directions. Driven by the customer in mind and a can-do attitude, they push their boundaries and let ideas spark constant innovation of their talent. However, taking risks is essential. Daniel Lamarre thinks this way: “Fears of the unknown can hold us back and make us fall short of our goals. But if you look closer, you will realize that the unknown carries with it the possibility of success. Only by taking risks we can hope to accomplish the extraordinary.” A great example of driving innovation at Cirque is the C:Lab which also created an interaction between humans and quadcopters together with ETH Zurich.
“Fears of the unknown can hold us back and make us fall short of our goals. But if you look closer, you will realize that the unknown carries with it the possibility of success. Only by taking risks we can hope to accomplish the extraordinary.” Daniel Lamarre, CEO, Cirque du Soleil
Network of Capabilities
Every artist at Cirque knows their strengths and capabilities. Listen to an artist and you’ll be astonished by their humbleness about their talent and how much fascination and respect they share for fellow artists with different talents. The diversity of talent and a network of experience is paramount for success. At Cirque du Soleil, every employee is putting their strengths towards one shared vision, evolving single ideas into one big original one. There is an incredible energy in each acclaimed show that is being created and shaped by designers, makeup artists, directors, technicians, artists and so many more passionate contributors. The audience can feel the connectivity. Cirque du Soleil understands the powerful source of teamwork and fully leverage their network’s capabilities. True creativity requires collaboration, ensuring that their first ideas will never be their last.
To transform their business, organizations often develop a coherent change management. You probably ask yourself how Cirque du Soleil has mastered transformation. With a diverse network of capabilities, every member of Cirque can lead transformation. However, change and innovation arise from a shared mindset and vision, along with transparency and connectedness to the final product that is presented to the customer. When an artist or an employee, for whatever the reason, can’t perform or work during the the show, they’re given a ticket and the opportunity to see the show through the eyes of the audience. This allows them to keep a strong connection to the final product and don’t lose sight of the reason of their work. In addition, employees will come up with new ideas for change and reinvention after seeing a show. According to the Cirque’s CEO, “promoting ideas without red tape restrictions” is what drives transformation. He concludes that “each one of us at Cirque du Soleil is just a quarter note in a symphony, but each one absolutely essential”.
“Promoting ideas without red tape restrictions is what drives transformation“, Daniel Lamarre, CEO, Cirque du Soleil
Leadership capabilities of each individual
In a network of capabilities, each artist is a leader and has the ability to influence, inspire and support bringing a show to success.
The artists need to be one with the moment and the environment, focusing on their performance and connection to the audience. Artists trust their partners or technicians backstage with their lives, they surrender to their senses and let go of everything but the very moment. The artist’s trust, passion and emotions are what affects the audience. This connection evokes feelings the spectators can’t get themselves and inspires them to think about their very own passions.
If you visit a Cirque du Soleil show on two consecutive nights, I can tell you from experience that you will not experience the same show. The individuality of each performance is leveraged by the network of capabilities. In keeping with the motto “Every accident is just a creative opportunity in disguise”, the artists act exceptionally agile. They adapt quickly in the moment, without letting the audience notice mistakes or last-minute performance changes due to the absence of an artist.
As the world’s largest theatrical business, Cirque du Soleil makes a huge effort to connect the circus community and set a stage for creativity. To share and gain wisdom, they’re constantly networking with other artists all over the world. When touring with a show, they invite local ensembles to their locations. The opportunity to connect with other artists, for instance through workshops and meetings, creates room for shared expertise, joint ideas, inspiration and talent development, benefiting everyone involved.
Human to Human
Cirque du Soleil connects the values of circus with humanity. With Cirque du Monde, their social circus program, Cirque is sharing and promoting the fascination of circus with at-risk youth and those who want to participate. Not only do they help young talents to discover their strengths and self-confidence, they also promote development, recognition and preservation of circus arts. As part of the Cirque’s non-profit, the ‘One Drop Foundation’, a one-time exclusive “One Night for One Drop” show is created every year, and performed by artists donating their talent and fee to the foundation’s charity.
“Without creativity, there is no commerce. Daniel Lamarre, CEO, Cirque du Soleil
The learnings we gain from Cirque du Soleil are applicable to any business. No matter in what way Cirque du Soleil artists touch people, they believe in sparks igniting a fire within, leading to discover one’s own creativity and ability to achieve something greater. However, it’s up to you to find your formula for creative success and unlock the power of your imagination. Are you courageous enough to explore the possibilities of the unknown?