Lessons from the Circus

I recently took in a performance of Cirque du Soleil, that superb and beautiful troupe of acrobats, jugglers, and other physical feats. Beyond a fabulous show and evening with friends, I wondered about the lessons for my work and that of my clients. First, the show is impeccable. I’ve seen several of their productions and each one is a gem, a complete experience of being transported to another world where people do amazing things with their bodies, sound, light, and costume. No part of the evening is a throw away. From the moment the show starts (on time!) until it ends, each step taken by each person is part of the story that is the show.

  • What is the story you are telling through your work?
  • Do you have a narrative you are conscientiously working to implement?
  • How often do you revisit or update your story? Is it still inspiring? Magical?

The shows are seamless. One act glides into the next. While the audience’s attention is drawn to some spectacle, the transition to the next begins. There is no space to wait and wonder what will happen next. And each transition is itself an art form. The props don’t simply get placed for the next act. The placement of the props is an act in itself. The supporting cast doesn’t merely hang around but rather they represent a different element of the story such that their supporting role is almost masked.

  • Are you paying attention to transitions, from one project, event, meeting, or campaign to the next?
  • How well do people know and play their roles in support of the overall production—whether a meeting or multi-year campaign?
  • How are your supporting parts, whether technology or people, made beautiful and integral not merely functional?

To say they are skilled is almost insulting. They excel at a diversity of people and art forms from physical feats to costume and music and technology. They bring together the most highly talented people then put them together in incalculable ways.

  • Have you identified the best possible talent for your organization?
  • Have you created room for the unknown to emerge? What happens when your talented people want to try something new?
  • Is working together a requirement for success?
  • What support do you provide for your talented people to continue to hone their crafts?

I was one of many inspired and humbled by Cirque du Soleil. Much more than an evening out, I saw connections to my work and that of my clients.

  • When do you and your team go out beyond the bounds of your work to get inspired?