Valuable lessons to be learned from Cirque du Soleil

My first full-time job was stocking shelves and bagging groceries at the local Jewel Tea store near my home on the South Side of Chicago. It was during summer vacation. Almost immediately I realized that many of the rules I had to follow at home were ones I also had to follow at work. Incentives, rewards, and (yes) punishments were similar.  The single-parent mother who raised me and the people at the store who supervised me were very strict but always fair. Praise and criticism were always justified. I began to learn valuable lessons and would learn many more.

Madame Corporation with a little girl at The Mirage in Las Vegas

I mention all this by way of introducing what I think are valuable lessons to be learned from Cirque du Soleil (“Circus of the Sun”), founded by Guy Laliberté in 1984. Its first production was Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil and it has since become a multi-billion dollar organization with several companies (including Varekai, Corteo, Koozá, Ovo, Totem, Zarkana) now performing throughout the world.

These lessons, in my opinion, are relevant to all dimensions of our lives.

1. Become and then remain mentally and physically fit.

Note: Based on what I have learned, the criteria for selecting new members of the Cirque du Soleil company are comparable with those of the U.S. Navy’s SEALs.

2. Perfect each task to be completed.
3. Perfect teamwork with others.

Note: Perfection is a journey, not a destination. Company members practice constantly under strict, expert supervision and have developed a mantra: “If you come to Cirque, you need to be willing to experience total immersion. Rather than being a mere observer, you are going to participate…to become fully engaged.”

4. Be fearless but prudent. Never reckless. Never.
5. Perform with contagious joy.
6. Greet each new day as a precious gift…because it is.
7. Waste nothing, especially time and energy…and dreams.
8. Each performance is about others (teammates and audience), not about you.
9. If an idea, routine, policy, procedure,  or product is DOA, bury it.

On stage at the 1994 finale of Nouvelle Expérience.

Note: When a production begins to lose its “magic” for performers and/or audiences (e.g. Nouvelle Expérience, Delirium, and Banana Shpeel), it is retired with honor.

10. As one of the riggers, Réné, observes,  “There is NO compromise on safety, and NO compromise on appearance. We must be a hundred percent safe, all the time, AND a hundred percent aesthetic. And that is what is so challenging. That’s what forces us to be creative: no compromise!…We are in a life-and-death business.”

Those who wish to learn more about this remarkable organization are urged to check out Cirque du Soleil: The Spark – Igniting the Creative Fire that Lives within Us All, written by John U. Bacon based on material created by Lyn Heward and published by Currency/Doubleday (2006).


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