“How the Cirque du Soleil deals with Complexity”


Didier Marlier

April 25, 2010

From Disruption to Engagement

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A moment of exceptional beauty and aesthetics to start this week: please take a look at this short clip of highlights of “Alegria”, one of the Cirque du Soleil’s most successful shows…

Observe the complexity of movements, the absolute necessity of perfect timing and positioning of the different actors…

Look at those subtle and invisible gestures of care and support such as the one of “Tamir” (the round, yellow dressed character) discreetly positioning himself as a mark and support at the end of the trampoline lane for the acrobats.

Admire and let yourself be moved by the interaction between the child and the Russian acrobat when preparing themselves for a “salto mortale” on the bars… The child unconditionally trusts the adult who, in return, is totally focused on his responsibility towards the very young artist…

Many management books and articles have explained (a posteriori?) the strategy of the Cirque’s founding fathers. But none has ever wondered how such a magic was created and how, night after night, city after city, continent after continent, show after show, the Cirque could maintain its enthusiasm and the attraction it has on a very loyal “tribe” of followers…

People who founded the Cirque and those who join it live their very strong Purpose. “Our mission is to invoke the imagination, provoke the senses and evoke the emotions of people throughout the world… As we pursue our dreams and grow our business it is also our intention to position ourselves in the community as an agent of change…” These values and sense of Purpose are very tangible when watching an exhibition of the Cirque.

When the Cirque is auditioning people for a job (be it “back-office”, ie. All those who support the show and make it possible for the artists to shine, without being themselves on stage or “front office”, the artists on stage) I was once explained that two main criteria come to play:

  1. Competence: like anywhere else, the Cirque seeks to get the best people to do the job
  2. Generosity: this would make the Cirque an unexpected and advanced player in the Open Economy. Generosity is this “roadie” who will test the trapezes an extra time for the acrobat. Generosity it is this artist who is on stage for the public and not for fulfilling a narcissistic ego. Generosity is the “One Drop Foundation” of the Cirque seeking to develop younger people as artists of the future

Linked to that, the leadership style in the Cirque is the cherry on the cake: People in there understand the purpose and through their generosity and professionalisms are trusted to do the best for their peers and for the public!

Once again, a clear, shared and owned sense of purpose, a very few guidelines (professionalism and generosity) and an engaging style of leadership are the key ingredients to sustainable success even in a “Blue Ocean”.

More words would spoil the magic. Have an “Alegria” week!

In São-Paulo for the final “Leading in the Open Economy” session with 14 outstanding Brazilian CEO’s and their teams, then in Oslo to finish, Saturday, in Switzerland with a team of Swiss Olympic trainers, seeking to understand how their own styles need to evolve with the new generation of athletes.



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