A few weeks ago our company took all employees out of work for the afternoon to catch a back-stage look at rehearsal (then later saw the show) for the Cirque du Soleil show, Saltimbanco, which was appearing in Cincinnati. We went in celebration of making the Best Place to Work list in the Small Business category for the third consecutive year. It was not only a fun time, but a chance to hear a great story...
After watching the rehearsal, a few of the tour managers came over to talk about their roles and answer our questions. Some had 20 years experience while one was still in his first 6 months. Regardless of their time on staff, they had consistent stories about the benefits of risk taking.
We learned that they actually work to tweak the show after nearly every performance, in order to improve it. This is pretty amazing given that a show like Saltimbanco has been ongoing for more than 15 years. But they said that "the only way to screw it up is to not change it."
We also heard the story of Cirque's first show outside of its home in Montreal. Founder, Guy Laliberté, took the show on the road to Los Angeles. However funds were tight and they only had enough money for the trip out, and would have to earn enough to get back. I imagine the stress was high, but the show was a huge success and proved that the demand for Cirque's novel form of entertainment was strong outside Montreal. It reminded me of Cortez burning his ships to focus his men on the task at hand.
Finally, they shared a story of how Cirque was perhaps too slow to adapt. Saltimbano happens to be the first show performed outside of the traditional circus tent and in moving arenas. There are plenty of benefits to using arenas: set-up time and expenses are much lower, and more people (an additional 1500) can attend in more cities. But Cirque feared that its artistic experience would be compromised. I have been to three other Cirque shows, and I found this to be consistently strong. Look for more arena shows in the years ahead.
Of course, I've missed the biggest challenge dividend of all around Cirque du Soleil, the fact that the company continues to create new shows each year. The creative challenge is to meet or exceed the results of every previous show, while giving its rapid following some new jaw-dropping stunt. We learned that this creative development process can last 5 years, and scouts from Cirque continually travel the world looking for amazing new talent.
So next time Cirque is in your city (or you're in its psuedo-home of Las Vegas), be sure to catch this living Challenge Dividend case study in action!