7 business lessons learned from Cirque du Soleil's process

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Since auditioning and performing as a team captain and acrobat in over 2,000 shows for the world's most famous and innovative circus of our generation, I obtained endless lessons and tools that optimize business relevance, brand strength, leadership and corporate cultures. I'm honored and excited to share my TOP 7 CIRQUE TAKE AWAYS that I deliver during keynotes, executive workshops and employee trainings for Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies.


1. OPEN-MINDEDNESS: The fear of tomorrow and change can be challenging (both personally and in regards to company culture). Logically, we all understand that change is inevitable, in particular when it comes to business relevance and market significance. Emotionally, we resist... we push back. Be open-minded and remain open minded to what could come next.

The priceless behavioral trait of open-mindedness encompasses diversity, adaptability, risk-taking and the welcoming of failure as a stepping stone to success. Not to mention, open-minded people tend to create paths that lead to new and more profitable horizons. Open minds have a positive impact on all those they encounter and influence because they listen, they consider, they explore, try, and experiment... they are curious, they learn and adapt... they change into better versions of themselves that positively influences cultures and business outcomes.

"Remain open-minded as to the possibility of what could come next."

Open-mindedness, like optimism is contagious. Embrace different perspectives, consider alternative options and have the courage to entertain that which scares you or makes you feel uncomfortable... yes, STEP OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE. Don't just say it, actually do it. 


2. ATTITUDE: Attitude is sometimes the only fuel we have left in the tank when the road has been too rough and unforgiving. We can become emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually exhausted to remain optimistic. We can become blind to the need for transformation across company systems, corporate processes or SOP's (Standard Operating Procedures).  
The world is currently changing faster than at any other time in human history. We can often feel left behind and unable to adapt or reinvent ourselves. Organizations have no choice but to adapt if they wish to remain relevant. It's all about mindset. It's all about influencing those that work within your organization. Influence them to see and believe in growth and change. Innovation is a mindset.


3. DARING TO BE DIFFERENT:  When I auditioned for Cirque du Soleil back in 1993 in Manhattan (Battery Park), the first thing I noticed was how different (weird) they were. Who were these "strange" circus folk? What were they thinking and what planet were they from? Why was I even here auditioning for a circus that didn't have animals. "That's not a circus,"  I thought when arriving at the Big Top located down at Batter Park (1993). "No animals? That's silly!"
It takes courage to be "silly" and disrupt norms, standards and the status quo. It takes conviction to stick to your values when the world is heading in a different direction busy following trends and relying on metrics and stats and analytics designed to predict growth and profits.


4. CREATING A BLUE OCEAN: Being different is one thing, have a strategy and defined reason behind it is what brings value. In retrospect, Cirque du Soleil was not silly. They were innovative. They redefined an industry with their new and different approach. They were in the process of creating a "Blue Ocean." It's a term coined in the book, Blue Ocean Strategy, by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgnie. In a nutshell, markets become over-saturated and create a feeding frenzy in which the waters become bloody (red). Through innovation a company creates unchartered waters that are fresh and blue.

"That's not a circus... that's silly!"

Cirque's blue ocean was established through a courageous and forward-thinking mindset that "bled" through the veins of their founders into the ether of their culture. It is apparent in everything they did  and everything they were. It started from leadership downwards and back up from the front-line acrobatic warriors who organically gave the culture it's wings and heartbeat.
If your corporate warriors don't buy into the values that inspire and drive the change you need and desire, good luck. Blue oceans are built on authenticity, purpose and passion.


5. EMPOWERING AND INSPIRING: During the cirque audition, choreographer, Debbie Brown said something that blew my mind.

She said, "Show me YOUR jump, Vital."

"Show you MY jump? Really?" I thought. I'd always been shown or taught the jump the choreographer wants me to replicate.  This made no sense." I initially resisted out of fear and lack of understanding.
"Yes, I want to see YOU. I want to know what you have to say, share and express. What does your body language say about you as a unique individual and performer. We don't want to see what you've been taught."

She can't be serious I thought."Who are these crazy Canadien circus people? 

"Let go fo conformity. Don't count, just feel. Be free. Be YOU,” Debbie added as i explored and experimented in finding my jump. 
Up until that moment, no previous teacher, employer or choreographer had ever asked me such a question. Most bosses tell their employees what to do and how to do it without empowering or inspiring their tribe to suggest and contribute. Perhaps those bosses didn't care enough about individuals. Perhaps they are only preoccupied with employees as puppets and worker bees. Not very inspiring.


6. SETTING YOUR PEOPLE FREE: Debbie had eliminated all shackles. "Be YOU!" she had declared. That would enable me to transform and achieve my own goals too. 

In pursuing business goals, it pays when leaders and employers have enough emotional intelligence to understand what motivates their teams. Through listening and collaboration companies will increase and optimize employee engagement while driving innovation. Invite your "performers" to show them your jump. Allow them to be free. 

Furthermore, through listening and encouraging idea-sharing and expression (as was the case in the Cirque audition) leadership enables personal growth, which in turn helps employees to achieve personal goals. Challenge your team to be authentic and free to be seen, heard and understood. 


7. EXPRESSION and COLLABORATION: Debbie went down the line of other dancers during the audition. She invited us all to be uninhibited and express. Each performer came up with interesting and ridiculous interpretations, all of which seemed less embarrassing than mine. Each expression offered Cirque another option, a new platform of opportunity and innovation. 
Expression and collaboration are the corner stone of innovation and relevance. When employees are literally and metaphorically invited to the dance and are an integral part of its choreography, they become vested in a project. They take ownership. They will stick around and see it through. They will be more loyal, more engaged and more affective. 

Cirque made us feel significant through this process.  One of my favorite leadership quotes is by John Quincy Adams (6th President of the U.S) - "If your actions inspire others to dream more, do more, learn more and become more, you are a leader."

We gave more and became more. Thank you Cirque du Soleil.


Read IMAGINATION WILL TAKE YOU EVERYWHERE and find out how you can inspire collaboration and drive a mindset of innovation within your culture.



- A must-have for your leadership library!!

- Interesting and entertaining, genius and genuine

- Brilliant

- Oh my, the stuff I learned in this book!- Inspiring and Instructive

"I can proudly promise that by the end of this book you will possess at least 1 actionable tool, but probably several, that promote a more adaptive, expansive and encompassing mindset, that will allow you to reach higher, overcome obstacles and achieve more on all levels of life." 

The book also includes interviews with thought leaders from different industries:

  • Tim Sanders - New York Times Best-selling author and former executive with Yahoo.

  • Randy Sutton - Author, former police detective and TV News Contributor.

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Sincerely, Vital Germaine


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