Lesson #3: Risk Yesterday’s Success for Tomorrow’s Promise

“We’re not afraid of risking what was our success yesterday in order to explore some new field,” says Laliberté. “We’re adventurous. We like the challenge of unknown territory, unknown artistic field, and that’s what stimulates us.” Laliberté owns 95 percent of Cirque du Soleil, which gives him great freedom to do whatever he wants with it, and that means taking risks.

Before Laliberté came onto the scene, circuses typically meant clown acts, dancing bears, and jugglers. He changed all of that with his vision of an animal-free circus. Instead of the norm, Laliberté wanted a show that focused on pure athleticism and shocking effects. “We didn't reinvent the circus,” says Laliberté. “We repackaged it in a much more modern way.” That was a risk in and of itself – challenging the nature of a centuries-old industry – but Laliberté’s risk-taking would not end there.

As Cirque du Soleil became more and more popular, Laliberté decided to test the waters – again. Not only did he want to continue creating a unique vision of a circus, but he also wanted to create a permanent act, a circus that did not tour. As of then, that was unheard of. How could a circus stay in the same place night after night and keep drawing the same numbers of people in, critics wondered. Laliberté would show them.

In 1992, Laliberté launched his first permanent show in Las Vegas. Called Mystere, the show created its own special permanent theatre for the event. Despite initial criticism that the circus was too dark, audiences loved it. And, indeed, they did keep coming back for more. From there, Laliberté would open additional permanent shows in other locations throughout Las Vegas, as well as in Orlando, Florida.

“I have seen many successful people fail after they start fearing they might lose what they have built,” says Laliberté. “[We stop growing] if we start being afraid of taking risks and if we start diminishing our creative pertinence. We should always aim at doing more-creative endeavors, not in terms of volume but in terms of more creativity and more sharing.”

Laliberté attributes his risk-taking nature to his early years on the streets of Europe, performing for money. He had to take risks, to be increasingly creative and daring in order to not just make money, but to survive. If people did not put change in his hat as they walked by, he would not even have enough money to eat. And so, he was forced to take risks in order to wow the passersby. “I don't believe in pitfalls,” he says. “I believe in taking risks and not doing the same thing twice.”

Laliberté transformed the circus from a spectacle with dancing bears and clown jugglers into a thing of beauty and athleticism, combining all the elements of dance, theatre, and gymnastics. And, he did it all without knowing whether or not it would work. Now, as one of the richest men in Canada, he is able to say his risks paid off.

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