Lesson #4: Keep Your Finger On The Pulse Of The Outside World

“Our approach was very simple,” says Laliberté. “It was about creating a universal language. A show that will be attractive toward every people coming from all over the world. And that was a big thing.”

Laliberté had a vision of a circus that would be all things to all people. He wanted a show that was not only representative of his global audience, but one that could lend itself to a universal message. With Cirque du Soleil, that is exactly what Laliberté achieved.

Laliberté was the first person to ever think about joining acrobatics with artistic and cultural imagery. Today, that marriage has become the hallmark of Cirque du Soleil. But before Laliberté came along, circuses had none of that. They were merely large-scale amusement park shows, meant to provide light-hearted entertainment.

Intent on bringing culture to his stage, Laliberté insisted that his staff be comprised of a wide mix of people from around the world, all of whom could contribute their own unique cultural input into their productions. That is why Cirque du Soleil regards the hiring process as a “treasure-hunt,” seeking out the people who will be able to most lend their unique voices to the Cirque project.

At Cirque du Soleil, cultural differences are not downplayed as in many other corporate organizations. There, they are embraced and even exploited to use as a catalyst for their creative productions. The staff is comprised of well over 60 different cultures, all of which contribute elements to Cirque shows: Brazilian capoeira, Peking Opera, Kung Fu, African and Ukrainian dancing, the Australian didgeridoo. These cultural imports have all become a part of Cirque’s creative capital.

But Laliberté did not just want his shows to represent its audiences; he wanted it to speak to them. To that end, Laliberté makes sure that his shows are keeping up with the times and relevant to the issues of the day. Shows focus on everything from terrorism to water pollution to youth violence. All the while, they try to provide motivation and inspiration. Laliberté believes his shows can provide hope and become a creative catalyst for change. That is why he calls his shows, “global, proactive, creative, and partnership-based.”

“We are in a position of financial and social power, and we could be agents of change in our society,” says Laliberté. “Without pretension, I believe we could be a nice little gardener who takes care of the garden, and hopefully our neighbor will do the same. Then, maybe we'll achieve a better world.”

The bottom line, however, is that Cirque du Soleil is there to meet the expectations of its customers. Laliberté wants them to be amused, if not astounded. He wants them to be touched, if only for a few hours of a single day. He wants them to be able to escape their daily lives and step into his majestic, awe-inspiring world. To do all of that, Laliberté needs to be able to keep his pulse on the outside world.

“Inside every adult there's still a child that lingers,” he says. “We're happiness merchants – giving people the opportunity to dream like children.”

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