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Category: Brand

8 Lessons for the CEO from Cirque’s Mystere

business of mystere

“Only when the questions become more important than the answers will the solutions emerge.”


A while back the folks at Kellogg’s Innovation Network offered me the opportunity to engage in a dialogue that was a genuine treat.  They had talked the director of Cirque de Soleil’s Mystere into letting us get a behind the scenes look at the business of how the people and the show come together.

Here are 8 key lessons for business leaders that I learned.

  1. Customer Engagement: Emotion, emotion, emotion. It’s hard to imagine anyone that would go to Mystere and not find a wide range of impactful and divergent emotions. I found myself at times in awe of the what a human body could do, lost in the visual imagery of the art of the spectacle, laughing at the acts of the clowns, while the engineer in me kept wondering – how did they do that! It’s that power of emotional connection that all businesses wish they could achieve instead of what most businesses do – cutting costs to deny you service (even to point of creating customer terrorists). This was truly an engineered emotional experience.
  2. Talent Selection: The actors are sought from a pool of the best athletes, musicians, and dancers in the world. The “best” isn’t just a mirror of a leader (i.e. the model emulates the leader) but a diversity of thought, geography, and ideas to ensure a level of organic renewal and energy to the show. It’s about bringing the whole person and their creativity to the stage.
  3. Development: Two thoughts emerged as I listened to the Mystere team. First, this was a leadership team that any CEO would be proud of. They have all come up through the ranks, demonstrated their craft, believe in the mission of Mystere and showed a degree of respect and caring for each other and valuing the contribution of the entire team in a way I found something to be proud of. I also learned that they are SERIOUSLY vested in developing critical thinking skills and whole brain thinking.
  4. Process: When a new Cirque show opens there is process that it goes through (akin to new product development). There is an ideation stage to formulate the base product (such as Mystere, O, Zumanity). Then there is a creative process between the director, artists, and technicians to formulate the theatrics by mixing a combination of the three into a “flow”. Then there are the rehearsals – with a heavy dose of safety management (it’s easy to see where a missed move could result in death). The opening is a “perfecting” period to get the recipe and routine locked down, and finally it’s “locked” in. If I recall correctly, the “baking” took 18 months. This is followed by ongoing quality and safety procedures and practices (akin to Six Sigma perfection and OSHA level safety awareness).
  5. Alternative Business Model: Think about what Cirque did to the circus business in general. It elevated the art of the circus actors to new levels, created an accessibility to audiences by recrafting the circus experience as fun, stage, art, and form, and restructured the business economics at a premium to market. Wouldn’t we all love to create the game changer business model?
  6. Innovation logic: New ideas are always looked at to give even a long running show like Mystere an organic nature. As the director stated, each new idea has to be fully worked out and goes through an R&D process that often “leaves a dumpster full of ideas”. While we did not discuss how many new ideas enter the pipeline – it’s many and only a few make it to the end after a rigorous and valued test and learn process.
  7. On-boarding: An artist must first do their own personal homework by watching videos and studying the character. Once they have studied for a few weeks the artistic director will work with them on stage for about 2 weeks (2 to 3 times a week). This time is used so the artist can learn the character movement. It is also a time for the artistic director to see if the artist could bring something new to the character. Then they spend a week working with props and costume pieces. Once the artist is comfortable there is a full show audition – staging with other artists. Then they are ready for the show. It takes an artist about a week in the show to feel comfortable.
  8. Coaching to Win: The KIN attendees watched the last rehearsal of a new member and then saw him in the actual show later that evening. One thing I noted was how the artistic director coached the new actor. There were no incentives, no stick, just a calming guiding hand with the language of any great football coach focusing on how to draw on strengths and downplay and mitigate weaknesses by drawing on the combined strengths of the entire team.

A few lessons for all of us…



Brand to Stakeholder Engagement – the DDO Brand Model

Written in 2012….

A while back I designed a customer experience training program for the Banking Administration Institute called “Moments that Matter”.  Unfortunately I had to simplify the bigger MOM in order to focus on the critical few topics that newbies in customer experience management have to work through.

The core topics I focused on started with the net promoter score and how, when used as a system, it really is a catalyst for getting your company culture more focused on the customers. Seriously, how much is easier is it to get employees focused on “being the best at creating promoters” rather than “drive top 2 box from 53% to 57%”?

The second topic is using the service profit chain as an enterprise backbone to better connect customers through employees and the supporting people, practices, business processes, and technology systems.

The third topic is maximizing the use of SERVQUAL to connect capability to deliver with customer promises.

Last but not least is to walk through the series of steps in implementation to take a customer experience concept and execute it in an effective and profitable way (a special thanks to Joe Wheeler and the folks at Service Profit Chain Institute for helping me get better at that this past year).

However, one element of what I did not include was the brand to customer promises section.  A customer experience transformation often is the outcome of either a “bottoms up” or “top down” direction.  A “bottoms up” is usually when NPS detractors are being formed en mass at multiple customer touch points or by a rapidly escalating detractor event (look at Target’s rapid service recovery due the Missoni online gold rush as an example of what to do right vs. Sony’s online downtime or slower erosion of the promise.

One “bottoms up” erosion example I went through recently was the deterioration of service on the Verizon system in the NYC metro area during the recent “strike”(2012). First, we saw significant deterioration in FIOS bandwidth and performance to the point where we gave up making critical calls on the FIOS land line and resorted to critical calls using AT&T mobility, which surprisingly has made dramatic improvements in the NYC area. We called Verizon customer service on three occasions and had them come out – all to no avail.   Now who can do the “can you hear me now” commercial – not FIOS.

Another example I live through on almost a weekly basis (when I was teaching at ATT leadership institute) is the subpar first class service on US Air when I go to Dallas – chips and attitude – versus the surprisingly delightful and friendly real first class service on American to Dallas (pre-merger!) – hot meal and honest caring – and shock, smiles!  I’ve started to shift the majority of my business over to American as a result (for the record I fly coach and get upgraded due to points status).  The “top down” approach is much more challenging. This often occurs when a CEO makes a statement like, “How do we make Brooks Brothers brand more relevant in a younger demographic?” or “What do we need to do to instill trust in the Bank of America brand?”.

These are big meaty brand to customer experience delivery overhauls.  The challenge is “brand” means so many things to many people. What does brand mean to you?

My interpretation of brand is really more from an enterprise and systems thinking point-of-view and best demonstrated in a brand framework developed by  Dubberly Design Office (DDO).  At the time I was Director of Top Line Growth at DuPont and one of my projects was applying brand to a commodity Nylon 12 product. It was my proof case of our business team creating a boutique brand in a commodity business. The leadership team – marketing through ops – used the framework to design transformation objectives and created a brand blueprint and action plan that had a dozen major changes ranging from a new brand tag line and logo to changing our B2B service delivery and support.  The result – triple digit marketing ROI.  The framework is comprehensive.

Of course, perception of a brand does not arise on its own, rather, it grows out of experience with a product. Here, product is used in a broad sense incorporating the results of many activities commonly associated with marketing. Likewise, experience means here any point at which contact is made with a potential customer

Try this…. Print out a copy of the framework and ask three C level executives (CMO, CFO, COO) the following questions:

  • What does brand mean to you? Circle the areas they touch upon on the framework.
  • Who owns the elements of brand based on (1)? Write down the names or functions
  • Are we missing anything in how we translate brand into action? Listen and learn.

Let me know how it goes and then ask yourself this question. If you really want to translate brand into customer promises and consistent delivery of those promises, what do you need to differently?

I’d love to hear about any frameworks you may be using and if you run the three question test how it goes.

Good luck!

Oh…check out all the concept maps at the Dubberly Web site… talk about “pay it forward”.

Well done DDO!

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