October 23, 2010

Cirque du Soleil: navigating blue oceans

Even before the groundbreaking book Blue Ocean Strategy, by INSEAD professors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, became an instant global bestseller, one company had already been searching for its own blue oceans and found its uncontested space.

The company in question is Cirque du Soleil, a world-class circus devoid of animals, but which features a world-class performance troupe like no other, comprising its trademark blend of traditional circus, theatre, music and special effects.

When Cirque debuted in the 1980s, it mounted a new show once every two years. Starting in November this year, there will be 17 different Cirque du Soleil productions performing around the world. By the end of 2010, that number is projected to rise to 23.

No mean feat for a company that originally started as a three-man street act. Today, Cirque has more than 1,000 artists; close to 80 million spectators around the world have seen a Cirque performance; and founder Guy Laliberte’s personal worth is estimated at $1.5 billion, according to Forbes.

Remaining buoyant

But the company isn’t resting on its laurels, despite its phenomenal and seemingly unstoppable success. “The danger will be to be complacent about it and thinking that we have a recipe, and that we will always continue to serve to the public a recipe. And as you know the expectations of people now are getting higher and higher.”

“Therefore it's important for us that we continue to innovate, that we continue to take risks all the time. And that's what we are doing in order to avoid being passé,” says Cirque’s president and chief executive officer Daniel Lamarre.

Though no one has yet been able to copy Cirque’s inimitable style, Lamarre is always mindful of potential competitors. He says all forms of competition should be considered, especially as Cirque is a performance art, which puts them in the same category as theatrical plays, musicals, concerts and the like.

“So we do have competition because we're all fighting for the same consumer. But so far we have been lucky because no one has been able to copy the kind of shows at the same level that we are, and that's reassuring. At the same time we have to continue to invest in order to innovate that we don't wake up one day and someone is able to do what we're doing.”

Cirque is currently investing some $500 million in new productions in Las Vegas, Macau and Tokyo. It will continue to also invest heavily in research and development and in casting.

Lamarre says Cirque has 50 scouts travelling around the world at any given time to recruit talent for new shows, and that there is a “trend group” whose function is to feed its creators information about new artistic trends.

“And that's the only way for us to remain in the blue ocean.”

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