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Daniel Lamarre: Creativity as the Fuel for Success

June 20, 2022

Daniel Lamarre

Webinar summary "Meet a leader - unlock your creative potential"

“One of our greatest natural resources here in Quebec is our creativity!” That’s the message that Daniel Lamarre, Executive Vice Chairman of the Board of the Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, had to share with Executive Education HEC Montréal during a recent conversation with Professor Laurent Simon from the Department of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. And he knows what he’s talking about: Cirque du Soleil’s reputation for creativity is precisely what helped it get through the worst crisis in its history. Here’s a three-part look at the role creativity has played in keeping the company’s momentum flowing.

Recognizing and cultivating creativity

How exactly does Daniel Lamarre define creativity? “It’s the ability to spark new ideas,” he says. In every way imaginable. Yes, Cirque du Soleil uses sophisticated business intelligence solutions and hires the crème de la crème of performers, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Every employee, no matter their role, is allowed to take a moment out of their day to attend rehearsals and training sessions in the company’s studios. And everyone’s ideas are welcome. “We’ve got 5,000 pairs of eyes and ears here at Cirque du Soleil!” he said.

A high value is also placed on cultural and intellectual diversity. There are currently 90 nationalities represented within Cirque du Soleil’s creative ranks. Lamarre stressed the importance of hiring people who think differently and who are also good at getting their points across deftly and respectfully. The goal is for the best idea to rise to the top, regardless of where it comes from. “Ultimately, you forget who brought it to the table in the first place. It’s all about the idea, not the person who suggested it.”

Naturally, striking while the iron is hot is a must. Lamarre recounted the story of an employee who mentioned that a Swiss university had invented a drone that might give some extra oomph to the show. The reply: “What are you still doing in my office then? Get yourself on the first plane to Switzerland and set up a meeting with him!”

Guiding creativity in the right direction

For ideas to flourish, they need structure. A clear definition of what is expected is the starting point, so that everyone feels they are directly contributing to the organization’s mission. Lamarre gave an example from the healthcare sector: “You’re not working in a hospital. You’re helping sick people.”

Quantitative tools are often used to gauge audiences’ satisfaction. “You’d be surprised [to learn] how heavily we lean on analytics.” After each performance, a survey determines which acts need to be tweaked to be more closely aligned to what people want to see. The process itself can be an excruciatingly humbling one.

But what about when creativity falls flat? We are all entitled to fail. In fact, it’s an essential condition for learning. Lamarre grinned as he told the story of a mechanical horse that cost a fortune to develop and that turned out to be a massive flop. It remains on display at the Cirque du Soleil headquarters, as a pointed reminder of the importance of failure. That being said, management has to build a climate of trust, free of blame and criticism, to let people actually make mistakes and learn from them.

Accepting creativity as a core need (wherever you work)

Lamarre’s career achievements speak for themselves. He co-founded the National public relations firm and served as president and CEO of Groupe TVA before taking up the leadership reins at Cirque du Soleil for two decades. His journey is described in a new book entitled Balancing Acts, published by HarperCollins, that hit the shelves in January.

Drawing on this experience, he emphasized that creativity is not restricted to the world of the arts. He said he realizes that all organizations are up against a similar set of challenges, which take the same kind of reasoning to process: How do we engage our employees? How can we better meet our customers’ needs? The solutions to these and other issues can be applied across multiple sectors: listening, debating, exploring, taking risks. “The world is changing. And it’s not going to wait around for you to catch up,” he said.

So what would today’s astute business professional say to his 18-year-old self as he set out on his career path? “Believe in yourself, but be sure to ask others what they think, and listen to what they have to say!”

He is quick to share this timeless advice with today’s managers. “The leaders of tomorrow are the ones who are capable of redefining themselves […], the ones who remain humble and who are dedicated to getting their organization to run smoothly.”


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