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  • Erika Clegg

Circus culture: what can we learn?

Erika has a fascination with circus and its unique, very special culture. Keen to dig beneath the glitter and thrills to find out more about the real culture and values of circus, and consider how this applies to our own businesses and teams, she interviewed Mina Hassani. As daughter of Moroccan tumbler and circus supremo Ali Hassani and grand-daughter of the legendary Coco the Clown, Mina is circus royalty and has been immersed in circus for her whole life.

Here is just some of what we learned.

  1. Circus is global. In a world where trade is increasingly international, circus is a global community where performers gather from across the four corners to create the show. This multi-cultural, multi-national composition breeds understanding and tolerance. Companies which are intent on quality service and their own growth can learn a lot from this: cultural variety is of increasing importance.

  2. Circus performance is focused. There’s nothing you can tell an aerial silk artist about mindfulness that she doesn’t already know. Each performer and production team member in a circus company must 100% focus on the task they are performing – and it’s up to their colleagues to ensure they are fully supported. Nimble teams emulate this: each member has their own skill that’s fundamental to success, and it flourishes in a supportive group.

  3. Circus is a community. When a show is on, everyone involved lives, breathes, eats, sleeps the circus. They live with it, get involved in marketing and maintenance, serve the pop corn – it’s never just about the skills they bring to the group, it’s also about being a contributory part of a tight community. The best teams I know all foster this sense of connectivity in their members.

  4. Circus sucks up the hard work. Like running a pub or owning a farm, circus is one of those vocations which expects hard work, long hours, great skill and emotional resilience. So, when you spend six weeks getting soaked in cold water twice a day, perform an act which requires great strength, are spun round 100 times by your neck, drop your diablo, have a lacklustre audience – you whoop, flash a huge grin – and then go and serve candyfloss. Team members who believe that they add value by impressing on their colleagues or clients what hard work it all is aren’t much fun to work with.

  5. Circus expects talent without ego. One minute you’re in the spotlight, crowd gazing at you and gasping as you swirl, balance, catch, disappear from view or bend yourself into an impossible shape. The next minute you’re serving tea, hefting a box around backstage or distributing leaflets in the pouring rain. It strikes me that there is little room for ego in this environment, although it undoubtedly exists. Businesses ruled by ego tend to be less empathetic to their team members and clients and thus, ultimately, less effective.

  6. Circus is customer focused. One of the great skills of any performer is their ability to catch your eye, smile and draw you in to their performance. The best circus people are not just about the tumbling, juggling or fire eating – they are about might be called customer relations. A happy punter leaves thinking “I saw some amazing feats of skill, laughed at the jokes, revelled in the atmosphere – and the clown definitely liked me best”. Good businesses understand the value of that level of connection with their clients.

  7. Circus has to be on time. The concept of running away to the circus implies that you’ll be throwing responsibility to the winds. In reality, with two performances a day, possible 24 hour turnaround between locations hundred of miles apart, and a sizeable cast – circus is all about timing and meeting deadlines. Businesses might be feted for their personality but if they fail to deliver on their promises, it counts for nothing.

  8. Circus is exciting to be near. Even if you don’t attend a performance, the Big Top’s presence is exciting. It lifts the spirits to see the striped roofline in the distance, to hear the whoops carry over the town, to see the circus lit up at dusk. There’s something about a circus simply being in a place that adds a frisson of excitement to that place. Great businesses bring an extra dimension to their communities.

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