By nature, I don't usually harbour much sympathy for multinational corporations or high-flying billionaires, but I must admit I was a little disappointed in the vicious reaction to Cirque du Soleil's recent announcement of fiscal losses and job cuts.
For three decades, Guy Laliberte and his cohorts were the world's golden children. They brought a unique brand of whimsy and magic all over the globe;, helped revitalize a moribund Las Vegas with unprecedented mega-shows and custom-built tech palaces to present them in; were gushed over by luminaries, royalty and common folk alike; and in the process, made boatloads of money year after year.
In 2012, for a number of reasons (some, like over-production, their fault; others, like Japan's horrific tsunami knocking out one of their shows, uncontrollable acts of God), they slipped. They--and nobody else--paid the price.
But what an effin' price they paid.
In the space of a week, 30 years of shine crumbled into rusty tarnish. Sharp knives were drawn and thrust by the international media, with some of the most ferocious stabs provided by hometown press in Montreal, the same people who pampered and were instrumental in building the Cirque's mystique in the first place. Never mind the bloom being off the rose, the thorns were formed into a crown and jammed on company heads. And not only was the Emperor revealed to be void of clothes, his naked body was attacked and ridiculed.
So strange. There was no scandal. No financial impropriety. No Lance Armstrong-like revelation of drug abuse or bullying. Just missing their numbers and cutting some jobs.
Is that any way to treat a media darling? Well, obviously a former media darling.
The lesson this week then was a chilling one...especially to a guy who also runs a worldwide entertainment event 30 years old. Put simply:
--History is irrelevant.
--Yesterday is meaningless.
--Kill your past.
Okay, perhaps a bit extreme. But perhaps not. Your history may buy you a bit of cred walking in the door, but that bit of cred is seeing its value shrink faster than Greek government bonds. But don't believe me. This from a recent piece in Bloomberg Businessweek:
"'People always ask me, 'Why don't you guys talk about your history?' says Scott Keogh, president of Audi of America. 'That's not what drives us. What drives us is: Man, how do we come up with the next solution? What's the next thing? We're, like, a restless company.'"
Wait. It gets worse. Over and above an irrelevant and increasingly disposable past...
Nobody believes the future
People make predictions in January that are, at best, rendered obsolete by March and, at worst, ridiculed in January. In business, it used to be easy to wow people with fancy futuristic tales and hallucinogenic dreams of tomorrow, but with so much science fiction being announced on a daily basis--driverless cars, God particles, home 3D printers...I can go on for hours--the present is mind-blowing enough. The future is already here, and is double-parked in front of the door.
"Used to be's" don't count.
"Gonna be's" don't resonate.
So what if the past is worthless and the future is a lie, what do we do?
We shift to a perpetual state of now. (Or as newly-named Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Rush said it best "Time Stands Still".) We act fast, we deliver big, and we don't let up, lest we be relegated to obsolete-land. It's an exhausting way to do business, and to lead life, but I don't think there's much choice anymore.
"What have you done for me lately?" is just a quaint bit of old-school, hard-ass nostalgia.
The more pertinent question is "What are you doing for me right now?"