Experts in innovation and collaboration

In the early days, circuses travelled the roads, moving from city to city, on the fringes of society, embracing the unusual. Women, too, found a home in the circus, in a way that was otherwise uncommon. They had muscles, showed skin and swung themselves from trapeze long before any of this was conceivable in society at large.

In fact, even now, when Cirkör undertakes projects in, for instance, schools, these ventures from time to time turn into gender projects that help empower girls to express themselves through their bodies. In the beginning, circus companies in the United States travelled by train, thereby contributing to the expansion of the railroad. The word “innovation” comes from the Latin “innovare”, which means to renew. The original definition of innovation had not only technical but also political, spiritual, cultural and economic connotations that have, by and large, been lost in contemporary discourse. Circus includes many of these features.

Turning a flop into a hit – the circus is agile

In circus, innovation is born by constantly challenging the boundaries of the body and psyche's relationship to objects or other people through a playful yearning to explore and to make the impossible possible. Discipline is everyday life. "There is only one type of circus artist, and that is the hard-working one," says Aaron Hakala, one of the amazing artists Cirkör often collaborates with. He does not feel he carries much talent in his genes; he often feels clueless. Talent is born from the long hours required to nail a circus routine. Within the circus, we talk about “failing to succeed”, and even about reinforcing a failed stunt to learn something from it. 

Together with Cirkus Cirkör, teachers and recreation centre staff explored this phenomenon through a clown workshop. Teachers can make mistakes! Innovation can never be achieved without a long line of errors. The trick is to deal with the inevitable failures to succeed along the way by examining what was created instead. Turning a flop into a win the way the clown does is crucial to innovation. Brenée Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston and one of the world's foremost authorities on shame, vulnerability, courage and empathy, believes that "failure can be our most powerful path to learning if we dare to choose courage over convenience." She is a stalwart advocate of "clarity is kindness" and "being unclear is being unkind". She says vulnerability is a cradle for innovation, creativity and change because it is about showing courage and taking risks: "Vulnerability is the source of authenticity."

For the past fifteen years or so, society and the business world have also recognized the value of creating change and innovation through small steps and of "failing fast" *, of not waiting too long to demonstrate what you have created but rather putting it out there, making a prototype (nimbly), testing it step by step, failing faster*, making incremental adjustments and improvements to achieve more tremendous success in contrast to (traditional) linear, mechanical plans and polished products that are launched with fanfare. Those who are office acrobats at Cirkus Cirkör have now adopted this flexible working method. For circus performers, it has always come entirely naturally.

Risk-taking and chaos

Chipping away at a circus stunt and striving to make it perfect always entails taking calculated risks. In fact, innovation never comes about without someone being willing to take a risk. Chaos is a necessary part of this process, and the trick is daring to remain there long enough to see what comes out of this “mess” to be able to dwell for a moment in the borderland between knowledge already familiar to your brain and things of which you are totally ignorant. Life and creation almost always consist of paradoxes that initially give rise to confusion. Paradoxes are one and the other, not either or. These clashes bring a path to creativity because the friction of our differences arises, for instance, when discipline meets freedom. You have to embrace friction and embrace uncertainty. To be able to do that, you must choose to have faith in yourself and the person(s) with whom you are working.

Failure to succeed, trust and cooperation are three of the seven circus dimensions that Cirkör's former creative director, Tilde Björfors, has identified as capturing the soul of the circus, and they are our extended arm into society and the workplace. They are all also necessary for the innovation process. The World Economic Forum argues, for instance, that trust – one of the seven core dimensions of circus – is crucial to leadership because it builds stronger relationships that result in more loyal and productive employees, creates resilience, and promotes better work conditions and processes, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Being open in the face of what needs to be done and the path to getting there creates a trust that provides the foundation for cooperation and the freedom to fail and, properly handled, enhances trust. Deep trust is built step by step through intensive, arduous “prototyping” efforts.

Learning from differences

The circus recognizes and embraces what is odd and unique. One of Cirkör's key concepts is individualism with solidarity, where we encourage one another to be who we are together, acknowledging that we are all different, with different ways of learning, and that there is no right or wrong way. Each circus discipline has its particular learning style and specific training needs. Here, friction occurs constantly as a necessary part of creating. Failing to succeed, risk-taking, embracing the peculiar, cooperation and trust give rise to innovation – a long chain of conscious choices to consider.

Social innovation och Cirkus Cirkör

Social innovation and social circus are innovation and circus that meet societal challenges. In Botkyrka and several other parts of Sweden, during our 25 years, we have met people who are the furthest away from what society has to offer. For Cirkör, innovation is almost always associated with a higher purpose. Our artistic vision is that we move internal and external boundaries in art and society with circus art. There is an innovation aspect in everything we do.

Innovation checklist!

• Great art arises both from self-discipline and a connection to inspiration.

• A certain anxiety, even anguish, often accompanies the innovation and creation process.

• The co-creation process encompasses different phases, like in Cirkör’s Andetag (Breath) or in the more well-known Double Diamond model. Leadership must be tailored to these different phases.

• Most truly tenable and solid ideas are born in collaboration with others. The more complex the task, the more critical cross-functional teams are to finding solutions.

• A good idea must often be mulled repeatedly before being taken further.

• Creative, vital ideas come to those who make an effort, reveal themselves and prepare.

Are you interested in enhancing your company, group or organization’s ability to fail to succeed, collaborate and innovate together?