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I loved going to the circus as a child. Regretfully, I was born a decade too late to enjoy it in its prime. The circus business had already reached its twilight by the end of the twentieth century. I remember circus companies coming to town twice a year and staying for a week or two. Those visits dwindled further and eventually, the business was all but finished. Only a handful of decent circus companies were left in a cut-throat competition to attract their primary audience, the children, who now were more interested in video games and TV shows. The growing unrest regarding the treatment of circus animals seemed like the final nail in the coffin.

But then came Cirque du Soleil, a revamped version of the traditional circus that changed the whole game. Founded by a group of street performers in Canada, Cirque realised it was futile trying to be better than existing heavyweights of the industry who themselves were not faring too well. In their quest to outdo each other, the incumbents of the circus industry had amassed huge revenue over the span of a century. Cirque did things a little differently and ended up making even more money, and that too in just twenty years. They had realised, the competition was fierce, set-up costs were through the roof and to put it simply, circus, in its traditional sense, was dying.

To win this game, they had to change the play-field.

Eventually, all business sectors are bound to go through a similar phase, and when that occurs, it is imperative to understand that the solution to it lies not in improvement, but in innovation. Cirque du Soleil did just that. Had they tried to outdo their competitors such as Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey and other big shots of the circus world, they were doomed to fail. Even if they had somehow managed to outperform their rivals, the resulting market-share would have been too small to be worth all the effort, since the number of circus-going children itself had gone down. So they improvised. Instead of designing their show around children, they customised it for adults and corporate clients by assimilating the musical artistry of the Opera and the dramatic flair of the theatre in their acts. Cirque was now catering to a class of customers that were less enchanted with video games, capable of paying higher fares and did not need the expensive and problematic animal acts for entertainment.

They had solved all their problems, outdone the entire competition, and with a single stroke of ingenuity, reinvented circus itself.

‘Being different is often better than being better’; Cirque du Soleil is just one of many examples reiterating this point that applies to all industries, professions and fields. It is true that improvement and growth are always the ultimate goals in all walks of life. But at times, striving for direct improvement is not enough, a different approach is required. Questioning the traditional setting of things and assessing its utility for the present and the future becomes imperative.

Sometimes being different from those around you can be lonesome and even distressful. To see your peers together on a same or at least a similar path, achieving their targets together and sooner than you, can often lead to confusion and self-doubt. At times like these, remember the things achieved quickly are even quicker to be forgotten.

Ask yourself, does the common path offer anything other than mediocrity at the end? Is the false sense of security that comes with following the crowd more important than reaching the goal you have set for yourself? You’ll never have all the answers, and that’s fine. Asking the right questions is infinitely more important than knowing all the answers.

Throughout the history of mankind, there has always been one secret ingredient in all the recipes of revolutions and ground-breaking successes……. Oh, I have no clue what it is. It always came from the cook who didn’t follow the cookbook.