28 JUN 2012: These days with travel agents and tour operators clambering for ROI, market share, and customer retention, it’s a tough business at the best of times. So, last month I spent half a week schmoozing with some top guns at a new conference called C2-MTL in Montreal examining how creativity influences global businesses.

But ironically, as the red carpet was being rolled out for an A-list of guest speakers the city was in a midst of a huge rumble (i.e. the student protest).

The group of creative commerce seekers convened inside the New City Gas building located by Montreal’s transforming neighborhood of Griffintown. We were away from the red-ribbon throng of wooden spoon pan holders.

Now what exactly was said by the likes of Michael Eisner, Arianna Huffington, Google’s CFO, Cirque du Soleil’s CEO, and other big brains?

Find out.

Daniel Lamarre: Cirque du Soleil CEO

The earth-defying shows from Cirque’s magical treasure chest are out of this world. Keeping the audience on the edge of their seats then astounding them with surprise, it’s that element of playfulness, of risk-taking, the joie de vivre of Cirque that is at the core of the company’s philosophy.

Four driving points behind the global circus’ success:

1. The creative challenge is at the essence that drives this organization.

2. Partner chemistry. “We have been blessed over the years to have the opportunity to work with MGM resorts, Disney, the best band in the world, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, and most recently James Cameron.”

3. Money. “We have to be profitable in order to feed our dreams.”

4. Citizenship values.

R&D is another biggie. At Cirque to stay one step ahead, it’s new talent, and new discoveries are always front and centre.

Sadly for travel agents who rely on corporate group bookings, the days when Cirque’s talent scouts took old fashioned plane rides to find the next stars are gone. Now the company relies on a 24/7 virtual cyber ambassador (i.e. Internet) available on every continent in every language. “Since 2008 we have received about 100,000 visitors 90 percent of our leads come from that.”

Jonah Lehrer: Wired Magazine Contributing Editor

It’s bad enough that Jonah Lehrer received a Rhodes scholarship and released two best sellers...before his thirtieth birthday. So what does the 31-year-old do now to top that? He releases another new book, a New York Times best seller called Imagine.

It was his book Imagine that became Jonah’s crib notes for his presentation.

Travel agents are going to love his first tip.

1. Take a vacation. The editor used Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” as a prime example. The revolutionary sixties banner song Lehrer says was conceived in a cabin in Woodstock away from the pressures of agents, and money fuelling influencers. Dylan dreamed that night. What happened was a 20 page, purposeful monologue that would redefine the American music scene. “This will forever be remembered as the holiday that unconcealed Dylan’s true potential,” Lehrer said.

2. Creativity is both inspiration and perspiration Lehrer said when he used Einstein, and Beethoven as examples. The legendary composer on many occasions returned 70 times to the same musical phrase before he was satisfied with the results.

3. Grit is absolute. It’s that sheer never-wavering stubbornness to complete a task no matter how impossible it looks from the outset which separates you from the fray.

But he also suggests that answers only arrive after you stop searching for them. You might be in the shower, walking the dog, looking out a window and suddenly Eureka! It goes back to Lehrer’s first point: Take a vacation.

Michael Eisner: former Disney CEO

Michael Eisner’s claim to fame: the massive transformation of a faltering animation company and theme park company into a lucrative entertainment empire.

How did he do it?

First off, it’s Michael, not “Mr. Eisner.” Michael puts relationships at the top of his business model. The English major admitted he’s no business grad but instead relies on his gut instinct for business. “You set up an organization, a financial box in order to get creative people around to play. You sell a really, really strong operation and then you just go for it. You try things. You experiment.”

“A lot of times if you’re paddling upstream and people are paddling down and 20 people are telling you that you are paddling upstream maybe you are paddling upstream. My view is I’ll push and push and push until everybody tells me I’m wrong and my wife tells me.”

Next point: Everybody can’t be creative. He says, “I think one of the problems in US businesses with pension funds, (etc.) is creative people scare the hell out of people.”

“but a really smart CEO no matter what lawyers or accountants say to him, should walk away if two things happen – if either they don’t really understand it, or it doesn’t pass the smell test.

“I believe one of the problems in business and one of the reasons these companies deteriorate is they don’t keep the creative executives at the helm. What happens is you lose your edge.”

Michael says point blank he was un-hireable. His parents considered him a pain in the ass. “At ABC I was the problem person. I gave my opinions all the time.
“I was considered ‘creative.’ I am not a business person.”

Michael cited an old Harvard business study started from Jack Kennedy’s days that took a look at happiness. It wasn’t wealth, class, exercise, and money, it was a sustained relationship.

“It was a relationship with a significant other, a sibling or a business partner. The number of unhappy people, who ignore siblings, turn their backs on them and the number of people in short term relationships and can’t find business partners these people are (ultimately) less happy.”

Okay so Michael’s had good partners.

Arianna Huffington: Huffington Post president and editor-in-chief

A scribe of a multimillion-dollar interactive publishing empire, Huffington admits her eureka moment occurred when she had a health scare a few years ago. “I was working around the clock. I fainted from exhaustion. I hit my head on my desk. I broke my cheekbone got four stitches on my right eye. It started me on my path to reacquaint myself with sleep. I realized our culture is suffering from acute sleep deprivation. We would be more productive more creative and have more joy in our life,” she says of the overwork syndrome so many of us endure.

Now she’s got a cure. Take time off. Get in touch with your inner you. Her app GPS for the Soul which she launched live in beta version to a packed audience will be available as a free download in July. It will be a customizable app.

But on the whole for businesses to compete, she reiterates how customer service is key in any business model ‘no matter how big you get.’

Patrick Pichette: Google CFO

Escape from the office, take a break, relax – “play beach volleyball or go for a bike ride,” says Pichette

If you have a mission of changing the world and you are not touching at least 1 billion people you know you’re not going anywhere is another Google-ism. “If you’re not building a product for 1 billion people you are wasting your time.”

The former Montrealer comes off easy going, approachable and relaxed. The strain of running a global empire seems to glide off him. So what gives? Part of his job he notes is managing all the HR stuff.

“Everybody has a great idea,” he explains.

Google’s staff is encouraged to get in on the R&D side of things. He admits the company arguably has the biggest brainiacs working at the top but Google also fosters innovation across all its platforms offering a cool HR approach called the 20 percent. Basically any employee can approach their manager with an idea written on paper and say how long it will take, how many people are needed and if this idea is green lit the world becomes your oyster.

“The way you get innovation is not only top down but the engineers are so incredibly full of initiatives and all they are asking for is a shot at it and if it works that’s fantastic,” he says.

Take away: If something is big enough and matters to you, you should always innovate.

Google’s mission looks for areas where it can innovate, then goes for it with everything it has.

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

Read more from Ilona Kauremszky

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