Spring-time motivation from Creative Courage author and former Cirque De Soleil Creative Director Welby Altidor in a video-infused Q&A.
- Put things together that don't fit.
- If it feels impossible, that's a good sign.
- Relevant and resonant is more important than thinking out of the box.
- Expose your project to feedback before it's ready.
Welby Altidor lives the unconventional, frequently counterintuitive creative principles he espouses. The chief creative officer for Singapore-based Cityneon spent two days on campus with students and faculty, and gave a public presentation, sponsored by Michigan Technological University Career Services and the Van Evera Distinguished Lecture Series at the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts.
The youngest casting director in Cirque De Soleil history, Altidor previously put his team-building superpower to work in more than 15 productions. "It's almost like I have a tattoo on my heart with Cirque on it. I learned an extraordinary amount of things," said Altidor.
Q: What are you doing now?
Q: You say that we all have a genius inside us who possesses different superpowers. Why is it important to discover what those superpowers are?
It's our life's journey to discover what those superpowers are and what that genius is all about — and then to intentionally share that genius with the rest of the world. Make discovering your superpowers part of your work here.
"Practice your superpowers. Share them. Remember to incorporate them into your daily process."
Q: How did you build your career? Did you see a clear pathway?
It's a mix of being at the right place at the right moment. And also pushing through.
Q: Humility is important, but why is standing out still more important than fitting in?
At Cirque, I would do a lot of auditions around the world and very often artists would arrive at the audition and they would say in essence, "How do you want me to mold myself to fit into what you're looking for? What are you looking for?" And I would always say to them, "I'm just looking for you."
To take that image of superpowers from an artistic standpoint, you have that artist on stage and each is raw material. Each of them has a diamond inside. The work is only of sculpting. It's only to shape themselves in a way that that diamond on that stage is going to look as amazing as possible. That's the work. But there's a huge difference between the artist on stage who knows that this diamond is there and another who has no idea. If you're on stage and you don't have something interesting to say, if your presence is empty of belief, then you're invisible to the audience. They don't see you.
"Most of the premier organizations in the world, they're looking for people with courage to stand out."
Q: The confusion, depression and panic you experienced during a Cirque-related visit to Pyongyang, North Korea, where some of the world's best flying-trapeze acts come from, led to a revelation. What did you discover?
Q: How can embracing accidents and messiness help people be successful?
Q: Michigan Tech students are very high-performing. They strive in all areas. Classes are rigorous. Tell us why you say the road to "AAAA-plus should be littered with failures."
There's a tension between innovation and wanting to excel. Failing is learning. You are not the project. Develop that clarity. It's not about you. Remove the relationship where it's about a grade; what if you were partners? I expose myself intentionally to criticism — it creates a different relationship with stakeholders. Embrace that vulnerability.
To get to a high level of performance without failing is almost impossible.
Q: You also met with faculty while you were here. What's one of the concepts you hope they will take to their classrooms and labs after your visit?
Q: At what point did you realize you achieved success?
I don't necessarily think about myself as being successful per se. But I can identify moments that reflect the hard work. I can think of one moment last year. There was probably an hour-long line of readers waiting to have me sign their books (at a Montreal event). This book was dedicated to my daughter. For an hour, I had myself and my daughter next to me, and we were signing each of those books together. She loved it. It was really cool. This was an expression of success. But if anything, for me success is something that transcends us.
"You can design this yourself. This is an engineering project. This is your life."