On Saturday night, Mr. D and I attended a fundraiser for Riverside Hospital.

Our third attendance at this event, it has grown from a nice dinner put on for/by friends to nearly 1,000 people, more than $400,000 raised, and some really great entertainment.

This year? A Cirque de Soleil-type troupe called the Anastasini Circus Performers.

A show full of variety, one performer changed her clothes, on stage, no less than 15 times. It’s magic!

Two other performers, both male, did acrobats from one another’s feet (it’s hard to imagine how they perfected that … with getting kicked in the privates, accidentally, in practice).

And yet another performer swung from a hook in the ceiling, upside down, holding on by only her big toe.

As I watched, fascinated by their performance, I began to look at the intricacies and logistics it takes to put on something like that. In a strange place, surrounded by equipment you don’t know, hooked into a makeshift ceiling. And I started to think, if companies took more risk like this on the web, they wouldn’t be so fearful of new technologies and social networks and forward progress.

Therefore I bring you, the five things companies can learn about the digital web from circus performers.

  1. Get out of your comfort zone. Sure, the performers have done the same thing over and over again for many years, but they do it in new places nearly every night. They have to create makeshift ceilings and fake center rings and rely on people they don’t know to do exactly as the safety checklists say. Even though they surely practice and check everything four or five times before each performance, it’s completely out of their comfort zones, night after night. If you’re not uncomfortable doing something on the web at least once a day, you’re not doing it right. Maybe it’s a new email campaign or writing a blog post or building a new social network. Get uncomfortable once a day.
  2. Hire a ringmaster. The ringmaster did nothing more than make sure the show ran smoothly and he spotted the performers as they were bouncing off one another’s feet. Your ringmaster should be in charge of the messaging, the policies, and organizing the entire internal team to be sure the digital programs run smoothly. This may be your receptionist or it’s a community manager. Whomever it is, empower them to make sure the show goes on.
  3. Take some risk. Risk is how these performers live. Imagine swinging, upside down, by your big toe from a ceiling hook you’ve never seen, never performed on, never even practiced on before that day. It’s so common for them to take risk, it may be uncomfortable not to take risk. While I don’t condone you doing the same, taking some risk goes hand-in-hand with getting out of your comfort zone. What do they say? No risk equals no reward? Go with that.
  4. Trust your team. If you’re a circus performer and you don’t trust your team, you’re dead. But, just like these performers, your business is dead if you don’t trust your team. Too many companies are taking away cell phones at the start of every day or blocking access to the social networks. Unless you run a daycare, stop it. You are working with adults. Treat them as such. Trust them to do their jobs so the ringmaster can be sure you’re doing everything you can to grow your business online.
  5. Respond to your audience. A circus performer is only as good as his or her last performance. They respond to their audiences. They listen to feedback (through ohs, ahs, and clapping). And they tweak, adjust, and improve, based on what they hear. The web gives you an amazing opportunity to do the same, if you’re willing to open your minds, listen, and adjust as necessary.

There are probably even more lessons you can learn from these people who go into a new place to perform every night of the week, but I’ve run out of writing time for the morning.

What do you think?

P.S. Dear Blair Minton, I see your double dog dare and raise you to a triple dog dare. Bet to come.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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