The Spark | Notes & Review

John U. Bacon & Lyn Heward. The Spark: Igniting the Creative Fire That Lives Within Us All. Currency Doubleday, 2006. (136 pages)

— VIA —

It is delightfully serendipitous that I watched Moneyball last night about the Oakland Athletics’ GM and read this book this morning about a sports agent. There is a common theme here that I believe speaks to the nature of sports, creativity, life, innovation, etc.

This tale, of a sports agent finding new creativity and life through spending a lengthy period of time with the staff of Cirque du Soleil, includes several excellent nuggets of creative wisdom and ethic, many which are listed below. It’s a fun story, which appears to have its foundation in the real life experience of the author.

For my own journaling sake, I had wanted to read this book for several years now, but was most prompted by the beginnings of our new church, the name of which we have decided to be “Spark.” It is my hope that we embrace the fullness of theological and ecclesiastical creativity for the sake of greater love and redemption in the world. In reality, the same anti-creativity ethics are common even in religious and non-profit institutions, and in many ways, more so because of the many unwritten expectations of behavioral conformity that are found deeply rooted in religious culture.

I was struck, once again, by the profundity of VISION, the necessity of seeing ACCIDENTS as opportunities for creativity, the embracing of COLLABORATIVE CONFLICT AND CONFRONTATION, and even CONSTRAINTS in forcing new ways of thinking. I was inspired again to take THE RIGHT RISKS according to your vision. Perhaps my favorite connection of creativity was to COURAGE, a leap of visionary faith, and a willingness to move, to go, to do, in light of uncertainty, fear, and the unknown.

We are reminded in this book of the power of TRUST, the beauty of COMMUNITY and CONNECTION with the audience, the importance of PASSION, the pursuit of the HORIZON, and the consistent and ubiquitous truth of DISCIPLINE.

Now, let’s go spark something great in this world.


The trick, is not trying to solve the problem before you’ve figured out what it is. (15)

Do you know the definition of a good show? A good show is one where only we know what went wrong! (15)

I ultimately concluded that the fire Cirque had sparked in me would not be so easily extinguished. (19)

…every accident is just a creative opportunity in disguise. (21)

The better we get along, the more free we are to let loose and express our ideas and emotions. It’s hard to be creative in isolation. True creativity requires collaboration…and yes, even conflict and confrontation. (23)

Never lose sight of the reason for your work… (24)

Passion Is the Key to Everything We Do (27)

Constraints on time, money, and resources can be incredible motivators! Some of our most inspired ideas have arisen from the most Spartan situations. (28)

So, right from the start, we really challenge ourselves to erase the lines between athletics and artistry, between individuals and the group. We need to transform an individual into a team player everyone else can count on, literally with their lives; and transform an athlete into an artist who can bring complete strangers to tears just through his body language. (32)

Around here, you can earn enough credibility over the years to make one or two mistakes. But you also have to deliver. And you can’t deliver without taking risks — individually or as a troupe. It is essential. But you have to learn to take the right risks — risks that will allow you to fulfill your vision. (32-33)

“Most of these people are athletes. As Igor explained, they are used to following the rules, doing as they are told. They have to learn to get out of their comfort zones, to try something different and express themselves. They need to learn to connect with people in new ways. For us, that is at the heart of what our shows are all about — connecting. (34-35)

…if a person is courageous and generous enough, we can teach them the rest. To me, creativity is, first and foremost, all about courage — a willingness to take risks, to try new things, and to share the experience with others. (35)

…nothing of significance could be accomplished without taking a leap of faith. But first you need a vision. (39)

When you finally give voice to your dreams, you never know what’s going to happen. (42)

Oh, we could argue about almost anything … But that’s the point: We talked about everything. Our first ideas was almost never our last. Ideas evolved, and combined with others, until they became more original, more creative. And when we were done, you really couldn’t say whose idea it was. It didn’t matter! (44)

If there are too many restrictions, you stop thinking about what you can do and start thinking about what you cannot do. (46)

Trust me: In this business — in all businesses — your people will rarely work harder than the boss. (47)

The second thing I do is give them notes after each show about little things I noticed — what worked, what didn’t, what’s coming along. That way, they know I’m paying attention and their work matters. And I’ve learned not to give only negative notes. If you do that, after a while, whenever you give them a note, they just groan! So it’s important to be positive, too. | But the best thing I’ve done is to help them see their work through the eyes of the audience. (48)

If you don’t understand the role you play, how can you be excited about what you’re doing? (49)

You mean a balance between safety and the artistic? No! No! That is the most common misconception of what we do. There can be NO compromise on safety, and NO compromise on appearance. We must be a hundred percent safe, all the time, AND a hundred percent aesthetic. And that is what makes it so challenging. That’s what forces us to be creative: no compromise! … The artists here must be able to perform the most incredible tricks in the world, yet never be in danger. That’s what forces us to be creative, to find new ways to do both. And it’s this trap, this contradiction, that inspires me. (53)

It’s amazing how much we fear the unknown — even when the unknown carries with it the possibility of success. We are so determined to stick to our comfort zones that we learn to live with disappointment, as long as it’s familiar and safe. (64)

That is the power of the circus, of the imagination. It’s what Cirque is all about, both for the audience and those of us who work here. We transform the dull and ordinary into something special and memorable, something that touches people’s lives. And I believe we all have that power, no matter what we do. But only when you draw on some of what you’ve learned here today — about risk, collaboration, trust. (67)

…makeup isn’t about concealing our faces and flaws, but about revealing another side of ourselves to the outside world. (70)

When had I gotten so worried about making a mistake that I’d stopped swinging for the fences? (78)

Sometimes the shape of what it is we want to create already exists, I had reflected, thinking about the form of my own life and the way I wanted it to look. maybe it was as simple as chipping away the parts of myself that no longer fit. (84)

…if you trust in your imagination, it will take you in some surprising directions. (89)

…trust was something of a mantra. …There also has to be a feeling of spontaneity. …That is the beauty of this act. …It’s important for the audience to feel that we’re all together as a community, with a share sense of beauty, of joy. (108)

Analyzing humor is like trying to dissect a frog. You can do it, but the frog tends to die in the process. – Mark Twain

Everybody is creative, and everybody is talented. I just don’t think everybody is disciplined. (112)

It’s never my failures that I regret, it’s the things I pass up because I’m too scared, too safe. …If you want to life fully, you have to trust. (12)

Our shows have nothing to do with being better than the person next to you. it’s about finding the horizon and reaching for it.  …There’s a difference between wanting to compete and wanting to participate. (130)

Most of our life we’re put in a cage, where we sing the same song day in and day out. But life is not about being caged, life is about flying. (132)

With her hands spread on the floor for balance, she waved back — with her right foot. And that, I realized, was Cirques’ creative spark, the creative spark that burns within us all; it was as innocent and powerful as the improvised wave of a little girl’s foot. (135)

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