Adapted from the Book, Tribal Alchemy: Turning What You Have Into What You Need. (2016) A Tribal Alchemy Resource. Get your copy at (just click the link above).

As a kid, my favorite part of the circus was the trapeze act. I would sit in anticipation and stare at the motionless swings. How would the flyer bring the trapeze to life? What tricks would she do? What dangers would he overcome? To this day, a trapeze act takes my breath away. I don’t think I’m alone. The trapeze act is an amazing feat to watch. Beyond watching the trapeze artist, many individuals spend time and money learning the trapeze for themselves.


Why does the trapeze act so intrigue us? Is it because the artist can swing on a trapeze high above a crowd? Perhaps to some degree. But if that’s all she did, we would quickly lose interest. Is it the “catch” that’s made at the end of the acrobatic act? Again, the catch is amazing because of timing and trust. But the catch alone is not enough to sustain the attention of the crowd. When we watch the trapeze artist, we are mesmerized by the movements in between the swings. The most amazing movement of the trapeze comes as the artist risks letting go of what is safe so that she can perform her most creative act before landing in the arms of the catcher. Without that risk, all we would see is a person on a swing.


In the show Ovo, Cirque du Soleil artists took the trapeze to a new direction. They combined the trapeze act with stationary throws from a suspended platform. This fresh approach increased both the difficulty and the sensation of the act. You can watch the Ovo flying act on YouTube. It gives a great visual example of how flyers risk their way to creativity. Take a look at the video and as you watch it, and think of your tribe and the risks you must take to execute your mission. In your own way, you too must risk out into creative space if you are to transform what you have into what you need. Though it can be unnerving, moments of risk activate possibility, which enables transformation.


Alchemy requires risk because transformation comes when we move beyond the familiar and act in different ways. Just as the trapeze artist must let go into empty space in order to create, so tribes must risk into the empty space of ambiguity and uncertainty. Without this risk, alchemy cannot occur.


Once an ingenious idea reveals itself to a tribe, there is still no guarantee that it will lead to transformation. The transformational work of alchemy is still ahead. This is why ambiguity is part of the alchemy process. Your tribe can’t know before the work begins if and how the transformation will occur. Sometimes you don’t know until you are nearing the end of the creative action. This is why risk is an essential element of tribal transformations. Your tribe has to begin enacting ideas without guarantees.

Ingenious tribes let go of the first trapeze—the familiar—in order to venture out into the unknown where creativity is possible. The most creative time for a trapeze artist occurs when he has nothing to hold on to.


I call this the “midair moment.”