You’ve heard the old adage “fail fast, fail often,” which encourages rapid iteration and the discovery of new and novel ideas. However, no one, including me, wants to fail! Let’s be honest… it feels terrible every time.
Here are just a few things I’ve failed at in my life: learning a second language, learning to play piano, passing a state lifeguard exam, and marriage. That’s just what comes to mind immediately. Point being, I think we can all pretty quickly provide a list of our failures (and that lifeguard test was over 25 years ago!).
Most people hate to be wrong, make mistakes, or look foolish. I am one of them. However, I have also learned to admit when I am wrong, make a mistake, or feel foolish, in order to grow as an individual and a professional. It hasn’t been easy, and I’m sure I have a long way to go, but it’s progress.
What is important to remember as we are faced with challenges or the desire to grow is that mistakes are not the same thing as failures. Mistakes are smaller road bumps that, if you aren’t willing to bounce in your seat a bit as you encounter them, can make you feel like you’ve just destroyed your suspension. That’s why they can feel more like failures.
No matter how hard one tries, failures will always be a part of life. They are giant potholes and sometimes you’ll pave over them and sometimes you’ll just keep driving, hoping you don’t lose your muffler along the way. And we would all certainly like to reduce the frequency and degree of failures (and actual potholes).
In improvisation, we teach people to “bounce” more often. In other words, we teach you to embrace, and sometimes even aim for, mistakes. And yes, we teach you which ones to avoid, too.
It is well to cultivate a friendly feeling towards error, to treat it as a companion inseparable from our lives, as something having a purpose which it truly has.Maria Montessori
Improvisation is an art form that challenges people to work together as a team to create something wonderful on the spot. There’s no way that I know of to accomplish that without making mistakes. This is very different from failing. Sometimes we consider our shows “failures” (as in it’s terrible to watch and absolutely no fun to perform). However, because we “bounce” through our mistakes, we have many more shows that are fantastic successes!
We increase our success rate by practicing skills that help us connect, communicate, and collaborate under great pressure. One of the key skills we practice is learning to “bounce” through mistakes.
2 Types of Mistakes We Encourage You to Make (and Bounce Through!):
These are the mistakes that we make when we are challenging ourselves to learn a new skill or build a new competency. In improv, we are often operating just beyond our comfort zone by taking bigger chances than we would normally take, playing roles we don’t normally play, or attempting to co-create with a diverse group of collaborators.
The mistakes that happen while we are “stretching ourselves” are extremely beneficial for learning and growing. As long as we are aware that these mistakes are helping us learn, we can “bounce” all day and feel great. Notice these mistakes and reward yourself for the strides you are making!
“Ah-Ha!” Moment Mistakes
These are the mistakes you discover as gifts in our life or work. Some of these gifts we love to get and some we don’t. It’s like when you are driving and “zoning out” and next thing you know you missed your turn. You pull over to the side of the road to get your bearings and discover that you’re parked in front of an amazing BBQ joint you never knew was there! Or… you hit a parked car and learn that you need to pay more attention to where you are going.
In improv, we have “ah-ha” moments that could be seen as mistakes. When co-creating a scene we practice letting go of where we think the scene should go and just see where we end up. Something will invariably be said or done by an actor in a scene that seems like a mistake, but if we “make it right” and treat it as “ah-ha! That’s the important thing about this scene!” instead of leading us to failure, embracing that “mistake” leads to unplanned achievements or discoveries! In other words, we use our “Yes! And…” mindset to discover more delicious BBQ.
Want to take a test drive?