Applied Improv Principles: Celebrate Failure

Celebrate Failure (make mistakes boldly)

In the article What is Applied Improv? I discussed seven principles of improv that apply in the work environment. Here I expand on the concept of "Celebrate Failure and Survivable Risk".

Improv and collaboration require constantly taking risks of varying degrees. Mistakes and failure are inevitable as we engage in taking risks and it is our reaction to those failures that define the collaborative environment. In improv, we celebrate the risk-taking and embrace the failure which is counter to our natural tendency. This means that we are free to move forward boldly and without hesitation, censorship of ideas, and critique of ourselves or others. Celebrating failure unlocks creativity and gives us the freedom to explore alternatives and find elegance that might have been otherwise discarded.

Survivable Risk

The idea of celebrating failure seems to be counter to success or, worse, endorse thoughtless, careless or reckless behavior. The key principle is that we deal with survivable risks - failure as a result of dedicated effort with the intention of success. The idea is celebrating the risks involved with innovation. The nature of risk taking in any group or organization can range from personal risks of sharing your ideas and building relationships to trying new products or processes. It can be easy to discount, out of hand, the principle of celebrating failure with examples of reckless behavior such as betting all of the corporate assets on a game of roulette. Quick reactionary decisions without due care in the process may not be survivable risk for a company, leader or individual and therefore are not the intention behind this principle.

Applied Improv Principles: Yes, And...

In the article What is Applied Improv? I discussed seven principles of improv that apply in the work environment. Here I expand on the concept of "Yes, And..." Yes, And... is as simple as the using the phrase “Yes, and...” in responding to others as a way to build on their ideas and expand them. It is also the term used to describe the concept of accepting what other say and enhancing, expanding, and building on that idea to move things forward. This is in contrast to “Yes, But” and “No” which stop collaboration and forward momentum.

Yes, And makes you more positive. It can filter into all aspects of your life. This is talked about extensively in the book Improv Wisdom * by Patricia Ryan Madson. She offers this experiment in the first chapter on Yes:

For one day say yes to everything that's offered. Set your own preferences aside. Notice the results. See how often it may not be convenient or easy to do this. Obviously, use common sense in executing this rule. If you are a diabetic and are offered a big piece of pie, you'll need to find a way to protect your health. Perhaps you can say boldly, "Yes, I'd love to have this pie to take home to my son who adores cherries."

It's good for everyone including to yourself. It can be surprising how often we tell ourselves NO once you become aware of it. Take notice of for the rest today how many times you say yes to yourself vs. how many times you say no.

* Madson, Patricia Ryan 2001. improv wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up

What is Applied Improv?

inspiration light bulb

Applied  Improv

Improv, or Improvisational Theater, is a pure form of collaboration, creativity, and communication as a performance art. Applied Improv is the adaptation and use of improv games, exercises and activities in any context other than performance. There is a wide range of contexts that improv is applied including healthcare, wellness, therapy, training, communication, soft skills, K-12 education, and many others. Further, Applied Improv has a practical and sometimes specific outcome other than fun or entertainment.

Higher Engagement

Applied Improv uses games and exercises as the scaffold for learning. In some cases the game itself is a metaphor for the learning, in others the the game is a framework used to actively interact with the content. The act of play keeps the players engaged with the material for a longer period. By keeping people engaged with material and concepts for a longer period, more learning can happen and it happens in an active way that increases retention and learning.


Applied improv is based in experiential learning and intrinsic to that process is reflection. Daudelin* (1996, 39) defines reflection saying, "Reflection is the process of stepping back from an experience to ponder, carefully and persistently, its meaning to the self through the development of inferences; learning is the creation of meaning from past or current events that serves as a guide for future behavior." After each game or exercise the reflection process allows for the participants to find the meaning, extract the learning, and find their own understanding of the material.

* Daudelin, M. W. 1996. Learning from experience through reflection. Organizational Dynamics 24(3): 36-48.

Fundamental Principles

Theatrical and applied improv activities teach a set of fundamental principles that serve as a great model for using these techniques in other applications. There are several fundamental principles that underlie improv and have applicability in improv, work, and life in general* (Madson, 2001).

  • [intlink id="1365" type="post"]Yes, And...[/intlink]
  • [intlink id="1381" type="post"]Make your partner(s) look good[/intlink]
  • [intlink id="1371" type="post"]Celebrate Failure (make mistakes boldly)[/intlink]
  • [intlink id="1371" type="post"]Taking survivable risks[/intlink]
  • [intlink id="1376" type="post"]Storytelling is Collaboration[/intlink]
  • [intlink id="1374" type="post"]Make and receive offers[/intlink]
  • [intlink id="1460" type="post"]Listen[/intlink]

* Madson, Patricia Ryan 2001. improv wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up

How do you define it?

Let me know what I missed. How you frame it. Agree. Disagree. Add your voice with a comment below.

Quick Choice - Make fast decisions in a group


It happens all the time. You are in a meeting at work, a club, a group - and you are faced with a decision. What kind of pizza? What's the next topic to discuss? How should the group spend it's time next?  You need a decision and you need it now!

I was in just such a meeting with a group  of corporate trainers, coaches, and improvisers and we created Quick Choice. An exercise to quickly (in 6 minutes) get a group decision done.

Here is a PDF writeup of the exercise for you to try. Give it a shot - and leave a comment below with how you think it will work or how it did work!

Having a ball with your team. Any team.

Having a ball with your team. Any team.

The circle of players cracked and reformed from second to second as ball fired back and fourth. This group of avid ball players quickly fell into several rounds in a row where the group moved with incredible flow. This same teamwork and "group flow" is a key ingredient for good improv groups and good organizational teams - with common goals, good communication, and opportunities to bond.

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