One highly valuable element of improvisation practice is the idea that it is impossible to do it wrong. This principle creates an environment that promotes creativity and invites risk taking. The essence of improvisation is that it embraces whatever takes place in the moment. An alert improviser will gleefully seize upon any anomaly, stumble or mispronunciation and actually hold a spotlight on it. This creates truly exhilarating performance as the twists and turns are exaggerated and ridden wherever they may lead. Audience and performers alike are thrilled and inspired by this bumpy high energy process and the results are inevitably greater and more memorable than the glitches.
The world of business however can hold an entirely different view on the concept of mistakes. In a blame culture anyone making an error is immediately impaled on the skewer of disapproval and left to squirm in the gaze of their colleagues. People very quickly learn to avoid making mistakes and if they do slip up, to keep their head down and cover up the evidence. This pattern is learned early on in school and reinforced in the workplace. We end up with bland soulless environments where employees reserve their creativity for weekends. In the current climate companies need every ounce of creativity that their people have to offer.
Challengers, those who are passionate about the potential of an organisation and seek to drive change face unnecessary resistance in these environments. Ultimately it is the organisation which loses as the creative impulse is stifled and many true leaders leave to find a more supportive environment. Human beings have an innate desire to contribute and make a difference. Allowing this impulse to be expressed and supported in the workplace is a massive Win/Win. Creativity begets more creativity, as anyone who has had a go at the classic “Yes and” improvisation exercise will tell you.
I was delighted to encounter a company recently that is doing things differently, with some great results: NixonMcInnes are a digital media agency specialising in social media based in Brighton UK. They have established a “Church of Fail” where they meet as a company every few weeks to confess and celebrate their failures to wild applause. The bigger and more dramatic the failure, the bigger the applause. The purpose behind this light hearted practice is to have a bit of fun but also to change some of the feelings of shame so they can share the learning from their mistakes. Of course on one level we can say this is a bit silly, at a deeper level this is some highly effective reprogramming. Their favourite quote connected to this practice is from former IBM President Thomas J Watson “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate”
Read Nixon McInnes full blog post “Loving our mistrakes” here
We learn from our experiences when we share them with other people, when we label them “wrong” or “bad” and hide them away then we miss golden opportunities and also withhold the learning from others.
If you want to put an end to blame in your organisation then start celebrating mistakes, loudly and publicly, especially your own!
John Cremer is a speaker and trainer with expertise in improvisation and an uncannily accurate method of reading people. www.johncremer.co.uk. He founded the award winning Maydays Improv Company
John is the author of two books: “Improv” and “Reading People” and in 2009 he was voted Speaker of the Decade by the Academy for Chief Executives.
Recent clients include: PwC, DWP, Logica, Aviva, Rio Tinto, Reckitt-Benkiser, McDonalds, Met Police and the UN. When not speaking or performing he can often be spotted on Brighton beach, rod in hand stalking the mighty bass or sea trout – he usually catches mackerel.