Many people don’t take risks, because they are afraid of failure; they see it as something terrible, rather than as a learning opportunity. Thus, in this activity, everyone proudly announces that they have failed, and takes a bow to cheers from their peers.

Group Size
  • Any Size
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  1. Have everyone get into a circle.
  2. Then, give everyone the following instructions: “We are going to celebrate failure and making mistakes today. Failure is an essential stepping stone to success. If people don’t fail, then they probably aren’t challenging themselves enough. Thus, given that we have all failed countless times in our lives, we are going to celebrate that fact. We are going to go around and shout out, “I have failed!” After you do so, you can take a bow, as if you are a performer on stage, at the end of a bravura performance for which you are getting a standing ovation. And indeed, everyone else is going to cheer wildly. Every time someone announces that they have failed, the rest of us are going to celebrate it as if you have just been victorious in a sporting competition.”
  3. You can start this activity by modeling how it’s done. Declare proudly, “I have failed!” Then take a bow, and encourage everyone to go wild with applause and excitement.
  4. Then go around the circle and do this for every single person.
  • There are times when the energy in the room is very low, and people might find this exercise to be silly. If the applause is tepid, then encourage people to increase their energy, and support each other more.
  • Usually when we go around the circle, some people add extra flourishes to the announcement that they have failed. Some of them raise their arms in triumph. Others jump and down with excitement. All of this is welcome.
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After everyone has gone around the circle, remind them that this is something that they can do throughout the rest of their time together. Hopefully, this will become a memorable activity that becomes a theme. In many of our classes and workshops, we hear people spontaneously erupting in cheers when they make mistakes.

If you wish, you can debrief with them and ask them why they think it’s valuable to celebrate failure, instead of hiding it or being ashamed. Many participants will have insightful comments about the critical role of failure.

It’s crucial to distinguish between two types of experiences that we call “failure.” The first is when you attempt something bold and valuable, and it does not turn out the way you had hoped. For example, you applied to colleges and were rejected by all of your top choices. Or you took a risk in trying to do stand-up comedy in front of a crowd, and nobody laughed. Those are all valuable failures because you took risks; even though you didn’t succeed, you might have learned something. It was worthwhile because you won’t be regretting your lack of courage to pursue what is really important to you. You won’t be wondering “what if?”

On the other hand, there are failures that come by not taking action. Let’s say that you want to write a book, but you always procrastinate and fail to take action. Or perhaps you write a manuscript but you fail to send it to literary agents or publishers. You are too scared of rejection, so you never take the steps that would be necessary to get it done. That’s not failure; that’s cowardice!


As University of Pennsylvania Professor Angela Duckworth has found, the key skill for success in life is grit: the ability to persevere and not give up, even amidst the greatest difficulties and failures. She found this to be a greater predictor of accomplishment than intelligence, natural talent, and any other factor that could be correlated with success. Indeed, she found this to be true in everything from the Spelling Bee to the military. People who work hard and don’t give up can overcome a lack of ability in an area; indeed, they can come to outperform those who are born with far greater gifts.


Transformative Action Institute, based on popular improv activity

Additional Readings

Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101.