For many students, this is the most fun, powerful, and liberating. It’s all about realizing that failure is not just normal, it’s something to be welcomed!

Most of us don’t take risks because we are afraid of failure, and afraid of rejection. Ironically the best way to defeat your fears is to confront them directly.

Remember the story from the previous class about the man who wanted to ask out a female acquaintance, but he was too timid and shy? To recap: He was afraid that she would reject him. He was afraid of looking foolish. He was afraid of destroying the friendship. In a nutshell, he was simply afraid of failure. He went to a psychiatrist who told him that she could help him overcome his fears, but that he would need to do whatever she said. “Are you really serious about overcoming this problem?” she asked him. “If so, you must follow the advice that I give you.” He insisted that he would do anything to overcome his fear of failure.

“Then I want you to collect as many rejections as possible in the next month,” the woman said. “I want you to get rejected 75 times in the coming weeks. Your goal is to collect as many failures as possible. I will give you a nice way to approach women diplomatically and politely, so that you don’t appear like some stalker or psychotic guy. But then your agenda is for the women to reject you again and again and again.”

Of course, there was rich psychological insight in her advice. First of all, the man would soon learn to overcome his fear of asking women out. He would get used to the bitter sting of rejection; he would even look forward to it, because, after all, his goal was precisely to get rejected! Soon it would be much easier for him to ask women out, and he would be immune to the fear. Second of all, he would find that he wouldn’t get rejected all the time! His fears turned out to be unfounded. Yes, many women turned him down, but an equal number agreed to have coffee with him and go out on dates. He ended up failing in his attempts to get rejected! He soon gave up the game, because he had overcome his fear, and had gained much greater self-confidence.

We are going to have the students start to overcome their fears and move towards resilience in this game.

Group Size
  • Any Size


  1. You can begin by talking about how many people are afraid of rejection, failure, and disappointment. You can then relate the story above. Then you introduce the game where the only way to succeed is to fail!
  2. The idea of this game is to help people take lots of risks, letting themselves fail early and often; that’s the quickest way to success. But it’s something that most people shy away from. Therefore, this exercise gets people comfortable with the process of getting out of their comfort zone and allowing themselves to fail.
  3. Here’s the way it works: We will need all the students to go somewhere where there are lots of people walking around.
  4. Put everyone into groups of four people. Their goal is to fail as often as they can in 30 minutes. They can interpret those instructions in any way that they wish.
  5. They just can’t do anything that falls into these categories: Anything IllegalAnything potentially harmful of dangerous to themselves or others!Anything sexualAnything that harasses othersAnything Culturally offensive
  6. They should count how many times they fail in those 30 minutes - as well as how many times they actually succeed. (One of the best lessons of this exercise is how hard it is to truly fail. Often when people take risks, they end up succeeding multiple times.)
  7. They should also take photos or videos of some of their attempts. Fortunately most people have cameras on their phones. When they return, you will quickly download the photos or videos and the students will share the lessons from their attempts to fail.
  8. They should try to come up with as many creative failures as possible, but ones where there is a real risk of rejection.
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Afterwards, you can debrief what it felt like to fail again and again and again. Did the sting of rejection go away after the first few times? Did they get more comfortable with failure? Did they start to grow more bold, resilient and self-confident?

One of the most fascinating insights of this game is that most students find it incredibly difficult to fail. People say yes to them all the time!

For example, people have asked strangers in Times Square in New York to exchange sweaters with them. They have been surprised when people assented! Other people have asked restaurants and cafes for free food and drinks, and have found many generous places that have granted their wish. Some people have asked taxi or rickshaw drivers for free rides, and have found willing people who are all too happy to help them. Some people have even asked for money for a charity and have found countless kind donors. (This is powerful, since so many people have a fear of asking others for money!)

Researchers Frank Flynn and Vanessa Bohns found that most people wildly underestimate how generous and giving others will be when someone asks for help. As Adam Grant reports in his book, Give and Take:

“When people [in New York City] approached strangers, said they were lost, and asked to be walked to a nearby gym, they expected 14 percent to do it, but 43 percent did. And when people needed to raise thousands of dollars for charity, they expected that they would need to solicit donations from an average of 210 people to meet their fundraising goals… They actually hit their goals after approaching half as many people.”

And this is in a big urban center like New York City, where the stereotype is that people aren’t as friendly as in other places!

Other studies by Flynn and his colleague Vanessa Lake also confirm that people underestimate by as much as 50 percent the willingness of others to respond to a direct request for help and assistance. Think about it: When somebody asks for your opinion, you rarely get annoyed. You love to feel valued, like you’re making a difference for others, and like you are needed and appreciated.

Additionally there is a tremendous amount of research that “the more you ask for, the more you get.” William Poundstone has devoted an entire manuscript, the entertaining and informative book Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value to explicating this point.

For example, there is a psychological phenomenon known as anchoring, which behavioral economists have studied in depth. Psychologist Danny Kahneman of Princeton won the Nobel Prize in Economics for this pioneering research, among other things.

Here’s how it works: When you anchor people on a big number, they tend to go towards that number. When you ask for $10,000, people are more likely to give you a lot of money than if you ask for a much smaller, more reasonable, sum. In real estate transactions, agents who ask for a lot are more likely to make a lot of money than agents who ask for much smaller sums for the same property


This is true even if the number is absolutely ridiculous. In a 1984 study, psychologist George Quattrone found that he could ask students such crazy questions as:

−−Did the Beatles have more or less than 100,025 albums that made the top ten?

−− Is the average temperature in San Francisco more or less than 558 degrees Fahrenheit?

−− Is the average price of a college textbook more or less than $7,128.53?

OK, maybe that less question won’t sound so extreme to current students who pay such exorbitant sums for textbooks! But the point was that Quattrone then would ask people the actual numbers of albums that the Beatles had that made the top ten; or the actual average

temperature in San Francisco; or the actual average price of a college textbook. And remarkably, those who had been anchored on ridiculously high numbers tended to give much higher estimates than did people in control groups. (The same is true if he anchored people around

ridiculously low estimates; the respondents gave much lower responses to the real questions afterwards! There’s an impressive body of scientific research about this anchoring effect.)


Transformative Action Institute,adapted from popular improv activity

Additional Readings

Gardner, H., & Hatch, T.; Hatch (1989). Multiple intelligences go to school:

Educational implications of the theory of multiple intelligences.”Educational

Researcher. 18 (8)