Everyone attempts to name three random things; if and when they fail, everyone celebrates. This is important because it’s easy to forget these important lessons; by repeating the habit of cheering our failures, it makes our actions more likely in the future.

Group Size
  • Any Size
  • None


  1. Have everyone get into groups of 4 to 6 people.
  2. Then give them the following instructions: “In your small groups, one person is going to challenge another to come up with three silly, crazy things. You will all get a chance to go. This is how it works: The entire group will clap three times and chant, ‘Three Things!’ Then one person will point at another person on their team, and declare the challenge. For example, someone might point at me and say: ‘Give me three rejected names for Snow White’s dwarves.’ I might reply, ‘Farty… Prozac… and… and… and…’ Notice how I wasn’t able to come up with a third name. So that’s when I can just declare, ‘I have failed!’ and take a bow, while everyone in the group cheers. In other words, you are going to cheer your teammates whether they successfully come up with three things or if they fail. Remember that there are no wrong answers. Whatever three things that the person says, we accept them and applaud them. After the first person has gone, that person gets to choose another person in the circle to go next. Again, everyone will clap three times and chant, ‘Three Things!’ Then the person who has just had their turn will point at someone else, and declare their challenge. It could be anything. They could say, ‘Give me 3 things to do with an eggplant, other than cooking or eating it.’ Or they could say, ‘Tell me 3 things that would get you kicked out of college.’ Anything goes.”
  3. Allow about 5 minutes for everyone in the room to do this in their small groups. There is a lot of laughter and cheering.
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At the end you can debrief this, asking people how it felt to have everyone cheer when they failed. Were there any surprises that came out of this activity? What insights did they gain about their resilience in the face of failure?

Journalist Megan McArdle has a fascinating prompt for discussion in her book, The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success. She asks:

What happens if you do a Google search for “the best thing that ever happened to me”?

Most people imagine that it would be things like “falling in love” or “having a child.” But those are actually tied for a distant third in the voting.

Well, it turns out that the thing that comes up again and again on Google is a Gladys Knight song. But if you eliminate that, the most popular answers for “the best thing that ever happened to me” include:

  • Cancer
  • Divorce
  • My husband’s affair
  • Getting fired
  • Being left at the altar
  • Prison
  • Dyslexia (105)

But this isn’t so surprising. When most people look back on their lives, they realize that the times of crisis were the wake-up calls. Most of us ignore small warning signs that we are in danger. But when faced with some traumatic event, that can be transformative.


All people will face setbacks, obstacles, failures, rejections, and loss. All of us are fighting our own struggles. That’s why many people face post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Yet there’s actually a tremendous amount of research on how people bounce back from difficult events. Resilience is a skill that can be learned. Indeed, there’s a whole field of research that studies “post-traumatic growth.” Even though we would never wish to have terrible events in our lives, frequently they lead to growth and development. According to UNC Charlotte professors Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, the leading experts on post-traumatic growth, 90 percent of survivors of a trauma report at least one of the following in the months or years that follow:

  • Greater appreciation of life.
  • Stronger relationships with others.
  • New possibilities
  • Greater personal strength
  • Positive spiritual change, including a greater desire to help others


Transformative Action Institute, based on popular improv activity

Additional Readings

Tedeschi, R. G., Shakespeare-Finch, J., Taku, K., & Calhoun, L.G. (2018). Posttraumatic growth: Theory, research, and applications. New York: Routledge.