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In a previous post (An improvisation activity for speakers and story-tellers: ‘Fish, Cable, Catapult’), I described an improvisation activity for speakers and story-tellers. ‘Fish, Cable, Catapult’ is a game in which skill levels determine the outcome: The better the player improvises, the better the resulting story.

We know from the ‘Solutions Focus’ approach that where we place our attention can lead to significant differences in outcomes. So while many experts talk a lot about failure – some going so far as to celebrate it – I prefer to direct participants’ attention towards their successes.

In a story-telling activity, such as ‘Fish, Cable, Catapult’, the facilitator can choose whether to explore what participants do badly or what they do well.

By setting clear criteria, we establish that the only noteworthy failure is if they don’t include the three words in their story. That’s possible, but happens rarely – usually when one of the words is forgotten.

You can reduce the failure rate further by allowing the listeners to prompt with encouraging reminders of the missing word. Forgetting a word temporarily is not a big deal, if we are focused on success – that’s to say if we want them to create a story, rather than catch them out for missing one of the instructions.

Notice that failure doesn’t manifest itself in any interesting way in this kind of well-chosen activity. Free from any mistake-related stress, and faced with a fair challenge, most participants surprise themselves and their colleagues by spontaneously telling an entertaining story.

This stance towards success is liberating for the facilitator too. They are on the lookout for their participants’ abilities to:

  • Be flexible
  • Let go of preconceptions and perfectionist tendencies
  • Be more playful
  • Accept what’s happening and to build on that, rather than block
  • Access a creative flow

It’s a stance you can apply when teaching any topic in which progress and success depend on application of these quintessentially human advanced skills.

For more good Applied Improvisation activities, check out my classic book, 58½ Ways to Improvise in Training – on Amazon. It organises the activities by the outcomes desired – including teamwork, influencing and creativity. There’s also a handy table indicating how long each activity takes and how many people can play. And user-friendly notes to help the facilitator brief, side-coach and debrief.