The Magic of Failure!

by Terrill Fischer


A while ago I was watching a magic lecture by a young up and coming mentalist named Peter Turner. He is taking the art of mentalism in new direction with his bold style. His presentation was about being bold and fearless in presenting magic. He talked a lot about building confidence through failure. Peter found that taking a little more risk each time he performed made his presentations more powerful. (check him out here

After seeing Peter’s lecture I started to think about his lessons on building confidence through failure. What if we looked at our work and life in this way? What would happen if we saw our failures through this frame? I think we would be taking a lot more action and pushing ourselves to improve by taking more risks. It would help to strengthen our risk taking muscles.

In Peter’s lecture he mentions that if we could take a 1% more risk each day what phenomenal growth could occur. If a company could do that, they would see would see their profitability skyrocket.

In the business world, we are rewarded for not taking risks. Avoid errors at all costs. Yet companies have to take risks all the time if they want to experience growth, be it financial or otherwise. If they don’t take any risk at all they are setting themselves up for a big failure of doing nothing. Hollywood is a perfect example. For an industry that labels itself creative, most of the big studios want to be the second one to get it right. They want a formula that avoids box office failure. Millions spent on focus groups to find out the right audience, the right time of year to release, etc. Anyone have sequel fatigue? Why are the best films often independently produced? Maybe it’s because the people involved have nothing to lose and everything to gain if their film is a hit and Hollywood swoops in to buy it.

So how do we practice risk taking? We look at risk taking as a chance to create something new and if it doesn’t work out then we look at the lesson, learn from it and then take a new risk based on the lesson we learned. We do this through the art of improvisational play.

Improvisational play gets people breaking old patterns so they can respond and take risks in new ways. Participants start to feel confident with using their own creativity, generating ideas, taking more risks and being ok making more mistakes. In improv, not making mistakes is seen as not making an effort to improvise.

Play gets us back into the present where new ideas become possible. We can let go of the old constrained mindsets of work by doing the unconventional and take better-calculated risks.

This kind of risk taking behavior leads employees to push for excellence with their work. They also start investing more time in the continuous improvement process.

One of the games we play to get people taking risks is called ‘New Choice’, which gets people heightening and exploring options without fear of failure. A player starts a dialogue with another player, and at some point in the conversation, the instructor yells, “New Choice!” The person who is speaking at the time must make a new choice of dialogue or action immediately. This continues throughout the conversation with both players. All the players have to do is try to heighten and explore new choices throughout the game.  See the example below as performed on Whose Line Is It Anyway?

We ask participants, what it took to play the game successfully?

When it didn’t seem to work for them, what happened?

What did it feel like to take risks in the game?

What lessons about risk taking can we learn from it?

One of the answers we usually get back is taking the 1% approach. If we could just take a 1% more risk then before, we would see dramatic growth both professionally and personally.

Our challenge to you is to find some area of your work or personal life where you can take the 1% approach and start.