The Failure Bow

Losing, as I have oft noted, is hardly ever fun. And since I play for fun, and only fun, it’s very useful to know that losing can be made, well,  funlike with the timely application of what, according to Ted DesMaisons, is known as the failure bow.

I quote from the above hyperlink:

Usually, we cringe when we hesitate or make mistakes, expecting punishment or pain from the outside. Or, maybe we flinch or roll our eyes hoping that if we proactively apologize for our ineptitude we can deflect critique from others. Of course, that apology only solidifies and calcifies the error, telling those around us that we’re worthy of their judgment. Sampson and Smith suggested that we instead embrace the moment by stepping proudly forward, flinging our arms in the air, and pronouncing a full-throated, goofy-smiled “I failed! Woo hoo!”


I want to acknowledge the preciousness and power of a joyful recovery. As Matt Smith affirmed in a recent conversation, “The Failure Bow isn’t designed to reward or focus on the failure. It’s designed to reward the willingness to be transparent, the capacity to remain available in the present moment, and the ability to get back on the horse without residing in shame.” It’s that awesome eagerness that leads an athlete to say “Hit me another, Coach” or a student to insist “Let me try again.” We get knocked down, but we get up again.

I’m thinking, as with much of the training that goes along with learning to improvise, there is some very useful wisdom here: a guideline, perhaps, a practice even.

(I take a liberty for the nonce to digress. The article quotes the author of a book called Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson. I met this very same person at the Applied Improvisation Network conference in San Francisco. She hugged me and then went to the book table and gave me her book, and even autographed it saying, and I quote: “The Hero of the story. Really. You are.” My jaw dropped so hard that I think I hurt my chin. Me? She was talking about me? And then I read her book. And I started remembering all the reasons I loved Improv, and discovering all the reasons I loved Ms. Madson. Beautiful. Profound. Wise. Accessible. Fun. And I’m recommending it to you entirely. But, still, hero? me?)

I resume:

Using failure as an opportunity to do something fun or funny is a brilliant practice. It reframes the experience exactly as it deserves to be. As something to laugh with. Something to reconnect you to the people you’re playing with, to the reason you’re playing, to the learning that is the heart of fun.

See also:

YouTube Preview Image

and this and this (which is part two of that)

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