/ #books #creativity #improvisation #mistakes 

The art of Making Mistakes, book review

As a Chief Technical Officer, I see my job as trying to notice as fast as possible our new mistakes and adapt.

Working in an unknown environment with new technologies, avoiding mistakes is impossible. We do mistakes, all the time.

Everything fails all the time. Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon Web Services

However, even in this environment, we can be sometimes scared to try something new because of the fear of failure, this is a human reflex that probably helped our ancestor to survive while dangerous animals ate more risky individuals.

So when I found the book “The art of making mistakes” with 13 short essays on mistakes by improviser or theater people, I could not wait to read it.

Patti Stiles and mistakes as a learning process

Patti Stiles is one of the most incredible improvisation teachers I’ve met so far. Even if you improvised before and she is flying from Australia in your region, book a place, you won’t regret it.

She writes the introduction to this book. She shares how Keith Johnstone, since the first day, permitted her to make mistakes.

One night I was operating lights for the show Theatersports. It was my first time in the booth and I was taking everything very seriously, making sure I knew the correct sequences and controls. I was terrified of making a mistake, destroying the show and letting everyone down. Keith came into the lighting booth, casually looking around, asking, “Is this your first time doing lights?” “Yes.” I replied “Ah”, he said. “You need to make at least 3 mistakes or you haven’t done your job. Then he left the booth. For the whole show I was looking for any opportunity to take risks so that I could make my quota of mistakes. At the end of the show he said, “Patti, you made 2 mistakes try again next time.” Keith used the logic of success to get me to make mistakes. He relieved me of the stress of fear of failure by giving me permission to make mistakes. He created an environment where I could take risk and learn. Patti Stiles

This approach was very different from everything she experienced at school (and that you probably experienced too). We are so used to give negative feedback that we don’t even notice it anymore. In some countries it has also become a way of providing some respect, Frenchs uses the expression “Qui aime bien chatie bien” (literally who likes you, criticizes you).

During Patti Stiles Loose Moose improvisation education as she describes it, mistakes were not only tolerated, it was considered as an indispensable need of the learning process.

Paolo Busi on diversity and difference

Paolo Busi is an italian actor and director. He created Impromask, an improvised mask show with Commedia Dell’Arte influences.

As a teacher, my first task is to suspend judgment. As an improv teacher, the second one is to help the students suspend judgment on themselves Paolo Busi

Paolo Busi insists on how tolerate diversity and originality is different from accepting differences and uniqueness of every individuals. For Paolo Busi, in a difference environent, we judge others: “He is original, he doesn’t follow the rules”. In a diversity environment we suspend judgment”_ His ideas are different from mine, what can I learn?_.

A mistake appear when I judge some action — mine or someone else’s — as wrong. As long as I can reframe the situation, to integrate what is happening into what was already there, mistakes do not exist. Paolo Busi

Suspension of judgment is a crucial element of communication and creativity. Also, as soon you accept that a mistake does not exist before judgment, a full room of possibilities appears.

After years of improvisation with the same group, I thought I was a good improviser. However, when, at an audition, I had to improvise with a beginner, I was shocked at how helpless I was when the improviser does not share the same set of good practices. They were making a lot of mistakes which blocked me to push the story forward.

Here is an example.

The scene is at the market, we are selling fruits next to each other.

Me: “We had more people last week, I wonder where they all are?”

Her: “Who are you?”

The most natural path is to think that this answer is a mistake: We are selling fruits next to each other, I talk to her as if we knew each other and had this casual discussion of the number of people, her answer does not have a direct connexion to what I said…

However, she this is her offer, and it’s improvisation, you can’t be a good improviser if you only react well each time everything happens as planned.

What if it was not a mistake? What can explain that she can’t recognize me? Maybe she had an accident and lost her memory. Perhaps it’s the twin brother of my friend. Perhaps I have a memory problem, and I think I know this person, Maybe I’m a compulsive seducer and that is my catchphrase. Perhaps nobody was in the market because of an alien invasion yesterday, and every human but me is parasitized by an alien.

Just by considering that this mistake was an offer, an endless number of possibilities develop. And they seem way more intriging than the initial casual discussion.

Anna-Lena Østern and the self-judgment

Anna-Lena Østern is one of the pioneers of drama education in Finland. She shares in this book personal thoughts and feelings about mistakes and our love-hate relationship with them.

Most of the mistakes I can recall, though, have a feeling of shame attached to them. Something connected to not being observant enough, not being understanding enough, and sometimes being too naive, or not being authentic or true to myself, not listening to my gut feeling, or simply trying to be something I am not in order to please. Anna-Lena Østern

If you want to read more and learn about mistakes, I highly recommend grabbing this book. All the texts are unique and give a new point of view on this very particular subject.

This book is part of the list of 5 great books on creativity.


Baptiste Coulange

CTO at @cornis_SAS / socially acceptable maths nerd of @podcastscience / always improvising