Make mistakes! – gifts from improv

5 May 2009 0 By Viv McWaters

Recipes have their place. They provide a checklist and a reminder. They are a guide. And this is the beauty of recipes. There are two ways of writing a recipe. There’s the traditional approach that has a list of ingredients, followed by step-by-step instructions of what to do, with the occasional instruction to do something at the end to combine all the elements. 

Then there’s another approach which is written in a more conversationsl style with the ingredients highlighted in bold. 

Here’s an example (from Ross Dobson’s book 3 ways with…)

tropical pav

Break 6 – 8 small meringues into large pieces and place them in a serving dish. Lightly beat 125 ml pouring cream with 2 tablespoons icing sugar to form soft peaks. Spoon the cream over the meringues. Top with 2 thinly sliced bananas, a cubed mango and cover the fruit with 3 tablespoons passionfruit pulp.

I quite like this style because it helps me visualise what I need to do. And it works really well with complicated recipes.

And I’ve been watching a new reality TV program called Masterchef where contestants compete with each other to become the one Masterchef. About 7000 people auditioned and the show is focused on the 20 selected for the show. Those 20 were selected for their skills and for demonstrating a good understanding of the basics and for taking risks. Taking risks means that they sometimes fail, and also potentially have fantastic successes. It requires an understanding of what works and what doesn’t plus a willingness to try something new that sets these risk-takers apart form others who ‘play safe’. Playing safe ensures you don’t fail (usually) but it also ensures that you will probably not discover anything new or exciting. Or create something unique.

Which is all a way of introducing the second of my ‘improv gifts for faciltators’ cards – Make Mistakes.


In facilitation it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. You spend a lot of time and energy learning a particular process, have it mastered and when you use it, it works. Why wouldn’t you continue to use such a process? You probably will. My caution is to ask yourself why you are using it – because it helps deliver the outcome your client wants, or because you feel safe using it? 

Whenever I feel too safe or too comfortable facilitating, I use this as a spur to challenge myself, to explore what other approaches or processes might be suitable. Often, I’ll return to the tried-and-true process. Sometimes, I’ll take a risk and try something else. Sometimes I fail – and have to return to the basics. Other times I find a new approach that delivers. All times I learn something.