Mastering the art of failure in the workplace

Nikki Frias, corporate improv instructor in the DC-area, explains why embracing failure can make you more successful in meeting your business goals.

As adults, we never get the luxury of failure in our everyday lives. There’s no celebration of being late to that important meeting or a party for missing the monthly reports that put our jobs in jeopardy. Instead, we’re compliant and earn a decent wage in hopes of retirement 20-plus years from now. A lot of us, for the most part, have been brainwashed into the idea that staying in the box is safe, so when teaching the concept that there is no box, it’s understandable why there’s pushback from people.

As an improv instructor, it’s not uncommon to see students hesitate when trying a class or workshop for the first time. Before fully diving in, there are usually a lot of clarifying questions, a needed in-depth explanation of lesson and logic applied to games. In a society that values success over anything in the corporate space, it’s no wonder many struggle to let go and see the value in embracing failure.

Luckily, in the world of improv, failure is celebrated.

Similarly to office settings and how we all navigate life, improv requires no script or structure. Instead, it rewards performers by letting go of the control to unleash the opportunity for new possibilities in scenes. It empowers the creative process by exploring other worlds, relationships and scenarios by just responding without knowing what’ll happen. Through failure, performers and individuals are about to learn new information, adapt and grow towards a solution. Using improv principles within the workplace helps build trust among ourselves and co-workers.

How can I practice embracing failure?

The practice of embracing failure requires a fundamental shift in mindset and approach. I recognize failure is the hardest of all the improv principles to accept; going with the flow is never easy. Rather than viewing failure as something to avoid at all costs, recognize it as a valuable learning opportunity. For example, in business development, when looking for new ways to bid on different types of contracts, experimenting with various skill sets can be used to attract new business, or reviewing the feedback from losing a contract can be a stepping stone toward learning the needs of your current and future customers. By reframing failure as educational feedback and acknowledging its role in personal and professional growth, individuals can cultivate a mindset that embraces risk-taking and experimentation.

What does that look like in a corporate workshop?

In a corporate improv workshop, the path to success is often paved with failures. To create a safe environment for this journey, we applaud and cheer when someone doesn’t follow instructions or understand the game. Over time, this practice fosters trust among co-workers and encourages a learning mindset. It also promotes communication and creative potential in team settings. By incorporating improv strategies in the workplace, we can nurture adaptable and confident employees, enhancing both individual and team performance.

Furthermore, incorporating other principles from improv, such as “Yes, And…” which promotes agreeance and building off given information, and active listening can also help build stronger connections and collaboration among team members, which further enhances the collective ability to navigate uncertainty and embrace failure as a catalyst for growth. Ultimately, this will create a culture where individuals feel empowered to take risks, learn from mistakes and unlock their full potential to pursue shared goals and objectives.

The first step to embracing failure is being open to thinking differently and accepting what’s on the other side. For research and development, creatives, sales and marketing, and project managers recognizing opportunities for growth, learning and improvement from failure is a start. Whether developing a pitch, losing a contract, or navigating different personalities within the office, individuals can learn a lot about themselves in the workplace by reframing past failures as an opportunity for experimentation, feedback and continuous learning. Once we get over the idea that failure is always a bad thing, we can cultivate a mindset that can overcome obstacles by looking at setbacks objectively and celebrating the possible outcomes of taking risks.

For those fearful of what stepping outside of the box looks like, I say this: Embrace failure, the unknown and trust those moments of uncertainty where you find the greatest triumphs. And remember, in improv, the biggest winners are often those willing to lose.

Nikki Frias is a corporate improv instructor in the DC-area, infusing humor, creativity, and interactive techniques into professional development settings through engaging workshops. She is the author of “Damn, You Still Single?” and “Does this Divorce Make Me Look Fat?” and currently teaches improv with the Washington Improv Theater, comedy writing at DC Improv, and storytelling at The Writer’s Center. For more information on her upcoming events check out

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