(for the American Society of Trainers and Developers)

ASTD May Issue: “Who Has FUN With FAILURE?”

by Milo Shapiro

Look around town and you’ll find an amazing selection of professionals whose expertise is helping you plan:  plan your projects, plan your investments, plan your staff development,  plan your time allocation.  In part, life and business have become so fast paced because the world has become more efficient in its planning.  So efficient, in fact, that we can be emotionally overwhelmed by a possibility:  Can we handle what comes up if our plan goes awry?

But surely this couldn’t happen to you!  You’re smart.  You write down your goals.  You read all the Stephen Covey books (and swear you’re going to read that new one at red lights and during heavy traffic).  You back up your computer weekly and show up for events you’ll be leading at least 45 minutes early to make sure the space is perfect.  You’re a good planner!  Except…well…except for two things.

1)   You forgot to be born perfect. 

The original sin in California.  What’s more –- look around you:  Everyone else is perfect.  It’s SO unfair but there it is.   Other trainers you see at meetings have it all together.  They always get eight hours of sleep.  Their transparencies never end up upside-down on the projector.  They never get that awful blue screen when they save a document.   They don’t use brooches to hide mustard stains on a jacket.  They didn’t buy stock in Arthur Andersen in September.  They know which fork is specifically for arugula.   They even Jazzercise.  And worst of all – their business phone starts ringing at exactly 8:15 every morning from unsolicited clients who call solely on word of mouth.   But you just had to go and forget to be born perfect like them.

2)   Sometimes, things go wrong…even to nice people who plan.   

As we learn from our errors, we take action to prevent repeating these problems.  I even have a “travel checklist” on my website so that I cannot forget common items I need on most trips, like my belt and razor. 

There was no way, however, I could have anticipated a meeting planner’s failed promise of a lectern -- because she thought “lectern”  was the body microphone with the clip on it.   There was no preparing for a waiter spilling wine on the guest of honor ; no ignoring the mysterious gnomes that made their PowerPoint LED projector stop working that day (“We swear we just used this yesterday…”).

As my grandfather used to say, “The best laid plans of mice and men…often end up in the mousetrap.”  So what then?  How do we handle our failures?  Can we function (or even excel) KNOWING that pitfalls loom ahead of us in some of our endeavors?  And conversely – where do we stop ourselves because of this fear?

This is the focus of my motivational speech: “Who has FUN with FAILURE?”   It is also a key component in my work with improvisation, both for the stage and as a teambuilding and personal development endeavor.  Improvisation gives us a chance to practice such skills as listening, building on the ideas of others, non-verbal communication, and failing with grace.  How safe is improvisation to play in?  That depends on your relationship with failure – a key topic in this presentation.

The skills learned from improvisation pay off in:

This keynote combines facts, personal stories, interactive exercises, and even a little music.  Please bring an open mind, a sense of humor, a playful spirit, and guests.  Please leave small pets and expectations of what a meeting “should be” at home, for this meeting will be a little different.

I hope you will join me and the rest of the ASTD chapter this May for “Who Has FUN with FAILURE?”   Especially if you didn’t know that fun was an option!



After 15 years of Information Technology, Milo Shapiro risked colossal failure to focus full-time on applying improvisation to businesses, conferences, and schools.  Through “IMPROVentures”, he offers TEAMprovising – teambuilding and communication exercises based in lessons of improvisation.  He also works in a duo and solo as a motivational and entertainment speaker for conferences.  His books "The Worst Days Make The BEST Stories" and "Public Speaking: Get A's, Not Zzzzzz's" and more info on him are on our home page