written by
Flavian DeLima

Everyone is creative, so fail and collaborate often

creative thinking 3 min read , June 10, 2021

A portion of this article was featured in Issue 9 of the CFP newsletter.


National Creativity Day happened in the U.S. on May 30th. It's really something we can and should do every day, everywhere.

Twyla Tharp, the great American dancer, and choreographer, who is 79, works just as hard today as she ever did in her 60-year career. Her new PBS documentary, Twyla Moves (Trailer here), explores her journey as a dancer, choreographer, and director. She says creativity is for everyone and is mostly about hard work and developing good work habits. In her book, The Creative Habit, she has no shortage of zinger quotes:

The Zen master cleans his own studio. So should you.
The goal is to connect with something old so it becomes new... Look and imagine.
In the end, all collaborations are love stories.

On Creative Failure

Tharp says failure humbles you. It reminds you of who you are and put aside who you aren’t. More importantly, if you’re not failing, you’re not taking enough risks How do you fail without the world finding out? Fail privately.

The best failures are the private ones that you make in your private space. Tharp says private failures are great and she encourages everyone to fail privately often. Examples of private failures might include your first draft of your book, your first piece of art, your first design. The more you fail in private, the less you fail in public.

Tharp recounts in The Creative Habit that her favorite dancers at the New York City Ballet fell the most. They took the biggest risks and went down more often. She described one dancer's ability to bounce back from falling:

Damn, she’s human.” And hitting the ground seemed to transform Mimi: It was as though the stage absorbed the energy of her fall and injected it back into her with an extra dose of fearlessness. Mimi would bounce back up, ignore the fall, and right before my eyes would become superhuman again.

On Creative Collaboration

The folks behind The Second City improvisational theater troupe view collaboration as an "ensemble" and want you to steer clear of the word, "team". In their book, "Yes, And", Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton recommend answering every question with "Yes, And...".

The "Yes, And" attitude requests that you replace all the teams in your organization with an ensemble. Sheldon Patinkin, who was a director and teacher at The Second City for more than fifty years didn't like the word, teams. He often told his students one reason organizations have problems was because they used the word, teams, in a way that pitted people against each other:

You’re only as good as your weakest member.

Patinkin changed it to an ensemble-friendly statement:

You’re only as good as your ability to compensate for your weakest member.

Teams feel adversarial while ensembles are collaborative. The best creative ideas, comedy, and workplace cultures that follow a "Yes, Any" attitude are more inventive, more engaged and more effective in solving problems. Instead of immediately criticizing or killing an idea, "Yes, And" always starts by giving every idea a chance.

The next time you want to make someone wrong, think of your team as an ensemble. Surrender judgment and your need to be right. People will be happier, more creative, and collaborative. And you'll make more friends!


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