tools for improvisation

NASA is on a journey to Mars, with a goal of sending humans to the Red Planet in the early 2030s. In preparation of this journey, robots have studied Mars for more than 40 years. When these robots are replaced by people, NASA indicates that ‘failure is not an option’ since we are playing with human lives.

Personally, I believe that because we are playing with human lives, failure must be an option. And that is what this project is about.

NASA Johnson Space Center, Dec 2015



Failure is an option!

Many people have a fear of failure. This is not strange, considering that from a very early age we learn that there is only one right answer and only if we find this answer in one try we get rewarded. What would happen if we wouldn’t try to find this expected answer, but instead follow the path of failure?

We would move from the known into the unknown. Instead of following the expected path from question (A) to answer (B), we would take the more bumpy path of failure. It will be out of our comfort zone and we will probably feel lost, but in the end we will find a truly new answer (C). The path of failure is the way to real discovery.

(This diagram is inspired by Uri Alon)



how to prepare for the unprepareable?

To help NASA prepare for their unpreparable trip, my proposal was to introduce improvisation theater to their astronaut training. It is important to understand that improvisation is not about being unprepared. Take for example jazz pianist Keith Jarret during his Last Solo in Tokyo ‘84, an improvisation like this takes years (or decades) to prepare.

Being able to improvise is like a superpower that you need to learn how to master. You need it in order to have an alert brain and to really discover new things. This resulted in a serie of sabotaged routine objects that invite users to improvise and prove that failure opens up for many more possibilities.