Life Lessons from Improv Wisdom Book Review

improv-wisdomImprov Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up, by Patricia Ryan Madson, is a great read. This is an Improv Wisdom book review and we will cover how the book translates the powerful concepts of improv into life lessons.

Patricia covers the 12 Maxims of Improv and covers personal experiments. The personal experiments (dubbed “Try This”) are worth the small price alone (less $12 on

Improv Wisdom Book Review

1. The only real failure is not doing anything. (page 17)

Whether in improv or life, you can only succeed if you take action. When you attempt something and don’t succeed, it’s not that you failed but that you’ve learned. And when you try again, you’ll have a better chance of succeeding. Failure is not even trying.

2. [Improvisation] is a method of working. (page 22)

Improv is an art and a science in many respects. It is also a way of working. The method of improvising in life doesn’t mean never planning or just going with the flow. Improvising means being able to do what’s necessary given the right circumstances.

3. The mind that is occupied is missing the present. (page 35)

Humans are amazing creatures with incredible talents, but multitasking isn’t one of them. If we are preoccupied with something else, we’re missing the now.

We are at our best when we work in the now. Actors refer to it as being “in the moment.” For athletes, they are “in the zone.” For everyone, it’s about being “in the now” – focusing on the present.

4. Motivation is not a prerequisite for showing up. (page 52)

Motivation, or lack thereof, is often the scapegoat for not getting things done. “I would start that project that I’ve put off for 2 years but…” “I would go running but I don’t have any motivation.”  Show up and see what happens. 9 times out of 10, you’ll actually accomplish something.

5. Try thinking inside the box. Look more carefully. (page 63)

A common misconception about creativity is that you have to change your thinking. In reality, you only have to change how you think slightly. The common cliche that “everyone is different” is true because we are the sum of all our experiences. No two people grow up with the same exact experiences.

That uniqueness alone provides the skills to “think differently”. If we pay attention to our thoughts and trust our instincts, our ideas will be different and creative.

6. Life is all about balancing, not about being balanced. (page 81)

Peter Drucker talks about a well-run factory as boring because nothing exciting happens. Everything runs as expected and contingencies are in place for any issues. Life isn’t (and shouldn’t be) like that.

Instead, life is about the daily balancing act of taking the good with the bad. Life is about balancing the necessary with the unnecessary, and the planned with the improvised.

7. Ask yourself, what would not get done if I were not here? (page 87)

When determining the best use of your time, look at what unique contributions you can bring to the situation. If someone else can do the job better than you, enable them to. Focus on what only your set of skills and experience can accomplish.

8. See the gift in it. (page 90)

There are three ways to look at any event in life: to see what’s wrong with it, to see it objectively, or to see the gift in it. The improvisers learn to see the gift. This attitude can change how you perceive and experience the world. Problems become opportunities and failure becomes our greatest teacher.

Of course this is not to say bad things don’t or won’t happen. James K. Feibleman said it best, “some good can be derived from every event is a better proposition than that everything happens for the best.”

9. There are no Olympic judges watching our lives. (page 103)

Take chances, make mistakes, look silly. We will always be our own harshest critic and we don’t live in a world that requires perfection. Learn to accept good enough because it is better than nothing.

10. The essence of improvisation is action. (page 114)

Beginning improvisers often get caught up in what would be cool or funny. Put it into action. Life demands action.

Patricia put it best: “Motivation is not required. Good intentions, beliefs, resolutions, even promises don’t matter. Action does.” (page 116)

Improv Wisdom Summary

These are 10 insights I learned from Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson. There are many more great lessons within the pages.  If you liked the ideas here or want to see them explored further, pick up Improv Wisdom on Amazon.

Life Lessons from Improv Wisdom Book Review - Humor That Works

Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up, by Patricia Ryan Madson, is a great read. This is an Improv Wisdom book review and we will cover how the book translates the powerful concepts of improv into life lessons.


Author: Andrew Tarvin

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1 thought on “Life Lessons from Improv Wisdom Book Review”

  1. Patricia Ryan Madson

    Hi, Drew,
    My computer ATE your last email to me. Truly mysterious. Can you resend it? I’m free next week to do the interview. Would Monday work for you? And, I don’t need to see questions in advance, really. I love to actually improvise and model what I teach!

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