If you’re unfamiliar with MacGyver, he’s a character on an action-adventure TV series from the 80s and 90s. MacGyver was a secret agent who specialized in rescuing himself and others from seemingly impossible situations by taking everyday objects and creating life-saving solutions from them. Think of disarming a nuclear warhead with a safety pin or turning a coffin into a get-away vehicle.
Like MacGyver, great leaders are “subsistence-cookers.” Much like a chef who can whip up a delicious meal using just what they find in the kitchen, great leaders look around them at the available resources in order to create a solution with what they have on hand. They take action regardless of their limitations.
They are adaptable, creative, and resourceful. They roll with the punches and innovate on the fly. Instead of digging in their heels at the inconvenience of the situation, they quickly focus on solving the problem. They overcome difficulties with quick thinking and clever decision-making.
This means that they are masters of improvisation.
How to channel your inner MacGyver:
Improve Your Improv
The number one rule of improvisation lies in not rejecting what the other person is proposing. You accept the information without dismissing it, add a little more information, and then seek to go from there.
Improv masters call this the, “Yes-and” rule. When creating a story for a problem, a solution, or a new campaign, it’s important to build on the story of the original idea. You have to develop the who, what, where, and why to get to the meat of the story.
This is especially important in a brainstorming session. When brainstorming, you’re looking for ideas. The best way to get a dynamite idea is to generate a lot of ideas, because your first good idea is rarely your best. In the beginning stages this means going for quantity over quality while suspending all judgment. When you shoot down an idea during a meeting, it stalls the momentum of creativity. Others fear that their idea might be the next to go down in flames, effectively stifling the open dialogue.
When someone throws an idea up on the board, no matter how impossible or foolish, snowball on it. Make like the improv masters and run with the idea. Politely tell any naysayers to shut their traps and consider the lunacy. You know you’re getting somewhere when an idea causes laughs, gasps, or scoffs.
Not only does this openness and non-judgmental attitude promote ingenuity and out-of-the-bounds thinking, it also promotes comfort. When team members feel comfortable enough with one another to throw out unorthodox ideas, the group grows closer. And when group members trust one another is when synergy happens.
Work With What You Have
Focus on the here and now. Your resources are limited, so figure out what you know and what you don’t know, then go from there. That’s how MacGyver created a hang glider out of spare satellite parts to escape his pursuers. He didn’t have the most desirable tools, but he used his available assets in ways in which they weren’t intended to solve his problem.
Limitations foster creativity. Because you only have so much to work with, your brain must create something new from the known. Like water flowing through the cracks, you can find a way through the wall by flexing your innovation muscles.
Being able to come upon the spot with a Plan B when Plan A fails (and, let’s be real, Plan A is going to fail at some point, just expect it) means that you have a skill that is vital to any operation.
Curiosity is an essential component of MacGyvering. The willingness to test a hypothesis – whether it passes or fails – leads to more information. And the more information you have, the more confident you are in your decision-making.
A curious person is a hungry person. A hungry person is always searching for more; a new pathway, a new viewpoint, and a new answer. They try in spite of doubts. That’s how inventions are birthed, traditions are burned, and status quos are upended.
Ask questions. Ask them relentlessly. There is always a story if you look past the surface. Who, what, when, where, why, and how are the most important words in the vocabulary of the curious. The more questions you ask, the less “boring” a subject is. When you dive deeper, you discover all sorts of treasures.
Build a telescope out of a newspaper, a magnifying glass, and a watch.
When you begin thinking more like MacGyver, you start to view the world through a lens of possibility. You ask yourself questions like, “How could I use that?” or “What can I learn from this?” Nothing is boring or irrelevant. Everything is exciting and useful in some way.
A great leader is one who is constantly on the lookout for new ideas and solutions. The energy of their curiosity infects others. The inspiration of their ingenuity motivates those around them. And their improvisation skills and willingness to bounce ideas around with the team will spark the rest of the group to bust out their creative ideas as well. If you’re truly committed to molding yourself into an effective leader, then aim to be more like MacGyver. Once people see your boldness in the uncertainty of creative problem solving, they’ll follow suit. Soon you’ll create an entire team of MacGyvers, and really, no one could ask for better soldiers than those who can think on their feet.