The MacGyver Method for Creative Problem Solving
The television character MacGyver is known for ingenious solutions to seemingly impossible problems.
In order to write the scripts for the show, MacGyver creator Lee Zlotoff had to become a much more prolific and creative problem-solver himself. As it turns out, Zlotoff found his most amazing moments of creative insight under the warm spray of water. Whenever he needed a new and interesting twist, he would head home to take a shower.
The writer, like so many creative luminaries in history, learned that a lightly stimulating activity, like taking a shower, focuses the mind in a way that allows it the freedom to explore. Any activity that requires a modicum of thought allows a problem to float from the conscious to the subconscious. It is there, deep below purposeful thought, that creative insights emerge.
Zlotoff also quickly learned that he could program the subconscious to do its work by simply giving it a problem to ponder ahead of time. He calls it the MacGyver method and it involves three simple steps.
First, the problem-solver must write the problem on a piece of paper. Speaking or digitally recording it doesn’t work. Only by composing the problem and then staring at it initiates the subconscious mind and enables it to grab ahold of it to work its magic later. Stating the problem as a question to ponder is a powerful addition.
Step two requires the problem-solver to gain some distance from the problem. While sleeping on it works for some, the better path is to engage in a mildly stimulating activity that is not too intellectually rigorous. Cleaning, cooking, gardening, hiking, and doing laundry are prime examples. Taking a shower certainly counts.
Lastly, step three demands the problem solver once again put pen to paper and start to doodle through the problem. Articulating what the subconscious has already come up with is almost magical. After a few minutes, ideas and solutions will often come pouring out of the pen like it is bewitched.
Putting the subconscious to work to achieve heightened creativity has been the preferred method of creative thinkers for centuries. Activating your inner MacGyver is something anyone can do.
In the everlasting words of the MacGyver television character, “The bag’s not for what I take, it’s for what I find along the way.”
Barbara Oakley talks about this in her Learning How To Learn books, Diffused Learning. I like the behavior of writing it down and posting it to lol at.