3 Ways MacGyver Can Help Us Think

Guest Post by Blake Godkin

Early last Spring I had the opportunity to deliver TEDx Talk.  After working on the talk for quite some time I had come up with a working title, “How MacGyver Can Help Transform Public Education”.  Then, one evening, while telling a group of friends about the talk, I was asked by one of my friends, “what’s the title of your talk going to be”.  I immediately responded with my working title and then she asked: “What’s a macgyver?”.  I was crushed.  I was suddenly hit with two huge realizations: “this catchy title may not work” and “there might actually be a generation of people who don’t know who MacGyver is”. 

Now, when I talk about “how MacGyver can help”, I’m not talking about how we can transform something, like public education, with paper clips and duct tape.  My argument is that thinking like MacGyver can help build our capacity for creativity.  And with that said, here are three ways that “thinking like MacGyver” can help improve your creative thinking.

1. Make Connections

At it’s essence, creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Human creativity is the result of taking seemingly unrelated ideas and combining them together to create something new.  What we can learn from MacGyver is that our own personal creativity can be heavily influenced when we explore ways to connect ideas or concepts that aren’t normally connected.  And this can be a deliberate act.  It doesn’t have to be a random whack on the side of the head or an accidental inspiration.  This can happen by deliberately choosing to use mental models and tools to enhance our ability to make unique connections.

For example, I’m always worried that I’m going to burn my lip when drinking out of a travel coffee cup.  So I’ve recently asked myself, what if a coffee-cup Splash Stick could be combined with temperature-sensitive paint, and therefore change color depending on the temperature of the liquid inside the cup?  This way, you can take a drink as soon as the Splash Stick reaches a particular color (your preferred temperature) without risk of burning your lip.

2. Don’t Be Plagued By Functional Fixedness

MacGyver never suffered from Functional Fixedness—a cognitive bias that limits a person to using an object only in the way in which it was originally designed to be used.  MacGyver never saw a paper clip as simply and solely a means for holding loose papers together.  He saw a bomb-diffusing tool.  He saw egg whites as a way to temporarily fix a crack in an engine’s radiator (which is a solution that was proven right on Mythbusters years later).  We must resist the urge to look at something as limited to it’s primary function.  The great chef, Alton Brown, rails against “uni-taskers" in the kitchen—kitchen utensils that are designed to only do one thing—such as an avocado slicer.  Our creative thinking is served best when we force ourselves to look at everything around us as a potential multi-tasker.

3. Tools Can Inspire Creative Connections

If you know anything about MacGyver, you know that he always carried a Swiss Army Knife and usually some duct tape.  While he was able to make seemingly unrelated connections with things in his surroundings, he also leveraged tools—tools designed specifically to improve his creative problem-solving capacity.  There are countless tools that have been researched and refined to help inspire creativity.  And many are specifically designed to help people create seemingly unrelated connections.

An example of this kind of tool is “Alternative Worlds Game”—this tool encourages you to imagine how a problem might be solved by another entity or within a different context.  For example, “What would public education look like if it were designed by Amazon? Or Google? Or Mont Blanc?”  

Recently, I began writing a book with the primary goal to present a collection of these deliberate tools designed to enhance human creativity through analogical thinking (connecting seemingly unrelated ideas in order to solve problems)…what I call: “thinking like MacGyver”.

I'm excited to be using an agency called Publishizer to connect me with potential publishers.  I’d be honored and very grateful if you would choose to support me by pre-ordering the book.  My goal is to get as many orders as possible before April 1st.  These pre-orders will help attract a publisher.  There are a number of different pre-order levels…all of which will help me meet my goal.

To learn more about my book, please click here

Additionally, here’s a quick trailer for my book.

I want to thank Chris for giving me the chance to share how thinking like MacGyver can improve your creativity.