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Author's profile photo Gilles Atlan

MacGyver is Back! Creativity and Design Thinking

When I think about the Design Thinking principal “Constraint Foster Creativity”, I immediately think about MacGyver.

The bad thing about MacGyver is that if you know MacGyver it means you are not that young. MacGyver is the star of a tv show in the 90s, he always get in big troubles but he finds creative ways to get out of it. For example, he is stuck in a meat cold room, however by using tools around him (thinking “inside the box”) and he finds always a way to escape, he is a sort of pragmatic Houdini. For the nostalgics , watch the theme song here


So how is this related to the design thinking principal “Constraint foster creativity” ? Well If MacGyver was sitting on his coach in front of the TV eating popcorns, he will never be able to imagine a way to escape from a meat cold room, but once he is under constraints and pressure and stuck in a dangerous situation, he gets really focused, creative and he finds an innovative solution.
Constraints are exactly what early stage startups are going through, they have little cash and minimum resources but because of that situation they come up with creative solutions to overcome their constraints. In big corporations, we have less constraints, bigger budgets, more resources and I would say that sometimes this is a curse for innovation, these resources usually don’t help us to become creative.

We can see many example around us where constraints foster creativity, for example countries that have a lot of constraints like no access to natural resources, security challenges, extreme weather.  However some of these countries became the top innovators in different domains like Singapore leader in finance and ports, Israel in the high tech, cyber security and military, South Korea the automobile manufacturing and electronics giant, Japan leader in high quality products, Ireland with new incentive models to attract services companies.  These countries had to overcome their daily challenges and they used their brain to survive and excel.

In the Ideation phase of the Design Thinking process, when I coach a Design Thinking workshop, I often try to create artificial constraints so the workshop participants can focus and become creative. For example if you are dealing with an old product/process/service that you need to innovate, try to remove the most important piece in this product/process/service and then try to find a solution for making it works without this important piece. Maybe this is what Apple did in the past, maybe they took the best smart phone at the time, that was the blackberry. And maybe they asked to themselves, what was the most important piece of the blackberry? Most of us will say the physical keyboard. Then they remove the physical keyboard from the blackberry (We create a constraint) and  they tried to imagine a new phone with no keyboard… yes touch screen, yes iPhone !

Many other type of exercise that create constraints can also be applied in the ideation phase of Design Thinking.

So lets remember that constraints are good, it helps us to analyze and understand the problem, it creates boundaries to focus our thinking so we can successfully overcome them.

We miss you MacGyver !

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      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Brilliant article, Gilles. You had me at 'MacGyver' but then you took it the distance using humor, history, and great examples. Well done!

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      great explanation and comparison...

      Author's profile photo Marina Kravets
      Marina Kravets

      Great ideas! Very simple way to foster creativity! 🙂