“Let’s MacGyver It!”
In 1985, a TV show was aired which was not only unique, but eventually became very popular. The title character of this series, MacGyver, was more-or-less a secret agent. However, instead of using all kinds of cool gadgets like the famous fictional spy James Bond, MacGyver used his wits to solve all kinds of complex problems and help people out with everyday materials that were on hand.
Ever since I discovered the series, I’ve been a big fan. More recently, as I dug deeper into the principles and ideals of the Scouting movement, I discovered that the spirit MacGyver embodied, Ingenuity, was the same spirit that can be found all throughout the history and literature of the Scouting Movement. So important has Ingenuity been held in Scouting, that I have come to esteem this as one of the Keystones of the character of a Scout. “What is Ingenuity?” “What does this look like in Scouting?” These are the questions I am going to answer in this post as I continue the series, Keystones of a Scout: The 10 Virtues that Make a Scout, which I introduced: here. Previously in this series, I talked about Endurance, Self-Discipline, Exploration, Observation, Initiative, and Deduction. Each of these are traits or virtues that I have shown to have been with Scouting from the beginning, and each of these traits are necessary for a Scout to do what he should do and to carry out his Oath that he swore as a Scout.
What is Ingenuity?
Ingenuity is resourcefulness. It is the ability to invent a solution to a problem on the spot. It is the ability to think outside the box and use whatever you have on hand to solve a problem. In short, Ingenuity is the way obstacles are met with and overcome. These could be any obstacles, any time in life. The spirit of Ingenuity can shine in a life-or-death survival situation as MacGyver portrayed; it can shine in simple matters you deal with in everyday life; and it can shine in stuff like leadership, organization, and interpersonal disagreements.
Anywhere there are difficulties to be overcome in life, Ingenuity can be used. How does this work? Well, in most difficulties there is a common, accepted way of dealing with it. Often times this is the best way. On the other hand, each situation is different, and things often can’t be handled “according to plan”. Oftentimes the most obvious solution to the problem cannot be implemented because of a lack of time, resources, etc.
In addition to the most obvious and common way to solve a problem, there are innumerable other ways to approach it. Many of them may not work at all; others may only be temporary; and some may be just as good or better than the most common way. This is where Ingenuity comes into play. Ingenuity takes a step back, observes the problem from a “10,000 foot view”, and looks at all the options. A lot of times the best solution, if not the only solution, may not be the most obvious one. Ingenuity finds the best solution
with the resources at hand, however unusual it might be, and sets about to implement it.
MacGyver is cool, but what’s that got to do with Scouting?
Aside from the fact that the character of Macgyver actually was a Boy Scout (see episode 4), the Ingenuity that MacGyver shows is very much inline with the principles behind Scouting. The fact is, because of who Scouts are, they must exercise Ingenuity.
Scouting doesn’t happen in a laboratory. The realm of Scouts is in the real world, and in the real world, things rarely go according to plan. This is especially true for Scouts because they don’t confine themselves to ‘Civilization’, they go out and do things that haven’t been done before; they explore the frontiers of what is possible. Scouts hold themselves to a higher standard and show the rest of the world what can be done.
With such a mission as this, Scouts are always doing hard and unusual things, whether it be camping and exploring in the back-country, saving lives, or doing great community service. Sometimes there are no ‘common’ solutions to the problems Scouts run into, and this is where Scouts must exercise Ingenuity.
There is one field in Scout training that requires a lot of Ingenuity and is particularly useful in training one’s Ingenuity. This is the field of Pioneering, that is, the construction of useful structures out of rope and poles. John Thurman, an influential British Scouter, put a lot of emphasis on pioneering and the role of Ingenuity in it. Here are some quotes on the subject from a few of books on pioneering:
“I was showing a Managing Director of a large civil engineering firm round Gilwell [a Scout Camp] when a Wood Badge Course was pioneering near the Bomb Hole. He displayed very great interest in the Pioneering and looked closely at all that was happening. From our point of view there was nothing unusual going on; this was a usual routine exercise with two or three bridges being built, a couple of towers, and a raft. As we walked away my civil engineering friend said, ‘I am delighted that the Scout Movement is still doing this: it is tremendously important. Despite the fact that modern machinery and equipment is magnificent there often comes a time when a man has to use ingenuity and improvise in order to move the job forward and the engineer who has the spirit that your kind of training produces is the man we want in our business.'”
“A great many valuable commercial discoveries have emanated from the thought of how to use something for a purpose for which it was not intended. Something is invented for one purpose and then ingenuity finds a different use for it.”
“In Scouting we have always prided ourselves on our ability to improvise, but improvising does not mean doing without. It is much more attractive to think of improvisation as putting something (in this case, junk) to an unexpected use, a use its original designers had no conception of. Again to the cynic. I would say that somewhere along this road we are pointing in the direction of new discoveries. A great deal of mechanical ingenuity has been achieved by what I would call “stepping out of line”; deliberately trying to be original and using an article, a substance, or a material for a use for which it was never intended.”
“One of the great joys of Scouting is improvisation, so that what this question really means is “What do we need?” for the first part, and “What have we got?” for the second part, which brings us back to the first part “What do we still need?” and there you may have to improvise, you may have to borrow, you may have to alter, or join up because you are short of a block or are minus the right length of rope. A little determination, a lot of imagination, and a great deal of ingenuity will overcome most shortages.”
So, in summary, Ingenuity is the ability to invent a solution to a problem on the spot. It is the ability to think outside the box and use whatever you have on hand to solve a problem. Anywhere in life that difficulties are met with, Ingenuity can be exercised. Sometimes the obvious solution will not be the best one. Sometimes there will be no obvious solution.
If the Scout is not prepared to meet and overcome difficulties with Ingenuity, then he cannot lead the way and take initiative in life as Scouts are supposed to do. In short, he cannot properly fulfill the oath he took as a Scout. Like many other things, Ingenuity isn’t a trophy that can be won, it is a skill that needs to be practice and exercised throughout your life.
Scouts can practice Ingenuity in all areas of their lives, but Pioneering is a particularly helpful exercise in developing this.
Thanks for reading this post! Do you have any comments, thoughts, or questions? I’d love to hear them! Do you have any cool stories of times you invented an unorthodox solution to a problem? Please share it!
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“I think if you try hard enough and make the best of a situation, the situation won’t get the best of you.” – MacGyver
Though MacGyver is a completely fictional character and most of what he does is impractical, it think the show is really fun to watch and has been an inspiration to me to improve my Ingenuity. To end this post, I thought you’d appreciate a couple of short clips from the series.