I first remember hearing this phrase when, playing a hard-nosed, hard-living Marine gunnery sergeant in the 1986 film Heartbreak Ridge, Clint Eastwood, said it while he tried to train a ragged platoon of recruits. Their mission required some innovations over routine approaches when conditions changed on the unit. Being in many businesses requires adaptation, and especially with the uncontrollable variables involved in trial consulting, adopting the “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome!” motto has helped us many times to complete an assignment. Travel challenges often require adaption, whether late flights or problems with rental cars. Much of our mock jury research is done in hotel conference rooms. Many times these are not configured as we specified which requires us to reset the room on arrival. Other times facilities in particular towns are close, but not quite what we need, and we really have to innovate – for example, running cables out of the window and alongside the building from the deliberation room to the observation room. One facility had us dropping the cables from one floor to the one below it. And, the audio visual equipment, video cameras and televisions are our most likely source of problems leading to the need to improvise. When we arrive on site and the only television available has nonstandard connections things get interesting.
We have learned to train new employees, not in the ways Clint Eastwood could do, but to think “outside the box” – though I dislike that phrase, it means “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome!” We have to train employees so they do not freeze when confronted with an unexpected situation. This has also meant taking spare parts, connectors, and extra cables to ensure that the show goes on as planned.
As an employer, it is important to help employees know how to think through a dilemma and use problem solving skills. As an employee, it is critical to not see roadblocks, but instead, detours to work around.
As social psychologist, it has been interesting throughout my career to observe the way in which many people run into roadblocks when things don’t turn out the way they planned. I am results oriented and I am often the first person in our team to find a creative way to solve a problem, even a problem most people would believe is insurmountable. When training employees, as well as counseling those who are less creative problem solvers, I have employed the metaphor of a wall in an attempt to instill creative/adaptive responding. The wall metaphor is as follows: If you are trying to get to your goal, but there is a large, high wall in front of you, what would you do to get the goal on the other side? Most of our employees have only been able to name the obvious solution, involving placing a ladder next to the wall, then climbing over. I then ask the person to list as many solutions to the wall dilemma as possible; rarely can they think of anything else. I then explain to them there are countless ways to overcome the wall obstacle, as well as many other obstacles in the workplace that impede one’s progress. These solutions range from tedious, such as tunneling under the wall, to sublime, such as hiring a hot air balloon to take one to the other side of the wall, but the point is that many things in my line of work demand creativity, as well as adherence to the motto, “If at once you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Creative problem solving is an absolute requirement for the world we live in!