How to make something from nothing

I wonder how many people reading this watched the television series MacGyver when it originally aired? Aside from being Selma and Patty Bouvier’s celluloid object of desire and the inspiration for SNL’s Will Forte creation MacGruber, this TV character has been “verbed.” To MacGyver something is to bootstrap and/or lifehack something from nothing to save the day.

If you are starting something from scratch, be it a business, nonprofit or even something as personal as starting your family, chances are good you are doing a LOT of improvising on the fly. Innovation is perilously close to becoming buzzworded to death, but it’s a reality for anyone who is attempting to grow beyond his or her comfort zone.

So what is necessary to thrive in these sort of conditions? What skills, either innate or learned, can help you to succeed in today’s landscape? In exceedingly pared-down terms, three basics:

Assess: Assessing something requires an analytical, thorough but swift examination of what IS, in terms of resources and skills available. It’s a dispassionate accounting of tools and opportunities that can be claimed and/or harnessed in order to complete a task or goal.

NOTE: This step requires honesty. You must account for what IS, not “what’s missing” or “what is wished for.” What. Is.

Having the ability to assess magnifies your effectiveness. If you can distill and catalogue what is available, you have the opportunity to move onto the next step. Resourcefulness, ingenuity and creativity are all vitally important at this stage, especially if your resources are limited.

If you are stuck at this phase, here are some suggestions on how to develop your creativity.

Address: To address is to implement. Being able to apply a triage lens to this step of applying solutions also increases your efficiency and sometimes, effectiveness. Delegation falls under this category as well. Action is the key component of this step. You must be willing to commit to a course of action, either personally or through those on your team.

Confidence is essential, even if you aren’t completely sure what’s going to happen. Being secure in your ability to overcome, adapt and fine-tune are an invaluable subset of skills at this stage.

Move on: This is the step where you measure and build upon the first two steps. This stage can be difficult, because it can be a nebulous transition of identifying when the ‘address’ stage is over and the ‘move on’ stage has begun.

For example: think of the person who keeps opening the oven door after the cookies have been put in to bake, because the cook isn’t committed to letting the process unfold. Every time the oven door opens, the temperature alters the interior of the oven and skews the results.

Decide to let the cookies bake and then commit to remove them from the oven after 8 minutes is over. If they are underdone, the next cookie sheet stays in for 12 minutes. If they are burned to a crisp after 15 minutes, make an adjustment to shorten the baking time for the next batch.

The willingness to be “wrong” is the key skill to develop here.

“It is so conceited and timid to be ashamed of one’s mistakes. Of course they are mistakes. Go on to the next.” ~ Brenda Ueland

Innovators and would-be MacGyvers must learn how to iterate quickly. If it’s one thing I’ve learned over the past 18 months, it’s to not only fail often, but to fail quickly.

Move on with a clear vision of what you hope to achieve, retaining that which contributes to your effort and discarding that which does not. The more you practice this, the better you’ll get.

Here’s something that’s really nifty: as you get better and faster at “failing,” your various iterations are building your personal database. Each time you progress through the three phases, your resources increase, because you will have developed a greater base of knowledge.

So don’t worry too much. Begin where you are with what you have. Pay attention. Keep moving. You’ll get there.

Can you share with us a time in your life when you learned from a “mistake?” When did you experience a time of growth? Did you ever have a moment when you created something from nothing?


Molly Cantrell-Kraig is a woman with drive. Possessing an innate sense of purpose and a pragmatic, solution-based approach to empowering people, she fused these two traits in order to establish Women With Drive Foundation. Based upon its founder’s personal history, Women With Drive Foundation is a means through which Cantrell-Kraig may effect change on both a micro and macro level. By providing women with something as essential as personal transportation in order to transition them from poverty to prosperity, she, through Women With Drive Foundation, seeks to empower women to help them help themselves. Follow Molly on twitter as @mckra1g or @WWDr1ve  (Women With Drive Foundation) or “like” them on facebook.


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