How to Improvise, Adapt and Overcome

Clint Eastwood is one of the most iconic actors of our time. He has uttered movie lines that have become part of our daily lexicon. Perhaps one of your favorites is “Go ahead, make my day!” or “If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster!” In the military film, Heartbreak Ridge, he says to his soldiers, “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome,” which is the unofficial slogan among Marines. I believe that regardless of who we are or what we do, our ability to put these three words into practice is the framework for success.

Improvise, adapt, and overcome is a powerful way of thinking for any person who is faced with an obstacle or a desired objective in life. In my book, Think Again, I wrote, “To succeed despite the challenges, we must plan, solve, recalculate, refocus, and think again. Then reinvent your plan, redirect your plan, and think again.” Repeat this process and persevere until the goal is accomplished.

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I learned the importance of improvising, adapting, and overcoming as I struggled with being physically unable to tie my shoes for many years. Many of us take this ability for granted. As for me, my independence was riding on it. Being unable to tie my shoes left me with two options: I could either ask a friend for assistance or endure repeated face plants from tripping over my laces.

Having only three fingers meant tying my shoes was difficult but not impossible. After spending thousands of hours trying various strategies (including standing on my head), I finally accomplished the task when I was sixteen years old. I was thrilled! However, the following day I walked into a shoe store, and what do I see? Velcro shoes! Where was Velcro when I needed it?

Why you need to continuously adapt

Have you ever been in a situation where you have carefully designed your day and then discovered that others didn’t get the memo? You might be preparing for a job interview, giving a speech, or developing a business plan, and although it is important that you have a script to work from, you need to remember that you live in an unscripted world. You must continually manage and adjust.

In Bruna Martinuzzi’s article, “The Agile Leader: Adaptability,” she describes how mental scripts can often create rigid ways of thinking, resulting in us overlooking new opportunities. The ability to improvise your plans and adapt your ideas when facing changing circumstances will enable you to transcend challenges. The bottom line is that we cannot expect yesterday’s thinking to bring success today.

I have found Clint Eastwood to be an extremely effective motivational speaker on the subject of overcoming adversity. Here is one of my favorites from The Outlaw Josey Wales: “When things get bad, really bad, and it looks like you’re not going to make it, you gotta get mean, mad dog mean. Cause if you lose your head and you give up, then you neither live nor win. That’s just the way it is.”

Perhaps Clint could have said this in a more elegant way; however, his words are the key to transcending obstacles. When faced with challenging circumstances, resist discouragement, and regain your determination. As a result, your sense of purpose will become more powerful than your problems!

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