By Yaro Starak
Subscribe For New Podcasts:
When I received an email offering a chance to interview Lee Zlotoff, the creator of MacGyver for the EJ podcast, my initial reaction was mixed.
I was excited to speak to someone who created such an iconic show, yet I wasn’t sure if he would be a good fit for a podcast about online entrepreneurship.
As I investigated what Lee was up to currently, it became clear that although he was not an online entrepreneur, what he is teaching is perfect for online entrepreneurs.
Lee has recently made public through a series of workshops and a book, what he calls the ‘MacGyver Secret’. He also has an online course in the works on the same topic.
Just as ‘Mac’ the lead character on MacGyver was able to solve problems using ingenious combinations of elements to get out of tricky situations, Lee explains that we all have access to the same ability to solve problems, if we can distract our conscious mind.
In this podcast interview we go back in time to the point where Lee was an upcoming screenwriter, writing for one of his first television shows. There were only three writers and as a result he was under a lot of pressure to produce entire episodes under short deadlines.
As you will hear Lee explain during the interview, he realized that his best ideas often came up during periods where his conscious mind was distracted, like while in the shower. He took this principle and formalized it, turning into a lifelong practice he tapped into whenever he needed to be creative (for example, when writing scripts) and solve problems.
Towards the end of the interviews Lee breaks down the three steps he currently teaches to help anyone tap into their own ‘inner MacGyver’. You can also learn the steps at his website, MacGyverSecret.com.
Of course I couldn’t interview the creator of MacGyver without learning how the show was created. In particular I was curious what the process was to come up with all the unique situations and solutions that show featured every episode.
You can listen in to the first half of the episode to hear how Lee first got his start as a screenwriter, how he wrote the pilot episode and also what’s coming up for MacGyver today, with the new series and upcoming movie.
Enjoy the interview, and make sure to test out the three steps to tap your own inner MacGyver next time you face a challenging situation.
YARO: Hello, this is Yaro and welcome to the Entrepreneur’s Journey podcast. Today’s guest is Lee Zlotoff.
In today’s interview you’re going to hear the background story of how the founder of MacGyver or should I say, the screenwriter, creator and producer of the Macgyver pilot episode came to become a writer and also how he came up with what he calls the Macgyver’s secret, which is a technique for solving problems and tapping into what he calls your inner Macgyver which you might also see as your subconscious or your higher self, basically that place you can go to, to get solutions to problems to be creative that’s not conscious.
Lee Zlotoff is the guest. His story is definitely one that is a little bit unusual compared to my regular guest. He is not a pure entrepreneur though what he is going to teach us is definitely something entrepreneurs can make use of. Plus, if you’re a Macgyver fan, you’re going to hear a little bit about the background of how that show first came into creation. I think you will enjoy this episode.
If you want to get all the episodes of the Entrepreneur’s Journey podcast as soon as they are released and also a series of my very best episodes from the archives, make sure you go to interviewsclub.com and enter your name and email address there to sign up to the list so you’ll receive that email every time I release a new episode. That’s interviewsclub.com. Now here’s Lee with his very interesting back story.
Hello, this is Yaro Starak and welcome to an Entrepreneur’s Journey podcast which is a little bit of a different episode today. I have to admit that normally I focus on pure internet-based entrepreneurs, but when I was contacted about this particular guest, it was hard to say no because I thought it would be a very interesting back story, and still very relevant to entrepreneurs.
Who am I talking about? My guest today is Lee Zlotoff who is the man behind Macgyver among many other TV shows and entertainment that I have actually seen growing up. I have actually just recently found out that Lee’s behind the man from Snowy River. Lee’s the producer on that show. I watched that growing up in Australia. There’s a lot of interesting background I’d love to learn about with Lee, as well as talk about his new book The Macgyver’s Secret, and maybe break down a little bit about what he is teaching there in particular regarding what entrepreneurs can take away in terms of being more creative, solving problems in the way that Macgyver is very well-known for solving problems. So, Lee thank you for joining me today.
LEE: My pleasure Yaro.
YARO: Normally on my show, I do go back in time and look at the history of my guest. Now, the first question I would ask you is were there any business projects? Did you have a lemonade stand or some sort of trading card experience in your youth? I’m guessing that’s not the case for you but was there anything, in terms of your youth that kind of led to your career, do you have a normal career to begin with going to University becoming an accountant or a doctor or something like that?
LEE: Well, I was a contractor when I was in college because I needed to find a way to support myself and I got married shortly after I started college. I went into contracting and home repairs and that kind of stuff because I had learned that growing up from my father, and so I knew I could do it. But the college I went to, which is called St. John’s College, which actually has two campuses, one in Sta. Fe, New Mexico and one in Annapolis, Maryland, I went into the one in Annapolis, Maryland. When I was there, I determined that it might be interesting to go into the entertainment business as I had some exposure to that when I was a kid. And so, I decided after graduating from school that I would work part time as a contractor and part time as a screenwriter. Eventually, I made my way to New York and I was able to get a job writing for soap opera and eventually, I moved to Los Angeles. After a couple of years, I broke in as a TV writer and the rest, as they say, is there on IMDB [laughter].
YARO: [Laughter] Okay, so as a young man heading to New York to potentially become a screenwriter, you didn’t have any writing experience before that? I am trying to timestamp this as well. I’m assuming it’s a different world a little bit back then to become a screenwriter than it might be today, did you just write something and then, show up at a studio or connect with someone? How does it work?
LEE: Well, in that particular case, a friend of my parents was a business manager for people in the entertainment business, and actually, he was one of the people who said, “You’ve done some acting as a kid and you’re doing photography, maybe you’re interested in the entertainment business.” And, he said, if you can write, that’s a good way in because writing you can do all by yourself. If you’re going to direct, produce or act, you got to have everybody else, but writing is a solitary activity.
I said, “Well, let me try writing and see how it goes.” I wrote a script and I sent it to him and he sent it to some agents and they went, “He’s young and he’s raw but he has talent. You should keep writing.”
Basically, that script, although it never got made, became my calling card. So, when I got to New York, I managed to get a job as a secretary on a soap opera. After a couple of months being a secretary there, I gave my script to the producer and had the audacity to say, “I think I can write the show better than it is being written.” He was sneering and dismissive and I figured, “Look, the worst that happen is I get fired, right? Because I didn’t come here to be a secretary.” I was looking for a job and I found this one.
Much to my surprise, he came in the next morning and he said, “I read your script last night. You’re right. You got a job as a writer.” That’s how I got my first job.
YARO: How old were you then, Lee?
LEE: I was maybe 22? 23?
YARO: Okay. Confident young man, huh. And, there was no signs before this that writing was your talent?
LEE: I would always write stories and stuff as a kid but I never thought about it in any kind of formal way. But, when you think about it really, in some sense, we’re all storytellers. It’s just a question of what form you tell your stories in and whether you tell your stories effectively. Every business is a story. Okay, you get people to buy into this story or do people go, “Nah, I’ve heard that story before. I don’t believe that story.” But really, when you think about it, they are all stories. So, I realize at a certain point I had a facility for telling stories and I could do that in written form and that really became the path that I started on.
YARO: So take us forward. You went from New York to LA, which I assume was purely because there’s more work available there?
LEE: Yes, well there’s a couple of things. We were considering starting a family and I didn’t really want to raise my family in New York City. That would mean moving to a suburb and I thought, “So long as we’re moving to a suburb, we might as well move to California because yes, there were more of opportunities there than there were in New York.”
It took me I guess, I got small writing jobs off and on, and to be honest, sometimes I had to do contracting work to pay the bills, but after about two to three years, I broke through and suddenly, there were several television shows that wanted to hire me on staff. Suddenly, I went from making a couple hundred dollars a week to making a couple thousand of dollars a week, and it was a big jump.
YARO: What was the first big breakthrough there? What show?
LEE: They were, believe it or not, two shows that wanted to hire me. One was a revival of the the Bret Maverick show with James Garner and the other one was Hill Street Blues. For reasons I loathe to go into, I made the wrong choice and I chose Bret Maverick instead of Hill Street Blues [laughter].
LEE: [Coughs] But, it worked out for a reason and in a certain way, writing on Bret Maverick, believe it or not, actually kind of led to the book, The Macgyver Secret. In many ways, everything happens for a reason.
YARO: I didn’t realize it was connected all the way back to the start of your career.
LEE: Well, to kind of transition or fill in that gap, I came up with the Macgyver Secret because when I started writing on Bret Maverick, these days there are eight or nine writers on a staff of a typical hour-show. Back then, there were three of us. I was responsible for every third, sometimes even every other script, which meant I had to crank out an enormous amount of creative material under unbelievably tight deadlines. I noticed that the best stuff came to me not when I was sitting in front of my, (I’m really good at dates myself now), selectric typewriter because this was before people even used computers, okay.
LEE: Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
LEE: I noticed that the best stuff came to me when I was either driving or taking a shower, not when I was racking my brain in front of my typewriter trying to come up with an idea. At first, I thought well this was just a quirk, but it happened with such consistency that when I’d get jammed up in the office, I’d run outside, jump in my car and go driving around Hollywood looking for a shower. It solved the problem. It created certain other problems because at the office they went, “Okay, this guy is either a drug dealer or he’s screwing everybody in town because he keeps disappearing for no apparent reason and showing up freshly showered,” [laughter].
The good news is in Hollywood, so long as the scripts were coming in on time and were good, they didn’t care. It was like, “Look, whatever it is, just let them keep doing it.”
But, I asked myself, “Why is it that the best stuff comes when I’m driving and showering, and not when I’m supposedly supposed to be working?”
The answer I came up with was when I’m driving and showering, my conscious mind, or what I call the hamster wheel of thoughts that start when we wake up in the morning and keep going until we go to sleep at night, was pre-occupied. It couldn’t get in the way. I had to pay attention to what I was doing when I was driving and showering and that allowed the stuff from my “inner MacGyver” or “subconscious,” if you want to call it that, to bubble up, and I went that stuff is great and this stuff that I come up when I’m racking my brain at the typewriter is not so great.
So then, I said to myself, “Okay, is there a way to reproduce the results of driving and showering without having to drive or shower?”
That took a couple of years and some other writing jobs and other staff jobs. I kept experimenting and trying things and practicing, and it was when I was actually writing the pilot for MacGyver that I found the answer. The answer was simply this, I put a whiteboard in my office and I put a workbench in my office and the whiteboard was to write down my questions and my answers, and the work bench was to build models. You know those things you can buy like build the Empire State Building out of paper?
LEE: I built every monument in the world that they had a kit for.
LEE: I built the Taj Majal. I built the Vatican. I built the Great Sphinx at Giza. I built the Brooklyn Bridge. Now listen, nobody needs a paper model for the Brooklyn bridge. It wasn’t because I needed the models. It was because working on the models served the same purpose as driving or showering, namely, it shut off my conscious mind, made me focus on something else so that my inner MacGyver or subconscious mind could solve the problem.
What I would do is I would go to the board and I would say, “I need a new idea for an episode,” and I just write. I need an idea for an episode. And then, I’d say to my inner MacGyver, “Okay, you’re the one with all the great ideas. You work on this. I’m going to focus on that model and I’ll come back in half hour or 45 minutes to an hour, and you’re going to have something for me.”
Then, I would simply go sit and work on the model and not think about it. Really, just let the problem go entirely and just do almost kind of idiot work, just cut, paste, glue, follow instructions, whatever and then, I’d come back and I’d say to my subconscious, my inner MacGyver. I’d go, “Okay, what do you got?” And then, I would simply start writing on the whiteboard, anything at all, I could write the Stars-Spangled Banner. I could write what I wanted to have for lunch. It didn’t matter what I wrote. Within 30 to 45 seconds, those ideas would literally just flow out of me, right on to the whiteboard. Five minutes later, I’d have 3 killer ideas for an episode.
I would just do that repeatedly. It would typically take a writer anywhere from a week to two weeks to break a story, that is lay it out, scene-by-scene. On a day, I could basically spend six or six and a half hours working on those goofy models, an hour and an hour and a half at the whiteboard, but at the end of the day, Yaro, I had an entire story laid out, scene-for-scene.
The next day, I’d sit down and I’d type it up, and I’d turn it into my boss and he’d go, “How the hell did you break a story in two days?”
I would say, “I just didn’t think about it.” And, he’d laugh and go, “I don’t care how you do it. Start on the script. This is great.”
I moved from being literally a story editor to supervising producer to an executive producer in like two and a half years because I could write scripts in record time and they were all shootable. In Hollywood, that minute, I was worth [unclear].
YARO: It’s so interesting. I’d love to ask you as an entrepreneur and for the entrepreneurs listening, how to solve some of the problems we face using this methodology, but before we do that, I have to move forward to the point where you actually started working and writing for MacGyver because there’s obviously a very clear connection there between your methodology and the methodology that MacGyver, who you wrote, actually solves problems.
Can you take us forward from this initial experience in LA to when the MacGyver project came up? Was it shortly after that or further down the track?
LEE: Well, as I say, all the pieces of this method came together when I was writing the pilot for MacGyver. Part of the thinking there was, look, for any show, you’re going to go what’s the hook of the show? Why people are going to come back and watch it next week?
We did something very simple, which is suppose we have an action adventure hero and he doesn’t use a gun. You just take the gun away. It’s like standard fare for every action-adventure hero and we went, “Suppose we just take that away? Now what?” Now, he has to find a way to solve the problem without a gun.
That opened up that whole lot idea of using whatever was at hand in creative ways so it turned out his weapon was really his mind. His weapon wasn’t a gun. And, knowing Chemistry and Physics and all that stuff, he then could look at any situation and say, “What do I have in front of me that I can use to solve this problem and combine things in creative and interesting and innovative ways.”
Consequently, that was the hook that brought people back. It was also one of those shows where the whole family could watch it together. Usually TV divided the family — kids like cartoons and the sitcoms, mom like the soap operas, dad like to watch sports. An over-simplification but you get the point.
Whereas MacGyver, dad watched it because he liked to see what those engineering creative things were that he was going to come up with, mom liked it because he was cute and he didn’t use a gun, and the kids went, “Man, anything that mom and dad are going to watch together and let us watch, we’re there.”
It became really a family experience and to this day, when I meet MacGyver fans, one of the things they talk about is how that really affected them watching the whole show together as a family because that was rare for the most part.
That idea of just take the gun away, what does that do to the character? What does that do to the show? Well, it gave us the hook. Every week, you would turn in and say, “what is this guy going to come up with this week because if he’s not just going to shoot back, he’s going to have to come up with something else. And then, obviously, you get to know the character. Richard Dean Anderson was just phenomenal in that role. And so, those what I now call the core attributes of MacGyver, which is avoid conflict, figure out how to turn what you have into what you need, and do it with a sense of humor and humility.
I think those are the three things that made MacGyver basically a global phenomenon because as you know, as popular it is in the United States, it’s infinitely more popular all around the world, in the Far East, in the Middle East, in South America, in Europe, in Australia, so there you have it.
YARO: Was it a hard, to get that pilot and to get the show off the ground, was that a hard pitch or did it actually end up being quite easy to convince people to take it on?
LEE: Well, this was unusual because I was actually hired to write a show, Henry Winkler’s company had sold a concept to ABC called Hour Glass, so they wanted to do a one-hour show in one hour of time. They hired me to write it. And, I said, “Oh, so you want to do a serial like 24 became?”
They said, “No no. It can’t be a serial. They have to be stand-alone episodes. It has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end in each episode because in those days, the foreign distributors didn’t want serials.
I went, “Well, there’s a reason it’s never been done before.”
They said, “What’s that?” And I said, “It’s not going to work.” They said, “What do you mean?” It sounded good in the room when you sold it, but that’s because nobody in the room had actually build the house. I said, “What happens if the character has to travel? You’re giving away the ability in film and television to jump space in time instantaneously if it has to be literally one hour of ticking clock.
He can’t travel anywhere. You got to start the episode where it ends, so you’ve got the Bank Vault show, the Sinking Submarine show, the Stuck Elevator show… I said, “You see where I’m going with this guys? You’re limiting yourselves here. I can write that pilot but if you want a series that’s going to last five years or more, you’re going to choke to death on this idea.”
Well, they got a little mad at me. I said I understand. Nobody wants to be told their baby is ugly.
I said, “You want me to step away? I’ll step away.” They said, “No, we want you to solve the problem.” I said, “Okay.” So then, I started coming up with ideas and eventually, the idea that the network liked was MacGyver. So, I wrote it and they loved the script and the next thing I knew they were making the pilot.
YARO: And then, it turns out you didn’t actually have an issue with not serializing it and doing self-contained episodes every episode.
LEE: No because because it no longer had to conform to that, one-hour real-time is one hour TV time because, oh, here’s a character. He’s different and he’s interesting and we know what the hook is. Every week people are going to tune back in to say, “What is this guy going to come up with next? What kind of a situation can we thrown them into? What can you use?” And that was fun. It still is fun. Listen, the word “MacGyver” has become a verb in the language [chuckle].
YARO: Right. I’ve got to ask then, given this methodology that you came up with and then, MacGyver itself, I had this vision of you and the other writers sitting at a table around talking about the next upcoming episode and putting MacGyver into whatever, like a library or not a library, an elevator with a bomb in there and all he’s got is a packet of matches and a sewing needle or something like that. I’m thinking you must have some engineers or people with some kind of scientific background as well for certain situations. Did you just sit there and all throw ideas at each other on how to solve problems, or was it more structured like that?
LEE: To be clear, I wrote the pilot. I did not stay with the series, so other writers really took it over from there. But, what I did and what ultimately they did is I found consultants who knew Physics and Chemistry. What we would do is work with the consultants and I’d say, “Look I want to do something like this.” They would say, “Well, could he have this there or could he be here because then, he would have this, and then he could do this.”
Basically, either they would have some ideas or I would have a desire for a certain kind of situation, and we just kind of work it back and forth until we could make whatever made sense to be in the scene. For instance, in the pilot, he’s going down into this government lab that’s super high-tech and has gone haywire. He brings a pouch and somebody says, “Well, what’s in the pouch?” He says, “The pouch is not for what I bring. The pouch is for what I find along the way.” Along the way, there’s a candy machine in this complex. It’s broken open because there was an explosion and that’s why everything’s gone haywire and he’s got to go down and rescue scientists that are trapped at the bottom.
He takes a bunch of chocolate bars and he puts them in his bag. You’d think, “Why is he taking chocolate bars?” Then, he gets down at the bottom and there’s a big tank of sulfuric acid and it’s leaking. That’s because one of my experts said, “Oh, the sugar in the chocolate bar will combine with the sulfuric acid to create this gummy paste and he can seal the leak with the chocolate bars.” And, I thought, “Man, that is just perfect.”
That’s exactly what we did. Of course, when the series got picked up, the writers started calling me going, “How did you come up with that stuff? Because that’s what they want. They want this chocolate bar stuff every week. We don’t know how to come up with this stuff.”
And I said, “Relax.” I gave them the name of all my consultants. They hired them all and that’s how they did it.
YARO: Right. I could imagine the creativity required every single week is just incredible.
Take us forward then, Lee. Macgyver’s a hit. Where did you go next?
LEE: I worked on a number of other series. I worked on a show called Remington Steele. I worked on, oh God, a whole bunch of other shows. I did TV movies. Ultimately, I did a feature film called the Spitfire Grill which won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. It has gone on to become, believe it or not, an incredibly successful musical, again nothing I ever saw happening.
But, seven years, so MacGyver ran for seven seasons. When I discovered, quite by accident, that at the end of the seven seasons, the studio had dropped the ball and all the rights to MacGyver ended up in my lap. I went, “Huh?” At that point, I had four grown children. Well now, in addition to my four grown children, I have four grandchildren. I looked at this and I realized that MacGyver had turned into this global man, this phenomenon. I looked at this century and I said this is a critical century. We get this century right. Civilization has a future. We don’t get this century right, there may still be some humans scratching around, but what you and I call civilization sitting here talking over computers and cell phones? I don’t know. If the earth has taught us anything, it’s that civilizations come and civilizations go.
So, for the sake of my children and my grandchildren and their children and everybody else’s, I thought MacGyver is the perfect character for this century. Why? Because the bottom line is whether we care to face it or not, we’re all in this together as a civilization. It’s nice to say let’s make America great again and let’s tell everybody else to go to hell, but we’ve been a global economy for almost 75 years and we are a global civilization now.
Yaro, there’s no country in the world anymore that can say, “We have all the resources we will ever need. We can close up our borders. The rest of you can go ahead and we’ll be just fine.”
It doesn’t exist anymore. Like it or not we’re kind of all in this together and since MacGyver was already embraced by literally billions of people because the show has never stopped running around the world for 30 years.
So, I thought, “You know what? These are great management tools for this century.” One, avoid conflict. Yes, I understand. Sometimes, conflict is inevitable but unfortunately, more often than not, conflict just leads to more conflict, and at the end of the day, even if you win, the house is still on fire. We haven’t solved the global problems.
The second thing is that ingenuity, that resourcefulness, that creativity or how do you turn what you have into what you need? Because that’s what we’re all going to have to do more and more, whether it’s an individual, a community, a country or civilization. The third thing was that MacGyver principle of no matter how life-threatening or intractable the problem seems, try and approach it with a sense of humor and humility because it turns out that mindset, a laughing and open mindset, is more likely to come up with an innovative solution than a fearful resentful or angry mindset because then, you’re just overwhelmed by the emotion and chances are what you’re going to want to come up with is conflict and we’ve already decided conflict isn’t really going to solve the problems.
I said you know what? If I do nothing else with the rest of my life, I’m going to bring the MacGyver back. Just remind everybody, mostly on entertainment platforms that these are good management tools for this century. If you want to use them, great. If you don’t, don’t.
But, whenever you’re confronted with a difficult situation, maybe the first question you should ask yourself is let me take a step back, what would MacGuyver do? The MacGyver Secret was part and parcel of that, which is this is a better technique for solving problems that anybody can use on any kind of problem and all you need is a pen and a piece of paper and it works.
I came up with it for my creating and writing purposes, but literally, it was an internet entrepreneur who I taught this to and who used to launch his company and came to me and said, “You got to put this out there because you can use this for any kind of problem solving and entrepreneurs would love this.”
I said, “Really, you think so?”
He said, “No, I know so.” He said, “It saved my business several times because I was confronted with the problem. I didn’t know what to do. I wrote the problem down. I got on my bike and rode up and down the Venice boardwalk, and I came back and I said, “What do you got for me?” And, I always got a great answer.
He said, “You got to share this with the world. I’ll help you.”
That was about four or five years ago, so first thing I did was I contacted some people in the cognitive science world and said, “Look, there must be some research around this stuff. Who can I talk to?” I was referred to a woman who was then at the University of Michigan. She’s a graduate of PhD from Yale in Psychology and her specialty is Cognitive Science and creativity and memory and now, she holds the Arthur F. Thurnau chair at the University of Michigan Psychology department and I wrote her an email.
I said, “Here is who I am and I have this thing that I do for creativity, will you talk to me about it,” and so, she wrote me back. Of course, it turned out she was some huge MacGyver fan. We started to have telephone conversations and she would really interrogate me like, “How do you do this? What happens when you do that? How does this work?” and went through the whole thing with her and then, I finally said, “What are you thinking?”
She said, “I think you just drove a truck through the literature because we’ve never done anything like this in the sciences. We slice the whole creativity process into very tiny parts and we do these very controlled experiments and nobody’s ever done it quite the way you’ve done it and I want to work with you on this because this is really interesting.”
We started to work together and I started to do some workshops and some presentations mostly to get feedback for the book so that I’d have more kind of people who would actually used it and tried it and worked with it to go, “Okay what refinements do we need? Are we communicating this properly?” Now, that’s all been done.
Her name is Colleen Seifert. She’s written all the science pieces in the book where I go, “Here is the instruction part. Here is the story about someone who’s using it and how they use it, and here’s the science that says why it works. That’s basically the MacGyver Secret book, which is connecting your inner MacGyver and solve anything because the bottom line is everyone, everyone in the world has an inner MacGyver. They have a deeper more powerful resource that they can use to solve problems and most of us have just never been taught how to use that.
And so, this is very simple, literally there are three steps to this process, that anybody can use on any problem, an entrepreneurial problem, a technical problem, a creative problem, a personal problem, it doesn’t matter. Any problem at all, you can use this to get a better answer.
YARO: Let me ask you, Lee, then for all the entrepreneurs listening in who are facing, well everyone faces some version of this problem, which is the, “I need more customers. I need to figure out a better way of marketing.”
Can you give us an example of implementing the three steps and or anything else that’s part of this process from either even the experience you had working with an entrepreneur way back when you started or anyone you’ve worked with since then, just something practical and meaty, so I could take it away and go, “Oh, I’m going to try this myself. I understand the idea of distracting the conscious mind, distracting the body and letting the subconscious work, but it sounds like there’s more to it than just asking some questions and riding a bike or having a shower.
LEE: Well, there really isn’t much more to it.
LEE: I will tell you the three steps right now.
LEE: And anyone could go to the MacGyverSecret.com website. You can download the free quick start guide. You can download, we have a mini video course that teaches you how to do it. It’s like, I just want people to try it. If they want to buy the book, great. We’re working on a full online training course, which will be I think, available come around January. But, the bottom line is I’m giving you everything you need to try this process for free because I know if you start trying this, it will work.
So here are the three steps, Yaro, incredibly simple.
Step one, write the problem down. Believe it or not, it’s better if you write it down in longhand than if you type it. Now, exactly why that is, is explained in the book by Colleen because that’s a science thing. I don’t particularly understand exactly what you would think, “What’s the difference between writing longhand and typing?” The bottom line is there is a difference. When you write longhand, it goes deeper into the neural pathways of your mind than if you just type it into the computer. It will work if you type into the computer. It works better if you sit with the yellow pad or any any kind of paper and you simply write it longhand.
So, you write your problem down and you can write it down in as much or as little detail as you want. You can ask it in multiple different ways. You can write a paragraph. You can write a whole page. You can write a whole list of questions. You are not going to overwhelm your subconscious or your inner MacGyver with too much information, not possible. It’s just massive in its processing power compared to your conscious mind.
You write the question down in as many form as you want. You define it as clearly as possible, and then, when you’re done writing, you say to yourself, “Okay, I’ve written my problem down. I’m turning it over to you…” my subconscious, my inner MacGyver, you could call it anything you want. You can call it your higher-self. You can call it Superman. It really doesn’t matter what you call it. It doesn’t care what you call it. It knows you’re talking to it.
You say, “Here I’ve written it down. I’m turning this over to you. You work on it and I’m going to come back after a certain amount of time, we can talk about that in a second, and you’re going to have an answer for me.” That’s it. You just instruct that inner MacGyver to work on the problem and tell it you need an answer and then, you put the question down and you go do something else. Now, that something else, we call an “incubation activity.”
Why? Because your inner MacGyver is in fact, incubating on the problem you just gave it. But, the key is you want to find some activity that keeps that hamster wheel of your head, that conscious mind preoccupied. That can be exercise of any form– go for a walk, a jog, a swim, shoot baskets, any form of exercise is fine. You can do cooking, gardening, you can clean the house, you can walk the dog, you can build with Legos. I built paper models and then, I moved onto wooden bottles, with planes and ships. You can do a crossword puzzle. You can do a Sudoku. There are only four activities that won’t work as incubation activities. They’re biggies, so hold your breath…
You can’t watch TV. It will not work as an incubation activity. Any kind of video or TV won’t work.
You can’t read for the same reason you can’t watch TV and I’ll explain that in a second.
You want to limit your amount of conversation, whether it’s texting or tweeting or emailing, [coughs] excuse me, or face-to-face conversation, you want to avoid conversation.
You can’t play super intense interactive video games. So, you can play Angry Birds. You can play Tetris. You can play Candy Crush. You can play Pokemon Go, but if you want to play World of Warcraft or Tour of Duty, they will not work as incubation activities.
The reason none of those things will work as incubation activities is because they require an enormous amount of subconscious processing in order to create the world that you are experiencing. So, when you sit and watch television, you think well the show is on the screen. There is no show on the screen. It is a series of separate discrete images flashed at 30 times a second, and a series of sounds, and you are the one who is assembling all those at phenomenal speeds in order for it to become a coherent world. So, the world is not really on the television screen. The world is actually constructed in your mind.
So, if your mind, your subconscious is doing all that heavy lifting in order to create that world, it can’t be solving your problem. So, you want to find an activity that preferably you enjoy doing. Again, any of those, practicing a musical instrument is good, but you want to keep it unimaginative. You can do a crossword puzzle, a Sudoku, word search puzzles are awesome. You know those ones where you get a grid of letters and you got to find the words in them and circle them?
LEE: Lots of experiments showed those are great for as an incubation activity. When you do this activity, I usually recommend, if you’re starting out an hour to four hours. Now, I’ve been doing this for decades. Literally, I can write a question down and 15 minutes later, I got an answer.
But, that takes practice. Like any other muscle, the more you exercise this particular process, the better the dialogue between you and your inner MacGyver, the faster the answers come.
So, you write your question down, tell your inner MacGyver to work on it, and then, you get yourself out of the way, and you do something else.
And then, after that incubation activity whether it’s exercise or working with tools, fixing home repairs, cooking, whatever it is you want to do, you come back and you look at your question, you say to your inner MacGyver, “Okay, what have you got for me?” And then, you simply start writing.
It doesn’t matter what you write. You can write your favorite song. You can write what you want for dinner. You can write why you love your boss or why you hate your boss. Just physically start writing and within 30 to 40 seconds to a minute of that at the most, the answers will literally bubble up from inside you and flow out on the tip of your pen. And you simply keep writing until all those answers are out there on the page.
Now sometimes, you get back more questions. That’s cool. You can turn right around and ask those questions back of your inner MacGyver. The reason it’s giving you questions is it says, “I need more information. You got to focus this in a little bit for me because I am not exactly sure how to solve your problem based on what you’ve given me because what you’re really trying to do is establish this dialogue between your conscious hamster real head and your inner Macgyver or subconscious.
The more fluid and fluent that dialogue becomes, the easier, the better, and the faster the answers will come. Anecdotally, so in the workshops and presentations that we’ve done, usually somewhere between 65-75% of the time, people get back answers that surprise them where they’d go, “Wow, I would never have thought of that.”
Then you go, “Well, you did just think of that.”
But what they are really saying is, “That was nowhere in my conscious mind when I was thinking about this problem.”
That is exactly right. That’s exactly what you want because your subconscious is unlimited. Your inner MacGyver is incredibly resourceful and your conscious mind is good at defining problems and it’s good at evaluating solutions. It turns out it’s just not very good at coming up with solutions because we are not taught to solve problems that way.
Consequently, we are not getting the best answers that are available to us because those are buried deep inside you and all you have to know how to do is ask.
But, those are really the three steps in the process. Now, there’s lots of other things. Can you use taking a nap or sleeping as an incubation activity? Yes, you can but you have to do a few extra other little things to make that work. Can you use this in the office? Can you use this with a team? All that stuff is in the book. And, by the way, the book is in Amazon, too. You can download for the rest of the month, the Kindle version is $2.99. So, through November 30th, you can get the Kindle version for just $2.99, but you can buy the book on Amazon. You can buy the book on the MacGyverSecret.com website.
But, as I say, more of the information about exactly how this works, you can get free on the website. But really, those are the only three steps you need. It’s remarkably simple. It’s not complicated.
The toughest part about this is believing it because most people think, “Well, this is magic. How can it work?” And you go, “Well, it just does.”
YARO: Every part of the process except the final step I feel I have experienced before, certainly having a shower and having some of my best ideas, but not the aspect of actually writing. I’m certainly doing this in such a proactive constructive manner where I would stand on a whiteboard and right anything and then, find myself writing answers to a question. That, to me, is something I have never experienced. I’d like to give that a go. That’s interesting.
Okay Lee, I think, first of all, thank you, I’m sure all the entrepreneurs plus anyone listening to this will appreciate that as a problem solving creativity tool. I think for my people as online entrepreneurs, going back to that question I mentioned earlier about marketing and coming up with ways to meet new people, that would be one of the first things I actually tell my students, to my members to use this method, so you can come up with some unique ways to market what your business is about using this methodology, so thank you for that.
Just to wrap up the interview, can we bring it up to today because I know as we record this, there’s a whole resurgence, a reboot of MacGyver. You’re talking about a movie coming out, as well. How much of that are you involved with? Where is this all going?
LEE: Well, so I’m involved with all of it. I’m executive producer on the new MacGyver TV series. In fact, I’m about to start writing an episode for it. I’m a producer on the Lionsgate featured film with Neil Moritz of Original film who does all the Fast and Furious movies. Hopefully, we’re going to start pre-production on that in the first part of 2017 and then, obviously, there’s the MacGyver secret book, and then, I have more MacGyver projects coming at the turnpike after that.
This is all part of me being an entrepreneur using the rights to MacGyver to really bring this character back, as again, mostly on entertainment platforms, but here I had this MacGyver Secret methodology, and I thought, “Well, so long as MacGyver’s coming back, we might as well share this as well.” Think of it as the Swiss army knife of the mind, but it’s a better way to solve problems.
So, if all of these continues to flow the way it’s flowing, hopefully there would be a steady stream of MacGyver projects. The TV series was initially ordered. They picked up an order of 13 episodes and now, they just ordered what they call the “Bat 9”, so they’re going to do a full season of MacGyver and it seems to be doing very well. So, we’ll see if they want to pick up a second season and a movie. We’ll just keep marching, but…
YARO: Is the movie completely new? Anything from the old series? How does the mix tap in there ?
LEE: Oh, I think the movie will be pretty new. There maybe some references back to the original show, but right now, we’re looking at updating it, obviously, just in a way that they did in the TV series. But, I can’t release any more details about that because they’ll track me down and they’ll put tape over my mouth.
YARO: [Laughter] Fair enough.
Okay, so the MacGyver Secret at MacgyverSecret.com to find out the book, and obviously, everyone knows how to go find information about the TV series and the movie. The TV series is still playing all around the world on repeat, no doubt.
Lee, thank you for sharing the background story, your methodology and what’s happening with MacGyver right now. Is there anything else you’d like to throw in before we end the episode?
LEE: I really just want to say this… We’ve obviously had a very brutal election period here in the United States and a lot of people are feeling either disenfranchised or frightened. I understand that, but at the end of the day, it’s not about Washington solving our problems. It’s about us solving our problems and all I want to remind people is that they have the resources inside themselves to really solve almost all the problems they are facing. They just need to find a better way to get in there and figure out what the right answers are for them.
And so, if there was ever a time for MacGyverism or self-reliance, this is that time, because now more than ever, we need to start coming up with really unique, innovative, and creative solutions if we’re going to get ourselves out of this mess [laughter].
LEE: There’s one thing I want to say to your listeners, if you have the resources to do this, don’t be afraid, figure out how to solve the problems from where you are right now and Washington will catch up to you not the other way around.
YARO: I like that a lot, individual responsibility. Very important.
Lee, thank you again for sharing everything. Good luck with all of future MacGyver and also spreading the Macgyver Secret. I think, as you talked about, this could help a lot of people solve a lot of problems from the smaller day-to-day problems all the way to potentially the big issue problems. It’s something worth practicing. And yes, thank you for taking some time today to talk to me.
LEE: Thanks for having me on, Yaro.
YARO: And, thank you everyone for listening to the Entrepreneur’s Journey podcasts. If you want to get the show notes, the downloads, and the links to go with this episode, head to my blog. Just google Yaro, Y-A-R-O and then, hit the podcast tab when you arrive at Entrepreneur’s Journey and you’ll find Lee’s episode there.
There you have Lee’s three steps for tapping into your inner MacGyver. Whenever you face a problem in your business or perhaps your personal life, you can apply his three steps to access your subconscious, your creative mind and come up with solutions that you might not otherwise think about with your conscious mind.
If you enjoyed this interview with Lee and you’d like to go on my newsletter so you get an email every time I release a new podcast, head to interviewsclub.com. Type that into your browser and you’ll be directed into a blog post on my EJ blog which you can then enter your email address to sign up to the newsletter.
You’ll receive the latest episodes as well as a series of my very best interviews from the podcast archives. That’s interviewsclub.com
That’s it for today’s episode. My name is Yaro and I’ll speak to you on the next Entrepreneurs Journey podcast. Bye bye.
About Yaro Starak
Yaro Starak is the author of the Blog Profits Blueprint, a report you can download instantly to learn how to make $10,000 a month, from only blogging 2 hours per day. You can find Yaro on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.