From MacGyver to Mozart: How Innovation Transcends Limitations

From MacGyver to Mozart:
How Innovation Transcends Limitations

We all want to innovate. There are very few people who wake up in the morning full of vigor to uphold the status quo. 

The problem is: Innovation is difficult, especially in business. Because amid the need to advance margin and become a force of change in your organization, each are also faced with a myriad of tasks, to-do lists and technical constraints. Often, all we see are those limits, and not our possibilities.

As a part of our ongoing conversation about TechCreative, we have been looking at unique ways that people and business have harnessed new technologies and creatively moved beyond “the box.” In Semper, and in business, we like to celebrate people who break the mold. From modern TechCreatives to the first renaissance man - the need to create using finite resources has been a hallmark of this role.

It’s important to remember that the companies and talent we have celebrated also faced the same limits and constraints that you see every day -- While he was creating a digital scavenger hunt, Newbury Comic’s CEO Mike Dreese still needed to drive holiday sales for the hundreds of employees counting on him. Similarly, HubSpot’s Casey Lockwood still faced a monthly sales quota, even as he was learning a new model of sales networking. The difference in their thinking, and the key of TechCreative, was simply that they were able to work within their existing constraints to create a new business process, and drive an exponential result. The sermon below puts those constraints in perspective.

Mozart, for example, ultimately orchestrated his most powerful symphonies because he was forced to compose for a thirty minute Easter Mass. His master work only came because the much shorter time constraints forced him to creatively improvise.

Perhaps, even, those limits become the inspiration a TechCreative mind needs to make that innovative jump.

In modern days, the tools maybe different but the ideas hold the same. To us, the essence of TechCreative has always lived in people capable of bringing a wide variety of technologies together in a constrained environment to solve a need or perceived need.

For businesses today, the TechCreative challenge often lies in the efficient use of your firm’s labor and resources. We all have only so much time, talent and money. So, what can we do to maximize our company output and drive better results? As Dr. Stephanie May reveals in her essay below, the answer may lie within the creative minds of the people in your building – if only they can find the inspiration to look within.


“Creating Within the Box” A homily delivered by the Rev. Dr. Stephanie May at the First Parish in Wayland, MA on the occasion of Music Sunday March 29, 2015

After traveling Europe as a child prodigy, Mozart wanted to be better situated than the “backwater” of Salzburg where he had been born. So, at 21, he set out, accompanied by his mother, to look for work in Germany or France. Along the way, his mother would die in Paris and he would not find a suitable position. And so back he went to Salzburg in early 1779. Still a young man of 23, Mozart found himself back in the city of his birth. I imagine Mozart returning to Salzburg feeling defeated. Having left two years earlier with his mother, he returns alone . . . his mother buried hundreds of miles away less than a year earlier. He returns to his father, his sister, and to the cathedral where he had worked before. A man whose star had burned so brightly as a child now seems to be tucked away into a dim corner.

In Salzburg, he is handed an assignment to write a celebratory Mass for Easter. Now clearly Mozart loved to compose. His prodigiousness suggests as much. Yet, this particular assignment may have given him pause. As I understand it, there are two forms of the Mass—one longer and one shorter. The longer version included more elements and instruments, as well as a formality to mark important occasions. The longer form, of course, also practically meant a longer amount of time in the worship service. Apparently the Archbishop in Salzburg, Mozart’s employer, did not like the length of the formal mass, but he did want all of the elements of the longer service as well as the celebratory tone. And so, Mozart’s challenge was to create a composition full of celebratory formality, but to do so in less than 45 minutes.

In fact, the piece Mozart composed that Easter—and that we’ll hear today—lasts less than 30 minutes. I love this story because it is a creative example of how one might respond to being boxed in. We often associate creativity with a kind of “thinking outside the box” of convention. But sometimes we are “boxed in” by the limits of our time, our resources, or our context. Sometimes we have to figure out how to move and respond within the parameters that are given to us—even if they are not ideal, even if they are not of our own making.

One example from pop culture of this kind of resourceful thinking is the 1980’s television character MacGyver. Even if you’ve never seen the show, I suspect you may have heard the name—as in “he’s a real MacGyver.” In the television show, MacGyver was a secret agent who would find himself stuck in all kinds of situations. But, he would then build something from the everyday objects around him that would enable him to escape. Often, there would be duct tape involved. I see Mozart as a kind of musical MacGyver. Locked within the parameters of the long mass with all of its elements, he scanned the available pieces of text and instruments, then assembled a masterful piece of music. He even managing to “escape” long before the 45 minute deadline exploded. Sometimes creativity, even genius, happens within a box.

Consider the sonnets of Shakespeare or Milton, which evoke grand stories and emotions within 14 lines of iambic pentameter. Or, consider the even more restrained form of the haiku poem— only 17 syllables split into three lines. Sometimes the limits of a box become a platform for creative insight. There are times when we need to think beyond the boundaries of convention and tradition. And there are times when we need to critique or leave behind boxes that unjustly or even violently confine the thoughts, spirits, and lives of people. And sometimes, we need to accept the parameters of the box we’ve been given and learn to live creatively and meaningfully within the limits of a particular situation.

Being limited in some ways does not mean that there are not still possibilities or room for creativity. Faced with limited options, we may need to connect with our own inner Shakespeare, MacGyver, or Mozart to help us reimagine what is possible. Or, if we’re feeling a bit boxed in on our own, we can reach out to others to help us reimagine what might be possible within the parameters before us. Whether we find these possibilities within ourselves or with the help of others, may we all find ways to live creatively within the box when we need to.

So may it be. Amen.


We welcome your examples of new TechCreative ideas and people in your industry. Please submit your stories to

Remember – if you are looking for the pools of TechCreative in your company, you usually find them where the margin is!