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Improvisational Ingenuity

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"Among the multitudes of which scamper, fly, burrow and swim around us, man is the only one not locked into his environment. His imagination, his reason, his emotional subtlety and toughness, make it possible for him not to accept the environment but to change it."
Dr. Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man

Necessity is the mother of invention and sometimes life just refuses to deal you a good hand.

You could be the one born with a useless superpower in a world where Everyone Is a Super, a hero who has been trapped in a corner by The Empire, a strategist whose carefully laid plans have gone completely off the rails or even just a engineer who needs to replace a crucial, difficult-to-obtain part as soon as possible.

In situations like these, it is the ones with the ability to improvise creative solutions who thrive the most.

Regardless of their field, these are the people who know how to turn an adverse situation to their advantage and make the most of whatever material they have on hand. Whether it's exploiting the quirks of their seemingly useless ability, macgyver a device from utter trash or rapidly altering their plans (perhaps even inventing a new one on the fly) to account for rapidly changing circumstances. If the character is anthropomorphic, then it's Resourceful Rodent.

Improvisational Ingenuity typically comes in two distinct flavours, with some leeway and overlap.

  • Limited Time: When an individual is forced to come up with a solution to their problems either on the fly or within a limited time span. Typically this manner of improvisation arises in scenarios where unexpected circumstances have arisen and/or that are moving too quickly to allow for careful preparation. In situations like these, success or failure will often hinge on the character's ability to problem solve quickly and under pressure.
  • Minimal Resources: When a character is presented with a scenario in which they are have to solve a practical issue with whatever resources are at hand (rather than those ideally suited for the job). These resources may not necessarily be limited to inanimate objects but also include people, skills and information. In these situations, this will be a test of a characters ability to think creatively in order to formulate a solution.

Can be found in combination with The Chessmaster, Combat Pragmatist, Crazy-Prepared, Figure It Out Yourself, Guile Hero, Improbable Weapon User, Improvised Armour, It May Help You on Your Quest, Jack of All Stats and Opportunistic Bastard.

A Super-Trope to Heart Is an Awesome Power, Indy Ploy, MacGyvering, Scavenged Punk, Scavenger World and Xanatos Speed Chess.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In One Piece, this is how Luffy wins most of his fights. Despite being an Idiot Hero of the first order, Luffy's ability to use an Outside-the-Box Tactic with his Rubber Man powers gives him the edge over his opponents. An opponent who loves punching, clubbing, or tackling? Luffy's made of rubber, so that can't hurt him. An opponent can't be touched because he's made of sand? Luffy coats his fists in his own blood to harden the sand to wreck the guy. An opponent who can read Luffy's mind and knows where his attacks will go? Luffy ricochets his punches off a wall so not even he knows where they're going, and thus can't be predicted. An opponent can make his skin as hard as iron? Luffy pumps his heart faster than a normal human's could take and punches thousands of times in a row, because iron is durable but not invincible. It helps that Luffy's opponents think that Powers Do the Fighting and never bothered to learn creative ways to use their powers besides direct offense, whereas Luffy's wit and power set make up for his weaknesses to give him the edge.
  • My Hero Academia
  • A Certain Magical Index: Protagonist Touma Kamijou does this sort of thing on a daily basis, armed with only his quick wits and a right hand that can cancel all manner of supernatural abilities on the fly. He has managed to beat several characters who are far more powerful than him, including Accelerator; a character with a Superpower Lottery that makes him seemingly Nigh-Invulnerable.
  • Dr. STONE: One of Senku's greatest strengths is that he can both plan long-term strategy, and quickly improvise, as well as MacGyvering anything out of what he has (or knowing exactly what he needs if he doesn't have it):
    • When Tsukasa supposedly killed him, Taiju and Yuzuriha were able to figure out that they could bring him back to life with the revival fluid, and Senku had actually conditioned Tsukasa to kill him by striking the back of his neck. He then sends the two of them to act as Sleeper Agents in the Tsukasa Empire.
    • When he met Kohaku, he used pulleys to lift a tree trunk that had her pinned down, and then used those to MacGyver a cart to get to the village faster.
    • He used ramen, a food unknown in the stone world, to get more manpower for metalworking and glassworking.
    • In the Grand Bout, he's able to strategize who needs to beat who for the Kingdom of Science to win, and improvises their strategy when Kohaku is disqualified.
    • When Hyoga attacks the village, Senku bluffs them off with a fake gun (using real gunpowder) and uses the few days break they have until the counterattack to get Kaseki to make katanas.
    • When Chrome is captured by Tsukasa's forces, he mobilizes the village to rescue him and bring the fight to the enemy, building a freaking TANK to break Chrome out (which ends up not being needed, when Chrome escapes on his own).
  • Girls und Panzer: this is the specific genius of Miho Nishizumi, coming up with new plans and modifications on the fly.
  • In Pok√©mon: The Series, this is Ash's specialty. He can plan ahead (and that only goes so far), but his ability to think outside the box is far more effective. This tends to spread to his close friends and occasionally even his rivals.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, this is part of Jaden's raw dueling talent, so much so that during his duel with a graduating Zane, the latter is disappointed when Jaden tries beating him with a more tactical approach, only for Zane to come back. Zane tells him that Jaden't talent is dueling is through pure instinct and that he stands no chance of trying to match him strategically. Jaden thankfully wises up, and going back to his usual on-the-fly approach, he ends the duel in a draw (though said draw was the result of a card played in a Last Ditch Effort designed to damage both players equally, which in the absence of either damage negation or adequate remaining life points results in that kind of outcome).

    Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm: while Harry develops a number of powers over the series, he's still usually outgunned and outnumbered, forcing him to - as canon - get creative. Lateral thinking doesn't even begin to describe it, and he only gets better at it after being tutored in the broader applications of his powers. Two comparatively normal examples are using magic, a basic understanding of physics, and a penny to jury-rig a railgun, and realizing that a power-limiting suit simply prevents him using his Psychic Powers outside it (cue mimicking Flying Brick powers).
  • The Progenitor Chronicles:
    • The MC has no combat ability, so when he gets caught in biohazard outbreaks, his only choice is to improvise and he demonstrates his ability to on a few occasions:
      • He concocts a plan where he plants a cell phone somewhere and calls the phone, allowing the ringtone to distract Hunters away from him and his group. Similarly, he gets someone to throw a metal post into the metal detectors at a security checkpoint, setting off the alarm and causing another distraction.
      • He's armed with a bow and arrows later, but knows that weapon wouldn't really help him in a direct fight against B.O.W.s. He does things like shoot a faraway car window, letting the car alarm serve as a loud distraction.
      • He's in a research lab with a pressurized gas tank. When cornered by a Hunter, he breaks the pressure regulator on the tank, causing the rapidly releasing pressure to propel the tank like a torpedo into the Hunter (bonus points for the tank then smashing through a window down the hall, causing another loud distraction).
    • Rebecca is no slouch in this department either. Noting that Hunters, being cold-blooded, are weak to cold, she devises a plan to set off a sprinkler system in a building by starting a fire, then lure the Hunters out into the winter night. Running out into the cold while wet drastically slows them down, allowing for a quick escape.

  • The signature trait of Jason Bourne in The Bourne Series. He typically has no allies and can only keep so much on his person to keep a low profile (usually passports, cash, a phone, and sometimes a pistol). American agents and foreign authorities will swarm on him whenever he draws attention to himself, so he constantly has to think on his feet and find advantageous ways to utilize his surroundings in order to gain intel, fight, or escape a tight spot in a short window of time. Some examples from the series:
    • Identity: In an open-field firefight with Treadstone's deadliest sniper and armed with only a hunting rifle, Bourne uses a propane tank to cause an explosion that masks his positioning, then uses a shotgun blast at a nearby flock of birds to tip off the sniper's position.
    • Supremacy: Uses a rolled-up magazine to fend off a fellow assassin in a safe house, then as agents swarm the place, rips out a gas pipe and sticks said mag into a toaster to cause an impromptu getaway explosion.
    • Ultimatum: Agents are coming in on Bourne and Nicky; Bourne calls into the local police and reports gunshots he just fired off, causing a chaos of police and CIA shadow agents at the entrance and allow the two to slip away unnoticed.
  • Chicken Run: By the time the film starts, the chickens of Tweedy's Farm (led by Ginger) have already managed to organise themselves, install a network of secret passages throughout the coop and plot a series of elaborate escape attempts, and that's before they get around to building a plane in the finale.
  • Micmacs: Practically the M.O. of Bazil and his compatriots, making use of their esoteric skillsets, an ingenious series of Rube Goldberg devices and a healthy dose of Xanatos Speed Chess to take on a pair of arms dealers.
  • At the beginning of Saw V, Strahm wakes up after being knocked out by Hoffman, and finds himself in one of Jigsaw's traps: his entire body is able to move except for his head, which is sealed from the neck up in a glass cube that's quickly filling with water. Since both Jigsaw and Hoffman designed the trap with the intention of executing anyone in it, there's no built-in way to survive, and Strahm is supposed to drown. But Strahm reaches into his pocket, pulls out a pen, unscrews it to take it apart (all while he's on the verge of drowning, keep in mind), and gives himself an Impromptu Tracheotomy with the pen's tubing, allowing him to finally breathe. The look on Hoffman's face when he tells the cops outside that no one but him made it out of the meatpacking plant, only to turn around and see Strahm alive and kicking, is absolutely priceless.
  • Parasite: Despite living in abject poverty and lacking any job credentials, the Kim family manage to successfully trick the wealthy Park family into hiring all four of them and pass themselves off as veterans at their respective jobs, through nothing but sheer cunning and impeccable teamwork.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Captain Jack Sparrow is this to a tee. Despite often finding himself in over his head, he is able to hold his own against armies of supernatural beings, legal authorities and other pirates using anything he can use to his advantage.
  • Arthur of Inception proves to have this, as the original plan to get out of the dream hotel goes off the rails, and he finds himself in a position where he needs to wake up a group of people, all at once, by making them fall in a situation where there is no gravity. He manages to jury-rig fake gravity by using the elevator system.

  • The Dresden Files: Harry Dresden is a decent powerhouse by about the 5th or 6th title, but his real advantage is that he's very intelligent and good at analyzing his opponents, then crafting ways to defeat them using tactics that they absolutely would not have predicted. He's taken down a fairy queen by arming a bunch of pixies with boxcutters, whomped a necromancer that was much stronger than he was by bringing along a zombie tyrannosaurus, and is apparently the only person who ever figured out how to harm Nicodemus.

    Live-Action TV 

    Video Games 
  • Eternal Darkness's Peter Jacob needs to replace a missing fuse in a cathedral's breaker box, but there's no sign of where they might be kept. Handily, he's also carrying a lucky penny with him which will conduct electricity just fine.

  • Jupiter-Men: Given that Jackie is often busy being the muscle of the team, it often falls to Quintin to come up with the actual plan in a given situation. Luckily for him, Quintin is quick on his feet despite his inexperience, coming up with the Eat Me plan to get to the Toxic Star of the Man-Eating Plant and later using his arm as a sling to shoot the plant with one of its own barbed quills.
    Quintin: Why am I the only one ever coming with a— [has a "Eureka!" Moment] plan! I have a plan!
  • Outsider: Lampshaded when a Historian construct, forced to work out of a human data pad, grouses about the limitations of the computing power available to it and says that it's having to make do with what's available to it. Jardin muses on how it can't really answer his questions but was able to perfectly grasp English.

    Web Video 
  • Season 5 of Jet Lag: The Game has Sam and Toby in the lead in front of Ben and Adam, but needing to finish the challenge of giving campaign speeches in front of several locations around Wellington quick enough to make an earlier ferry to cross to South Island in order to stay ahead. The catch is that the speeches need to be done while wearing a tie, but they didn't have time to stop at a clothing store to buy one and risk letting Ben and Adam tag them with a Nerf gun and forcing them to freeze for 30 minutes and thus miss the earlier ferry — Toby improvises by knitting a tie in the car on the way so that they don't have to stop en route.

    Real Life 
  • In New Zealand the term Number 8 Wire Mentality - derived from a gauge of fencing wire which was frequently macgyvered to solve mechanical or structural issues - has come to denote the use of ingenuity and resourcefulness a means of solving problems in lieu of ideal circumstances.
  • How WETA first originated. Starting life out as a small, home-based operation with it's practical effects achieved on a shoestring budget through trial and error and no small amount of MacGyvering.
  • For Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the Monty Python guys didn't have a budget high enough to get horses and had to resort to simulate horse riding sounds with coconuts. Then the coconuts became part of the film's visual humor by having the knights run as if they were riding horses and the servants run behind them making noise with the coconuts.