Mark Watney is hands down one of my favourite characters from a movie (and/or a book). Matt Damon played it brilliantly in The Martian for which he got an Oscar nomination.
Apart from his one-liners and uplifting sense of humour (even in the direst of situations), what makes Mark Watney standout from the rest of us is his limitless resourcefulness. You can put him in an impoverished habitat on a barren planet and he would manage to grow potatoes using his own poop. Who wouldn’t want to be more like him!
The opposite of being resourceful is being hapless. Paul Graham writes:“Hapless implies passivity. To be hapless is to be battered by circumstances—to let the world have its way with you, instead of having your way with the world.”
Resourcefulness is about finding a way to get what you want, without waiting for conditions to be perfect or otherwise blaming the circumstances.
Resourceful people either push through in the face of adverse conditions or manage to reverse the adverse conditions to achieve goals.
After coming to terms with his new reality (being alone on mars with limited food) Watney’s attitude was, “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this,” instead of, “I’m gonna die” or “My teammates are effing stupid” or “It’s NASA’s fault. It’s their responsibility to save me now.”
Of course NASA would do their part, but Watney didn’t just put it all on them. He took the shared responsibility of solving the problem, without worrying about whose ‘mistake’ it was or thinking about whose ‘responsibility’ it was. That’s resourcefulness!
Resourcefulness isn’t creativity. People often confuse between the two. Yes, we have to be creative to be resourceful, but that’s not all. You need creativity to paint or write well, but you need to be resourceful to find a way to be seen or get published.
Being creative doesn’t make you resourceful by default.
Resourcefulness implies that the difficulties are novel. You can’t just look up and follow a set of prescribed steps. You can’t simply apply a tried and tested solution because you don’t know the nature of the problem. You have to keep trying new things. This is the essence of being resourceful.
Resourcefulness isn’t an attitude. You cannot wake up one day and decide to be resourceful henceforth. It needs to be cultivated over time. Unless you have the required tools, compounded by creativity, along with a curious and positive attitude, it’s impossible to be resourceful.
Mark Watney wasn’t a nobody. He was a NASA astronaut, a botanist, and an engineer. He had enough knowhow to burn hydrazine to generate water, grow potatoes from his poop, modify a rover for a long journey by adding solar cells and additional battery, using Morse code to communicate after he accidentally shorting out the electronics of Pathfinder, and whatnot! You cannot be resourceful unless you have ‘resources’.
The most successful people are Watneyesque. They have all the necessary knowhow compounded by a positive attitude. They are neither hapless nor helpless. They don’t have to be babysitted. In other words, they can “take care of themselves.”
But we don’t have to be a NASA astronaut left for dead on Mars to be resourceful. There are ample opportunities on Earth.
When the Airbnb guys rented air mattresses to pay rent, they displayed resourcefulness. When they targeted the Democratic National Convention (2008) attendees, they displayed resourcefulness. When they sold cereal boxes to pay their credit card bills, they displayed resourcefulness.
Can this quality be learnt? Yes, of course! The first step is to learn the fundamentals of as many things as we can. This will help us build a latticework of mental models that we can apply in numerous situations.
The second step is to shift our thinking from reactive (victim) to proactive (victor). For example, going from “There’s nothing I can do” to “What are my alternatives?” This simple step, this shift in mindset reframes our mind to look at problems from a different perspective. Where there were shut doors, suddenly there are windows of possibilities that can be leveraged. We are no longer paralysed by our circumstances.
Resourcefulness is not for everyone. While many have a natural curiosity to try out new things, to experiment, to throw many darts and see what sticks, others are pathologically passive, and there’s nothing much that can done. But for the rest, it’s a good practice to science the shit out of things!
It may not guarantee success, but it does increase our odds tremendously!