Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. Meme: Meaning & Origin?

Here’s what the “Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.” meme means and where it comes from:

The meme originates from two different sources: a TV show called Man vs Wild and an unofficial motto from the United States Marine Corp.

Bear Grylls, host of Man vs Wild, is the man pictured in the meme.

The meme ironically uses the Marines’ motto to point out situations that don’t require such seriousness.

So if you want to learn all about the meaning and origin of the meme, then this article is for you.

Without further ado, let’s get started!

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. Meme: Meaning & Origin?

What Is the Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. Meme?

Attractive young woman with digital tablet lying on sofa at home

If you haven’t seen it before, it features a picture of a rugged-looking guy (I’ll explain who he is later) with some scratches on his face.

At the bottom of the picture are the words “Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.”

Above the picture, you’ll usually see the crux of the joke.

The general format is to present a problem and a solution, thus the solution is the representation of adaptation, improvisation, and overcoming the issue.

Keep in mind that it’s a satirical meme, so the problems and solutions are often silly or weird.

The entire point is that the premise worded at the top of the meme absolutely does not fit the context of the picture and the motto.

That’s where the humor comes in.

If you can make the premise relatable, then that’s all the better.

But, this is what the meme largely looks like.

Where Does the Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. Meme Come From? (2 Origins)

Handsome bearded hipster man using smartphone with coffee at table

Things will start to make more sense as I explain the bits behind the meme.

It’s hard to pin down exactly when the meme first originated.

It has circulated for quite a few years now, ebbing and flowing in popularity.

That said, the components of the meme come from two specific places in time and culture:

  • Man vs Wild
  • United States Marine Corp.

Let’s peel back each of these layers to really understand the meme at hand.

#1 Man vs Wild

Young man holding television remote control so he can watch TV

If you aren’t familiar with it, Man vs. Wild is a TV show that ran from 2006 to 2011.

Through the production, it has picked up a few extra names that include Ultimate Survival, Survival Game, and Bear Grylls.

That last name comes from the show’s host, Bear Grylls.

In the show, he is a wilderness and survival expert, and the show often pits him against unfavorable circumstances so he can show people methods and techniques for overcoming the elements and surviving in the wild. 

As for the meme, it is taken from a single image from the show.

In the image, Bear Grylls has some scratches and dirt on his face and is pointing at the camera determinedly. 


Squad of three fully equipped and armed soldiers standing on hill

The other half of the meme comes from the United States Marine Corp.

The motto, “Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.” is often quoted among members of the corp.

While it is not an official motto, it comes up often enough that it is largely regarded as a Marine saying.

There’s really not a whole lot to add here.

It’s obvious why the Marine Corp might value these ideals.

In the face of battle, improvisation, adaptation, and the determination to overcome obstacles are clearly important.

What Does the Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. Meme Mean? (3 Things)

Happy couple laughing while checking smart phone

Considering all of that and how meme culture works, you have probably already worked out the mechanics of this meme.

It’s all about irony.

In most cases, the meme will present a situation that does not require Marine Corp levels of grit, and then propose a whacky solution.

The point is to catch people off guard and typically provide a little bit of irreverence towards the ideas expressed in Man vs Wild.

You’re not taking on the wilderness in your daily life.

So instead, you can improvise and overcome daily challenges where the stakes are a lot lower.

In a bit, I’ll discuss a few of the most popular versions of the meme.

You’ll see very quickly that this is all about comedy and not at all serious, and that’s the point.

The meme takes two sources of seriousness—surviving in the wild and working as a Marine—and subverts them with silliness.

Let’s look at a couple of examples to really drive this home.

#1 Toilet Humor

Happy friends laughing together at a meme they see on one guy's cellphone

The most popular version of this meme (that I can share on a safe-for-work post) used the following setup:

When you run out of toilet paper and use the cardboard from the roll instead. Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.

That paints a pretty clear picture of how the meme works.

It’s a situation most of us can relate to, and it definitely involves everyday stuff rather than the extremes of the wilderness and combat.

Yet, there’s a hint of truth behind the joke that really helps it land.

Even though it’s toilet humor, it’s ok if you laughed at this one.

It’s pretty funny.

#2 Modern Humor

Young woman laughing while using phone at outdoor restaurant

Next up we have an example of how to use the meme with very modern issues.

This version of the meme goes as follows: 

When you accidentally like an old photo so you like 20 other photos to cover it up.

If you recognize the premise (social media), then you might even relate to the meme.

Of course, the irony in this version is that the solution is not a solution at all.

If you’re embarrassed about liking an old photo (suggesting that you’re ‘cyberstalking’ someone), liking 20 more photos won’t distract from the issue.

It only exacerbates the problem.

#3 Historical Humor

Portrait of a young Chinese girl happy with her cell phone

The last example I’m going to show you today makes a history joke.

The point of this one is to show you how creative people are using the meme.

It can fit into an extremely wide range of contexts. 

Here’s the history joke:

When your art career falls apart so you decide to invade Poland instead.

For anyone who doesn’t get it, this is a reference to a certain German political leader in the WWII era.

Obviously, starting a world war is a ridiculous improvisation and adaptation to try to overcome a failed art career.

Even though this is rooted in facts that are technically true, the context is all over the place.

WWII didn’t start as a way to compensate for the failed art career.

Instead, that’s just the order in which events happened to unfold.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.

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