The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Pop quiz: who was the Ancient Greek god of creativity? Hephaestus. Ugly and deformed. A sweaty smith.

Why would the Ancient Greeks assign creativity to such a character? Why not a more sophisticated god? Where’s the paintbrush?

Sadly, creation and creativity have become separate. “Creative” is a word we use to praise toddlers. Creativity is special sauce that you add at the end. I spoke about this far-reaching topic at an American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) event on February 4.

For now, let’s get back to the anvil. Because if you make anything, you’re a creator. Spreadsheets, team structures, strategies—creative ventures all. The easiest and most beneficial way to win in business is to apply creativity to problem solving.

How? Consider this. When you were a child, you created truly bad art. Stick figures under asymmetrical rainbows and the like. And you showed it to everybody willing to look. We all start as creatives. But for a variety of reasons, we slowly block it off as we age.

Creative problem solving is simply turning off your censor. Not letting your inner adult intimidate your inner child.

Here are three pitfalls that might stop you.

1. Not listening to yourself
Living in Tokyo in the early 1990s, all I wanted was a bagel. Nothing spectacular. Just a bagel with cream cheese and lox. And it occurred to me: why doesn’t somebody make a bagel shop in Tokyo?

Fast forward to 2009, when I returned to live in Tokyo again. Bagel franchises everywhere. And amid my joy, there was frustration. That was my idea. But I hadn’t listened to myself.

You definitely do this. Every time you start a thought with “Somebody oughta …”, you’ve done it again. These are your ideas. Claim and execute them. And having done so, you will have created.

2. Biasing your output
In my experience, in the vast majority of cases, the way we posit the problem predetermines the solution.

Here’s an example. You need to create new menu items for your restaurant. Chicken or beef? Western or Japanese? Healthy? This will be fun.

But did you ask a loaded question? Now is the time to swim upstream. Ask “why” like you’re a child at the mall with your parents. Why do we need menu items? For more repeat business. Why? Revenue is down.

Aha. Now you can start creating a solution to the true, unbiased problem. Because actually the menu is fine. The problem is that new construction blocking your sign. So create that solution.

3. Believing in cause and effect
Think you need a problem to create a solution?

Let’s travel back to the 1980s. You make electric typewriters. They’re awesome. Let’s say you conducted 50 one-on-one interviews with typists to innovate around an unmet need. What would you learn?

Probably that the machine gets too hot sometimes. And it could be quieter. And the tape cartridge is hard to remove.

Can you imagine if one interviewee said, “I’d like my typewriter to remember things and play games?” It would never happen. In other words, you’d never invent the computer.

The computer did not fit an unmet need. It catalyzed a change in expectations. In 1985, I wasn’t angry that my phone couldn’t show me movies, and today, I’m angry about loading times.

Go ahead and create something. It doesn’t need to be born from an existing need. Get yourself a nifty solution, and cause some problems with it. Applying creative principles to problem solving won’t hurt you. And you only need to strike gold once in your business life.

Plus, creativity is sexy. Know who Hephaestus’s wife was? Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, and pleasure.

Adam Weiss is executive creative director for science at McCann Health Communications, Japan and Korea.
The way we posit the problem predetermines the solution.