Solve Problems With Creativity

   The third principle covered in my “A Strategy For Winning” book is “Be Creative.” Creativity is what rises to the surface when we face problems, because more than anything else creativity is another term for problem solving.
   In 1953, a group of scientists began a long-term study of monkeys on a small Japanese island to see how the monkeys discovered and handled problems. The scientists scattered sweet potatoes and grain on a beach, which soon attracted the monkeys. The scientists witnessed a young monkey’s remarkable solution to the new challenge of sandy potatoes and pebbly grain.
   Imoko, as the scientists called her, learned to clean the potatoes by washing them in the sea. Apparently, she had never washed anything in seawater before, because later she began using the water to flavor other food. Other monkeys gradually copied Imoko’s innovative solution of cleaning the sand off the potatoes. They also began to “salt” other foods with the seawater.  
   Critics of the experiment claimed that Imoko and the other monkeys were only duplicating a chance discovery. But these critics became receptive to the idea of Imoko’s creativity when Imoko later determined that the grain scattered on the beach could be separated from the small sand pebbles by tossing the mixture on the water and scooping up the floating grain.
   The scientists said that Imoko’s response to the problems she faced illustrated all the basic qualities we generally accept as creativity. She considered what she knew (that eating sand is unpleasant) and what she wanted (to remove the sand) and then added some available information to create a valuable answer to a need. She repeated creativity when she discovered that the grain would float on the water and the sand would sink.
   A good but simple example of creativity rising from a problem is illustrated in the life of a man named Gillette. He faced a common problem in 1895, back when all shaving was done with a straight razor. He explained: “One morning when I started to shave, I found my razor dull beyond successful stropping (resharpening). It needed honing, which meant it would have to be taken to a barber, the only people who handled such a task. Then I told myself that a razor is only a sharp edge and all the rest is just support. All you really need is a piece of steel thick enough to hold an edge. In a moment, I saw it all and the Gillette razor was born.”
   Gillette’s razor had two parts – a double-edged blade made of paper and sheet metal and a sturdy handle to hold it. Since the wafer-like blade was inexpensive to make, a user could throw it away when it became dull. Therefore, no stropping or honing was required.
   In the first year, Gillette sold 51 razors, 168 blades. Today, of course, the Gillette Company is a multi-billion leader in the market.
   Most of us know something of the story of the creativity of Ray Croc. Following World War II he became a milkshake machine salesman. When he encountered the McDonald Brothers restaurant in California he was amazed at their successful business. He said, “This little drive-in had people waiting in line. If they could have a hundred stores like that one I could sell them eight hundred mixers. The McDonalds weren’t interested in running a hundred stores but they did buy into Croc’s idea that he could market franchises based on their successful setup and everyone would make lots of money. We all know the rest of the story.  

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Carl Mays, author of over a dozen books and speaker at over 2500 events, can be contacted at or 865-436-7478. His books, including his two most recent, “People of Passion” and “Are We Communicating Yet?” are available in stores, at, and on 


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