Most of us would agree that problem solving is crucial to business success; that's why the skill appears in so many job listings!

Hearing the words "problem solver" may conjure images of that genius kid in your high school math class who worked on college level calculus "for fun." But really, most business problem solving cannot be accomplished by reading a textbook. You have to think on your feet. This is why creativity is crucial to your success.  

When I hear professionals sheepishly classify themselves as "non-creatives" it's like nails on a chalkboard. Just because you don't know how to knit, draw a picture, or make an edible model of Buckingham Palace doesn't put you in the "muggle" category.  

Everyone has creative magic, it's just differently applied. Think about entrepreneurs develop new products, CEOs who dream up intricate business models, business development directors who constantly have to find new sales approaches, or personal assistants who always have to cover for their busy bosses to keep everyone happy. Those jobs (and yours) require problem solving.

Problem solving and creativity go hand-in-hand.

So, if your resolutions for 2018 include increasing your problem-solving skills, you might try boosting your creativity. And according to USC professor, Fred Cook, this can be accomplished by stepping out of your comfort zone.

In his course called Improvisational Leadership, Cook prompts his students to have new experiences that usually involve conquering their fears. In one assignment, he asked his them each to choose an executive they admire, learn everything about him or her, and then call that executive to schedule a meeting. Another time, he had the students draw a random topic out of a hat and take five minutes to prepare a presentation to the class on that topic, positioning themselves as the experts.

These uncomfortable creative tasks force the students to think on their feet, which breaks down barriers and personal limitations. Some of them have even landed full time jobs as a result of these exercises!

Stepping out of your comfort zone is indeed a great way to boost creativity and it doesn't necessarily need to be done in front of other people either. You just need to train your brain to think in a variety of different ways. Here are a few exercises you can try in the comfort of your own home:

Debate an Unpopular Perspective

Choose a story or topic with two opposing sides and opt to side with the one you do NOT agree with. Your job is to argue for that side, so you get to play lawyer - building a case good enough to stand up in court. At the end of this exercise, you may have changed your own stance on this topic, but even if you haven't, it can certainly help you see the viewpoints of those who think differently than you.  This will definitely help when you negotiate a deal or navigate a difficult personality.

Build Something With Your Hands

We all rely on computers so much that some of us don't even remember what our own handwriting looks like! For this creative exercise, get off the computer and build something with your hands. This could be a birdhouse, a popup card, or a castle cake for your kid. In all cases it needs to be aesthetically pleasing, but the structure also has to be solid. This will require you to pay attention to the small details that make your work of art special. And watching out for these small details might cause you to see and care about the other small details that make your professional work that much better.

Finish the Story

We watch TV or read books to relax and be entertained, which is a passive task. The next time you're captivated by a story you see or read, channel that excitement into writing an alternate ending or a prequel.  This can significantly boost your storytelling abilities, which is a valuable skill to take with you to your next investor pitch meeting.

Living creatively certainly makes for a more fun and colorful existence. And the more you can tap your creative powers off the clock, the more effortless your professional problem solving will become. So go forth and create...and don't forget to enjoy every minute of it!

Published on: Nov 3, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.