Developing a creative mindset

May 15th, 2012 @   -  One Comment

What does it take to be creative? Does creativity happen automatically? Is creativity best achieved singlehandedly? How can we develop a creative mindset? What can I do if I live in a negative environment?

Muslim creativity shaped the modern world. In his book, Civilization: the West and the Rest, Niall Ferguson quoted, “the West owes a debt to the medieval Muslim world for both custodianship of classical wisdom and its generation of new knowledge in cartography, medicine and philosophy as well as mathematics and optics.” Professor Salim Al-Hassani’s book, 1001 inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World, examines these outstanding contributions and inventions that ranged from surgical procedures and flying machines to universities and hospitals.

At the individual level, how can we revive and develop a creative mindset? Here are a few suggestions:

1.      Belief liberates you – Do you believe in your mission?

  1.  Believe in what you do and why you do it. Any innovative service or product that helps improve a situation or solve a problem is considered an ongoing charity. Regardless of what you are doing, there is always a better way of doing it. When you believe in what you do and why you do it, you will find ways to improve it. This belief keeps you going even in a negative environment.
  2. Believe that your ideas can make a difference. If you believe that your ideas are worthless or people will not listen to you, chances are you will not express them. If you don’t believe in your ideas, who else will?  The mobile phone you use, the car you drive, the shoes you wear – all these were once merely ideas in someone’s mind.
  3. Believe that you have potential. God has created us for a purpose. He has certainly provided us with the seed and the potential to fulfill this purpose. If this seed is planted in the right environment and nurtured properly, it will grow into a wonderful tree by God’s will.

 2.      Passion energizes you – What do you love doing?

It is almost impossible to succeed and innovate at something you dislike.  Who is more likely to contribute and innovate?

a)      A person who does things out of fear (fear of losing his job for example)?

b)      A person who does things because he feels it is a duty?

c)      A person who does things out of love (he loves what he does)?

Most likely, the latter will excel and innovate. What about you? Are you passionate about what you do? If not, what are you passionate about? You need to find your strength.

3.      Mastery empowers you – What subject or trade do you want to master?

Most people fail to achieve mastery simply because they major in minor things. They like too many things and they fail to master any. What are the fundamental skills you need in order to succeed? Have you mastered them?

Choose one area, subject or trade and learn about it as much as you possibly can. When you intentionally focus on improvement in that area, your ability and confidence will increase. Before long, you will find out how you can make it better.

Imam Shafi’ee mastered both Maliki and Hanafi Fiqh. He was a student of Imam Malik, yet he went on and formulated the basis of what we call the Shafi’ee school of thought.

4.      Curiosity excites you – Are you excited about what you do? 

Numerous research studies found that the top innovators in the world have two things in common: (1) curiosity and (2) willingness to ask questions. Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, said, “We run this company on questions, not answers.

Sibawayh started his work by asking a simple question: how can a non-Arab learn Arabic? This non-Arab was the first person to introduce Arabic grammar. Today, his book is one of the major references in Arabic language courses.

5.      Mistakes teach you – Are you prepared to be wrong?

Have you been working in an environment where people are not taking initiative out of fear of making mistakes, or in a class where students do not express their opinions or disagree with the teacher out of fear of being wrong or ridiculed? Do you think such people will develop independent thinking? Will these people become creative? When our focus is only to avoid mistakes, we avoid achievement as well. Ken Robinson was right when he said, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

6.      Imitate then innovate – Who are the key players in your field?

Most creative innovations don’t come by generating new ideas, but are the result of additions to or combining pre-existing ones. Toyota copied US automobile mass production methods in the fifties to increase its production. However, Toyota introduced the concept of Kaizen, “change for the better”, which refers to practices that focus upon continuous improvement. Fifty years later, Toyota overtook Ford in its own backyard in terms of quality and safety.

Like Toyota, you can also find someone who is already getting the results you wish to obtain or an organization that is delivering a service you wish to deliver and then learn about what they are doing, what books they are reading and what skills they are developing. When you sow what they are sowing, you will reap what they are reaping. This will save you a lot of time because you will not have to reinvent the wheel. Like Toyota, you can also refine it, remodel it and add value to it.

The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Wisdom is the believer’s lost belonging; he is the most worthy of it whenever he finds it” (reported by at-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah)

7.      Team-work enriches you – God’s hand is with the group

Creativity and innovation can be greatly enriched through team-work. We all have different skills, knowledge and experiences. When you capitalise on these differences, more ideas can be generated and more creative solutions can be found.

When the Prophet (PBUH) was informed that a strong military alliance had been formed to attack the city, he called an emergency meeting where all heads were put together to find the best strategy to face this critical situation. Digging a ditch around the city was an unusual war tactic, not yet known in the region; this approach was suggested by a companion from Persia. The Prophet (PBUH) not only accepted the innovative strategy, but helped in implementing it. By taking a different approach, the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions surprised their opponents and neutralised their cavalry.

As a leader, the Prophet (PBUH) created a culture where people can suggest ideas without fear of rejection or disparagement. He let his companions take ownership of the challenging situation by involving them in the decision making process. The Prophet (PBUH) and his companions were also open to learn from the experiences of others and adapt them to their advantage.  Above all, they strongly believed in their mission.

This kind of culture welcomes initiative and nurtures independent thinking which are critical elements of unleashing creativity and developing a creative mindset.

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One Comment → “Developing a creative mindset”

  1. Abdul Kareem

    5 years ago

    Jazakallah khairan Dr. Yacine Benayoune for the wonderful article on creativity and providing an Islamic perspective to it.


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