Archive for the month “February, 2013”

Creative Thinking for Productive Muslims (Part 2)

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In this second and last part of the series about creative thinking, you’ll read more about habits that get in the way of your creativity, and more practical tips about developing your creative thinking skills.

Road blocks on the path to creative thinking

Creative thinking can be a positive, productive and rewarding habit. It’s a potential as well as a responsibility that we have been given by our Creator, one that we should use with the well-being and progress of the Ummah in mind:

“It is He Who has made you (His) vicegerents, inheritors of the earth: He has raised you in ranks, some above others: that He may try you in the gifts He has given you: for your Lord is quick in punishment: yet He is indeed Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Qur’an, 6:165)

But as with building most positive habits, there can be thoughts or attitudes that get in your way. You can experience these blocks individually, but unfortunately some of them have also climbed the career ladder up high in our Ummah. Let’s look at some major road blocks:

Negative attitude towards creativity. Some people feel that creative thinking opposes logic by default. Or that it’s just a waste of time, like daydreaming. Often, even the way education is approached, kills creativity, natural curiosity and innovation. I hope the previous part helped clear some of these misunderstandings about creative thinking and highlighted its benefits.

Imitation. Doing something because others do it. It feels safe to be part of a herd, but if there ever was an antithesis to creative thinking, it would be imitation. Why are you afraid of what others think when you don’t conform? Remember that in the end, all that matters is the satisfaction of Allah, not that of the people.

Not paying attention. Being continually busy can prevent you from noticing what happens around us, or being genuinely involved in your activities. You can’t be innovative and productive when you simply go through the motions of our everyday lives like a robot. Take some time everyday to slow down and reflect.

Fear of failure. What if your ideas turn out to be a total flop? Nothing and nobody is perfect, except your Creator. Failures are to be expected and accepted in life, and as long as your intentions are sincere, they can be taken as an opportunity to learn and be humble, patient and grateful.

Some more ideas and techniques to keep you going

You’ve already looked at some tips to get started in the first part of this article, and here are some more ideas and techniques on how to keep up the habit of creative thinking:

1. Recognize your road blocks. Analyze yourself and be honest. Which of the blocks that I described earlier keep you from thinking creatively? Write it down, or, even better, use the mind mapping technique that I described in the first part to come up with solutions.

2. Make time and space in your life for creative thinking. Make a small ‘creativity corner’ somewhere in your home or office. Stock it with books and resources that inspire you. Or dedicate a specific time to creative thinking, a time without disturbances or distractions. Use your space and/or time for reading, scribbling, doodling or just playing around with you ideas. Don’t expect too much, the idea is to let your creativity flow and see where it gets you.

3. Have a notebook ready. Ideas, thoughts and observations don’t always come to you at your desk. Make sure you carry a small notebook with you and use it to write them down wherever you are.

4. Do some creative thinking games. There are a lot of fun games or exercises for creative thinking that don’t have to take a lot of time. For example this one: Pick a random word and try to come up with at least ten ways of how this word relates to your life. Or play a board game and change the rules. You could try to invent a new secret code and use it to write a message. Optical illusions, word puzzles and brain teasers are also great and there are a lot of them available, online or in newspapers or magazines.

5. Unplug. We’re all guilty of it: spending a lot of time behind a screen, whether it’s a computer screen, TV screen, or your iPad. At its best, this habit distracts you, and, at its worst, it clutters and dulls your mind to such an extent that creative and innovative thoughts are blocked. Pull out the plugs regularly for a couple of hours and see your creativity and productivity flourish.

6. Go outside. Being outside in nature is not only a great Iman-booster and stress-reliever, it is also linked to increased creative thinking and problem solving skills. So, take a walk in the woods or in the park, spend some time at the beach or any other place in nature, and feel relaxed, refreshed and inspired!

As this is the end of the series about creative thinking and how you, as a Productive Muslim can benefit from it, I hope you feel inspired enough to start applying the tips in your life from now inshallah.


Creative Thinking for Productive Muslims (Part 1)

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Why you as a productive Muslim can benefit from creative thinking and how to develop your creative potential.

In the first part of this series, you will read about the background and the benefits of creative thinking as well as some tips about how you can start tapping into your creativity.

Your creative potential

Many people link creativity to art. It’s true that artistic expression is one form of creativity, but there’s so much more to creativity than painting, sculpture, or writing poetry. We as humans have been given the gift of thinking and understanding, something which Allah often mentions in the Qur’an.

And your Lord inspired the bee, saying, ‘take your habitations in the mountains and in the trees, and in what they erect.’. Then eat of all fruits, and follow the ways of your Lord made easy, there comes forth from within their bellies a drink of varying color, wherein is healing for men. Verily in this is a sign for people who think” (16: 68- 69).

“Thus Allah makes clear His Ayat to you, in order that you may understand” (2: 242).

Using this God-given gift of thinking in a creative way means to use our faculties and skills to come to something original and beneficial, whether it is a solution to a problem, an idea or theory, or a way of doing something. Everyone has the capacity to be creative, in one way or another. When we think creatively, we are open to new ideas and information and we try to see things from different perspectives.

Creative thinking benefits you in many ways. It boosts your problem solving skills and can help you to be more productive and build good habits. It gives self-confidence and, as it deepens your understanding of the world around you, it can also deepen your connection to the ultimate Creator.

Our creative legacy

The history of Islam is full of beautiful examples of creative thinking. In fact, great things have been achieved by means of people’s willingness to be creative and innovative and carve out new paths. Many of these Muslim pioneers still hold a very special place in our hearts. Think about Imam Malik. Think about Ibn Sina and Ibn al Haitham. And when we look at the seerah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad we will find examples too. At one time, the Prophet (saws) came up with a very creative solution when he was called to mediate between the different tribe leaders who were rebuilding the Ka’aba and arguing about who should put the black stone in its place. He settled the matter by letting all four leaders hold a corner of the cloak on which he had placed the black stone. And then his readiness to accept Salman al Farsi’s suggestion to dig trenches when they were besieged by their enemies, a strategy unknown to the Arabs, also shows us our Prophet’s openness to new ideas and solutions.

Where to start: tips to get you on the road

Where can you start when you feel that your creative thinking skills are buried under thick layers of dust? Here are some simple steps to help you reconnect with your creative thinking potential:

1. Be confident that you have the capacity to think creatively. This is a very important first step. There are many people who think that creativity is something for geniuses or truly inspired people. Or that creativity isn’t something you can develop; you either have it or you don’t. Be confident in the fact that it’s a potential with which all human beings are blessed, including you.

2. Read about creative thinking and creative people. Knowledge often works inspiring and reading about creative thinking may get you inspired and increase your confidence at the same time. Some experts who have authored multiple books about creative thinking are, for example, Edward de Bono, Michael Michalko, and Roger Von Oech. These books focus on how creative thinking works, what types of creative thinking there are, and how you can cultivate your skills to benefit you:

“Creative thinking is not a talent, it is a skill that can be learnt. It empowers people by adding strength to their natural abilities which improves teamwork, productivity and, where appropriate, profits.” (Edward de Bono)

3. Mind mapping. A great technique to start with because generating ideas and making associations are at the base of creative thinking. Mind mapping is a free-association technique that can be used for ideas, making a plan or solving a problem. You place an image, which represents the subject, in the middle of a piece of paper. Then draw thick branches flowing out from the picture for the main associations, smaller sub-branches for further associations, and so forth. Make it as visual as possible, using vivid colors and pictures. Don’t add more than one or two words per branch, because the more words you use for description, the more you limit your associations

4. Break your routine. Sometimes it can be helpful to change your routine to get a fresh perspective on things. Take a completely different route to work or college, for example. Buy your food at a different supermarket, or why not go to the market instead? Start your meal with the dessert, or browse a different section of the library. There are many opportunities to do some of your routines differently and let a fresh wind blow through your day.

In the second part of this series, I will talk about habits and thought patterns that block you from thinking creatively, and, of course, more practical tips to keep you going.

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