What does it take to be creative?

What does it take to be creative?

Most people think creativity is what you do in art and design, dancing and singing.

They also think creativity is a special talent of gifted people.

That is nonsense. 

Creativity can come from anyone who addresses issues or problems in an inventive way.

Farmers who find a better way to get things done, a cheaper way, a more productive way, are applying creative thinking.

The entrepreneur who creates a new business, the engineer who designs a new highway, the architect who conceives a new building, and the accountant who devises a new solution also are involved in creative work.

The minute you think to arrive at a solution, you are already engaged in the creative process.

It is extraordinary creativity that leads to great inventions and innovation. These are people who are not just creative but who are motivated and highly committed enough to be relentless in their pursuits to achieve the outcome that they strive for.

To be creative is not a guarantee of success. One still needs to endeavour with sincerity and focus.

Creative people who achieve success also will have the patience to ensure all the preparations necessary to pursue their purpose are put in place.

That is because the creative process is and ought to be a systematic and logical process.

People incorrectly think creativity must come out of a moment of inspiration.

That is absolutely not true. Was it not Thomas Edison, the great inventor, who said, “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration”?

A creative idea, like the architectural design of a building, has to be carefully developed and thought through in a thoroughly disciplined manner. It must start with a clear purpose, a carefully determined blueprint.

Like a building, it will collapse if there are no strong pillars.

Ancient Asian civilisations led the way

It is often said that being inventive or innovative is not part of the Malaysian culture.

It is said that the Asian tradition of subservience and conformity is incompatible with the culture of creative thinking, which often is about changing.

It is also said that as people who adhere strictly to religious teaching, thinking creatively goes against the grain.

It is said that, as Asians, we have a cultural inclination to blend in and not be heard or seen.

Sure, we can think of a hundred reasons why we must not think.

Now could this be our problem – not wanting to think? Let’s all think about it.

Let’s now think about this.

The Muslim world of the Middle-East gave us something we continue to use to this day – soap – because of the religion’s emphasis on hygiene.

Soap was manufactured in the Middle East for centuries before the West knew about it.

Muslims invented algebra and worked out the angle of the tilt of the earth. They built the first windmill, pioneered the concept of the crank rod and designed the first ever torpedo.

Muslim creativity also led to numerous other inventions that are still in use today, hundreds of years later.

Their pursuit of knowledge led them to build the world’s largest libraries which they simply called ‘houses of wisdom’.

The Chinese invented paper around the year 105 CE.

Gutenberg is officially credited with inventing the printing press in the 1440s. But the Chinese created a type of printing press long before that – around 200 BCE. By 1000 CE, the Chinese had introduced books to replace scrolls – a good 450 years ahead of Gutenberg.

Five years ago, when the massive Indian Ocean earthquake spawned a catastrophic tsunami, we all learned of its power based on the Richter scale, which was invented in 1935. But in 132 CE, the Chinese developed the first earthquake sensor, 600 years ahead of the first western sensor from France.

The Chinese also invented the suspension bridge, gun powder and the first steam propelled cart hundreds of years before the first steam-propelled engine car was built in the West.

And well before Texas Instruments, China had developed the first calculator – the abacus.

The Indians were weaving cotton and wearing comfortable cotton attires 3,500 years before the West got to know about it. The Indians invented the spinning wheel, of course – something the Europeans did not catch up with until the Middle Ages.

The world’s first planned cities were found in India. Every house had its own bathroom and toilet 5,000 years ago! This list goes on.

The ancient civilisations that developed across Asia were leaders of innovative thinking and inventive creativity for thousands of years.

So all these reasons for being Asian and therefore not thinking can only come from people who do not do much thinking at all.

Success depends on innovative administration

Whether we like it or not, today global competition is all about the power of thinking, the power of creativity. The last decade was about technology.

Innovative thinking has no boundaries, and it respects no borders. It can bridge the digital divide as much as it can level the globalisation playing field.

It can come from the slums in the poorest parts of Asia, or from the most sophisticated labs in innovation leaders like Japan and South Korea. It certainly can come from Malaysia.

For the private sector, innovation comes naturally. It is driven by competition and must innovate to increase productivity, improve quality, build new markets and expand market share.

But how innovative the country can become depends on the people who run its administration.

Success in innovation will require a bureaucracy that is itself creative.

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About Tan Sri Lim

Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Paduka Dr Lim Kok Wing, the Founder and President of Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, does not fit into any ordinary mould that would describe most entrepreneurs.

His journey has been closely linked with the economic and social development of Malaysia.

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A Malaysian, Pua Khein-Seng, co-founded Phison Electronics Corp, a multi-billion dollar listed Taiwanese company that developed the world’s first USB flash removable disk, which became known as the pen drive.

StarBizWeek September 2009

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