One Class Can Change How You Think

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On the first Friday of Module B, I walked into a class where the professor knew everyone’s name by heart. It was scary at first, and something only one other professor had done. As the class moved on, it was clear that the professor was thoughtful and passionate. He also had a request: to challenge him and the theories he was teaching. This set the tone of the course; we had to think at a deeper level, and really analyze how we ask questions and shape our views.

In class, no perspective was right or wrong, although it was important to back up our views with reasoning and facts. In schools today, students often learn theories that were based on assumptions from decades ago. They are never encouraged to consider the context around a theory like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the professor doesn’t also add: “Maslow thought this way because of a variety of factors rooted in the conditions of his time”—we are just told to accept theories and concepts at face value. Therein, I believe lies the Millennial generation’s biggest weakness.

My professor’s fresh and creative approach to teaching not only gradually changed the way I think, but also my view of academia. In a more traditional environment, class discussions might evolve into something interesting, but without debate, they don’t have impact. My professor required us to give our ideas weight and validity, and it turned out that this also required us to think creatively—there was no other choice. If thinking creatively is so critical, why don’t students get the opportunity to learn it just like any other “core” subject?

Instead, students are taught to follow “the rules,” because they are safe, generate positive results, and make us productivity machines. But this only makes us more mechanical, which in turn makes our lives monotonous, which makes work boring, which doesn’t challenge our intellect, and eventually leaves us frustrated. So we have to ask ourselves: what do we value most—being productive or making space for creativity?

I’m convinced we need both. In my professional experience, I have been a slave to a work process that was about nothing but productivity. Any attempt I made to infuse a level of creativity in any process was not well received by my superiors. In my MBA program, however, my classmates and I are encouraged to stretch the boundaries of our creativity.

But encouraging people to “be more creative” can also be scary because it means changing the way we’ve been taught to think and approach our work. As humans, we generally don’t like change; we like those easy-to-follow rules that prescribe the actions and decisions we should take. Because if we don’t use a standard set of rules, then that means we have to think of creative alternatives, which a majority of us are not used to doing.

In the business world, leaders are motivated by financial results and profitability, which is a result (mainly) of high productivity and quantitative-based selling. Another way to put it: “time is money.” Taking time out to explore creative approaches requires effort before we can translate new ideas into action. It means we have to take a dip in productivity. In today’s day and age—so traditional thinking goes—why do we want to waste time thinking, when we can use that time to produce and increase profitability?

Incorporating more creativity in our processes (at work and in school) doesn’t just require us to step out of our comfort zones—it may also require us to challenge our superiors from time to time. But when we back up creative ideas and solutions with reason, we make it easier to be heard, and for others to digest, and accept, our ideas. 

I will be finishing my MBA with a refreshed mind and some very valuable lessons, namely that a manager must always ask questions, question arbitrary rules, and think for himself. A true leader has to understand intercultural differences, barriers in communication, how to overcome them, and lead by example. I have also learned to seek advice if I don’t know something—and not be embarrassed to ask. Most of all, I have learned the importance of my Hult network, why new perspectives, ideas and exchanges are valuable, and why it’s important to be true to myself. There’s also one more thing: never again will I brush aside my streak to be creative.

Vaibhav Rustagi Is an MBA student at Hult London, with 12 years experience in customer service, sales and hospitality. He uses photography and poetry as a form of expression.

Picture courtesy of Filosofias filosoficas

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