A Top Psychologist Told Us Why People Who Work Abroad Are More Creative
Like on the other side of the world.
According to Adam Grant, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist and author of the new book “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World”, working abroad has startling effects for creativity.
“Cultures come with new norms and values and ways of looking at things,” he tells Tech Insider.
“Any time you have a problem, you have an extra set of resources at your disposal to say, America has taught me to think about it this way,” he says. “However, if we were to go to Chile, here’s how I would look at a problem while I’m there,”
When you work abroad — rather than living abroad or going on vacation — you’re forced to immerse yourself in a culture. Which, Grant says, give you “proxies for biculturalism.”
Beyond the anecdotes of artists and writers living romantically abroad — like Ernest Hemingway in Paris or Paul Gaugain in Tahiti — recent research has found that people who have lived abroad are indeed more creative.
A 2009 study found that people who lived abroad excelled at creative problem solving and a 2008 meta-analysis found that multicultural experiences predict original thinking — for example, by bringing in ideas from foreign cultures .
And a 2015 study of fashion houses over 21 seasons found that the most creatively successful firms (as rated by critics) had directors who had immersed themselves in work abroad.
Take Karl Lagerfeld. The fashion icon who once said he’d like to be a “one man
multinational fashion phenomenon” was born in Germany to a Swedish father and commutes between Italy and France for work.
The expat creativity research falls in line with all the research that’s found how personal diversity facilites creativity. Studies indicate that immigrants are more likely to be highly creative than people who grew up in one country, and bilingual people show higher creativity than people who only speak one language.
Since so much of creativity is seeing old things in new combinations, the perspectives provided by immersing yourself in a foreign culture help you arrive at the new.
“Juxtaposing these two different worldviews lets you come up with new possibilities,” Grant says.