Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Different strokes

I travel a lot and although air travel has its drawbacks, as you will know if you follow KRConnect, it has one great advantage – it's an amazing portal to new experiences. I always love those first moments when you arrive in a new place, that brief window where everything looks strange and different and more vivid than everyday reality. Ok, it soon normalizes, but the first time you lay eyes on Marrakech or walk through the glass canyons of downtown New York...unforgettable. In many ways, this flash of the new is something that people who live in countries other than their own get in small doses all the time. If you don’t share the same assumptions of culture and experience as most of the people you mix with, life can be that much more surprising and stimulating.

I’ve lived in a handful of countries in my life (U.K., France, U.S., Canada, Morocco, Switzerland, Cyprus, New Zealand, Australia) and each one has been invigorating and life-changing. I’m not saying that homebodies don’t have their own delights, but living in other people’s countries is something truly special.

There’s nothing better than reading heavy duty research confirming what you think. The Insead business school in Fontainebleau in France and the Kellogg School of Management in Chicago did the honors for me this time. Their study tested creativity in two groups of students in the United States: one of American-born students and the other of students who were visiting from elsewhere. The test they devised was kind of ingenious – you can try it for yourself.

First get a candle, six matches, and a box of drawing pins. The test is to attach the candle to a cardboard wall so that no wax drips on the floor when the candle is lit. Check out the solution at the end of this post.

The results were fascinating. For those of us tasked with finding the best creative talent in the world, a revelation. Only 42 percent of the students who had not lived abroad solved the problem. On the other hand, 60 percent of the foreign students got it sorted. There was also work done on creative negotiating skills, with similar results. Now you may be thinking that this is all very well but it probably only means that creative people are more likely to travel. Not so. It turns out that being in a different culture simply makes you more creative. We’re not talking a quick whip through in a tour bus here, but serious, long-term residency. So our efforts to encourage our people, particularly creatives, to work in agencies in different parts of the world are well directed. A classic reminder to think local and act global.

And the candle puzzle? Pin the box to the wall and use it as a candle holder to stop the wax dripping.