If you're sitting there staring blankly at your computer screen, feeling less than inspired, the best thing you can do for yourself, apparently, is to take a vacation.
And I'm not talking about the lying-out-on-the-beach type of vacation, no — it's not relaxation you need. In order to really get your creative juices flowing, you need a real, lengthy cultural immersion — like, for example, living with the fishermen at that same beach.
Apparently, new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations stimulate different synapses in the brain and may very well have the ability to invigorate the mind.
“Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms,” Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School and the author of multiple studies on the relationship between creativity and international travel, told The Atlantic.
For Galinsky’s most recent study, published last month in the Academy of Management Journal, he and his team examined 11 years of collections of the world's top 270 fashion houses.
They found that that when the creative directors in the fashion industry had lived abroad, they tended produce much more creative fashion lines — as rated by fashion buyers and journalists — than those who hadn't.
The authors say that the study is the first time anyone has demonstrated the positive correlation between professional experiences overseas and creativity.
But the study “shows that people who live abroad — rather than just travel abroad — and adapt and engage with other cultures have more creativity and more complexities of thought, which leads to professional successes." In other words, one must truly immerse him or herself in the foreign lifestyle — instead of living a segregated ex-pat lifestyle — in order to reap these benefits.
According to INSEAD associate professor William Maddux, one of the study’s co-authors, Karl Lagerfeld is a prime example of this phenomenon. Born to a German mother and a Swedish father, Maddux says, Lagerfeld lives in France and often travels between Italy and France in a single day. And he's flipped the fashion world on its head multiple times with his creative genius.
But, plot twist: The researchers found that the more countries the executives had lived in, the more creative the lines tended to be — but only up to a point.
“The findings show that there is an optimal level of cross-cultural experiences: moderate cross-cultural experience is great for creativity, but when an individual moves too much around the world or accepts a working assignment in the country that is culturally very different from what she is used to, then this person’s creativity will suffer," said INSEAD professor and co-author Frédéric C. Godart, in a press release. But the negative effects of pinballing from country to country could be reversed if professionals had enough time in one place to fully submerge themselves in its culture.
So, if you're going to travel somewhere to expand your mind, don't just hang with people you're already comfortable with. Meet new people, taste new things, and learn some phrases in new language. And if foreign travel is just not feasible for you right now, then go explore a new neighborhood. Sometimes, the simplest change in scenery is just what we need for a little inspiration.
(h/t The Atlantic)