Artists and writers are famous for packing up and moving abroad when the creative block becomes too much. Doodling in Parisian cafes and going for long walks on the streets of Prague seem like the dream prescription for stimulating your imagination. But can living in another country actually make you more creative? According to a new study from Columbia Business School, it just might. The study looked at collections from over 270 fashion houses and creative directors who had spent time living abroad. Based on certain rankings that fashion buyers and journalists gave to those fashion houses, the researchers were able to conclude that when the creative directors lived abroad, they tended to be more creative.
This isn’t the only study that has suggested a link between living abroad and creativity. Another from the American Psychological Association showed that people who actually live abroad — as opposed to people who just travel — are able to engage with other cultures, which can lead to more creativity, flexible thinking and professional success. So no, sorry, that beach vacation probably won’t significantly boost your creativity, although a change of scenery is always a good idea if you need a new perspective on a project.
Before you start planning your move halfway across the world, it is interesting to note that not every expat experience has the same creative-enhancing effect. Researchers found that if people had lived in multiple countries with extremely different cultures, they did not experience an increase in creativity. If you’re bouncing around too many countries, you can’t adjust and absorb the local culture, so you don’t receive the full benefits of being an expat. Also, expats who tended to only mingle with other expats didn’t come away with the same open-minded experience. Professor William Maddux, the lead author of the study, said: “In order to widen their creative abilities, it seems that people have to really try and fit into a different environment, and learn how to do things in a totally different way.”
As someone who has lived in London over the past six months, I can definitely see the merits of being an expat and how living abroad could make you more creative. Living abroad forces you to see a new way of doing things. The number one suggestion for beating creative block is to get a fresh point of view and tackle the problem from a new angle. When you live abroad, new angles are constantly presented, even when you wish they weren’t. Like when all you want is a good cup of coffee, but you’re a few thousand miles away from your favorite local hangout.
The great thing about this study is that companies might start rethinking what they are looking for in new hires. Since creativity and innovation are ranked as highly valued traits in employees, companies may start placing more value in people who have experience living and working in other countries, meaning that it’s time to start adding “travel” to your resume.
Have you ever lived abroad? What do you think travel has taught you about creativity? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
(h/t Wall Street Journal)