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“It’s not sheer exposure to other cultures that helps spur creative development, but the psychological connections one makes among multiple cultures.” — study co-author Adam Galinsky, the Morris and Alice Kaplan Professor of Ethics and Decision in Management

“Your passion is a major source of others’ inspiration,” Professor Adam Galinsky told the students. “You cannot inspire others if you yourself are not inspired.”

Of two minds

Those who learn to embrace two cultures experience the greatest benefits from living abroad, new Kellogg School research finds

8/14/2012 - Is living abroad as sound an investment in a person’s creative and professional success as many people suggest? A new study from the Kellogg School points out that the answer is not a simple “yes” or “no.”

The study finds that the act of simply living abroad may do nothing to enhance creativity and professional success. Rather, the rewards of foreign exposure depend on one’s ability to integrate the new culture with the old one. The study was co-authored by Adam Galinsky, the Morris and Alice Kaplan Professor of Ethics and Decision in Management at the Kellogg School, Carmit Tadmor of Tel Aviv University and William Maddux of INSEAD.

The authors called the tendency to identify with the culture of a host country while maintaining identification with one’s home culture “bicultural identification.”

“The ability to simultaneously identify with both one’s host and home cultures and the resulting capacity for complex thinking may be a key to translating foreign experiences abroad into a tangible toolbox that bolsters one’s creative ability and professional skill to the highest level,” the authors wrote.

‘Integrative complexity’
A key driver of creative and professional success is “integrative complexity.” This information-processing tendency is related to one’s capacity and willingness to acknowledge the legitimacy of competing perspectives on the same issue and to forge conceptual links among these perspectives. The researchers found that it was bicultural identification while living abroad that was a key determinant of whether this capacity develops.

“The study underscores the idea that it’s not sheer exposure to other cultures that helps spur creative development, but the psychological connections one makes among multiple cultures,” noted Galinsky.

Tadmor, Galinsky and Maddux conducted three experiments to determine the impact of bicultural identification when living abroad. In the first and second experiments, the researchers tested participants, all of whom had lived abroad, on their levels of creativity and innovation by using problem-solving tasks and written assignments.

Participants were given two minutes to write down as many creative uses they could think of for a brick, as well as measure the number of businesses, products and processes participants had created during their careers.

Galinsky and his co-authors found that participants who identified with both their host culture and their home culture consistently demonstrated more fluency, flexibility and novelty on the creative-uses task and produced more innovations at work than did participants who identified with either the old or new culture but not both.

Heightened creative and professional success
The third experiment extended their findings to general professional outcomes. The researchers surveyed 100 Israeli professionals and found that bicultural professionals achieved higher promotion rates and more positive reputations. Importantly, across all three studies, the authors found that bicultural identification allowed people to notice and integrate diverse perspectives and this capacity is what led to their greater creative and professional success.

“Living abroad gives the opportunity for individuals to enhance creativity and integrative complexity, but taking a bicultural approach while abroad may be the key to producing lasting cognitive changes and psychological benefits,” the authors wrote. “Thus it seems that although living abroad matters, it is how one approaches that experience that adds critical explanatory value.”

The study, “Getting the Most out of Living Abroad: Biculturalism and Integrative Complexity as Key Drivers of Creative and Professional Success,” is forthcoming in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.