Increasing Creativity

I’m always on the lookout for general business news and research that seems relevant to the video game industry, and there was some good stuff in the latest issue of MIT Sloan Management Review. In particular, let me draw your attention to Is Creativity a Foreign Concept?

To summarize: a team of researchers from INSEAD and Kellogg conducted a series of tests on graduate students who had and had not lived abroad for a significant period of time (at least six months). They found that having spent time abroad increased the chances of finding innovative solutions to tricky problems. An even bigger boost was demonstrated by students who had lived abroad for at least two or three years. From the article:

These findings imply that companies can get the most out of their teams by rotating employees to new regions or by emphasizing foreign-living experiences in the hiring process. It is also likely that immersion in different cultures, not necessarily different nations, is the important factor; the more diverse the culture, the better. “If you think of culture as a continuum,” Maddux speculates, “the farther you get from your own particular culture, the more creative you’re more likely to get.”

Few industries depend on creativity to the extent that we do. So should multi-national companies like Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft (etc) consider encouraging a percentage of their employees to rotate through their foreign studios for a time? Say, for the duration of a single development project? Employees with families might be less inclined to participate in such a rotational program, but younger hires might really appreciate it. And would this come with other benefits, such as an enhanced understanding of foreign markets, increased ability to “think globally” when designing a video game, etc?

But the final question is: would the benefits (which are arguably difficult to quantify) outweigh the definite, temporary drop in productivity that would result from uprooting employees, supporting them while they adapt to new cultures and languages, etc? And to what extent are the benefits worth favoring prospective employees who have lived abroad vs. those who have not?

I don’t know the answers, but anything that might significantly increase creativity and “global thinking” is worth at least experimenting with. One more reason to be sorry that I didn’t spend a year abroad during college!

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