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Hidden Brain

Creative Differences: The Benefits Of Reaching Out To People Unlike Ourselves

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Nick Shepherd, Getty Images/Ikon Images

There is great comfort in the familiar. It's one reason humans often flock to people who share the same interests, laugh at the same jokes, hold the same political views. But familiar ground may not be the best place to cultivate creativity.

Columbia Business School professor Adam Galinsky has found that people who have deep relationships with someone from another country become more creative and score higher on routine creativity tests.

"There's something about deeply understanding and learning about another culture that's transformative," Adam says.

In one study, Adam and his colleagues tracked business school students during a 10-month MBA program. They tested the students using standard creativity measures at the beginning and end of the school term. They found that students who'd dated someone from another country during the term became more creative. In another study, Adam found that even the simple act of reflecting on one's deep relationship with a person from another country caused a temporary boost in creativity.

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Adam's research outside the lab echoes these findings. In one of Adam's favorite projects, he looked at fashion lines presented by major fashion houses over 21 seasons. He found that the time fashion designers spent immersed in a different culture "predicted their entire fashion line creativity."

Through studies like these and the story of a music ensemble with an unusual sound, we look at the powerful connection between the ideas we dream up and the people who surround us, and what it really takes to think outside the box.

Later in the show, we look at circumstances where considering the perspective of someone with a different background may have great emotional rewards, but is challenging, even perilous. We hear what caused two activists to consider the perspective of their enemies, and what happened when they encouraged others to do the same.

Additional Resources

"Collaborating with People Like Me: Ethnic Coauthorship within the United States" by Richard B. Freeman and Wei Huang in the Journal of Labor Economics

"'Going Out' of the Box: Close Intercultural Friendships and Romantic Relationships Spark Creativity, Workplace Innovation, and Entrepreneurship," by Jackson Lu et. al. in the Journal of Applied Psychology

Friend and Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both by Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer

Cristina Pato's performance at NPR in 2013. (Special thanks to Soundcheck/WNYC for their recording of "Vojo" used in this episode).

Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Jennifer Schmidt, Parth Shah, Rhaina Cohen, Laura Kwerel, Thomas Lu, and Camila Vargas Restrepo. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories each week on your local public radio station.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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