A study a few years ago by the American Psychological Association found an interesting relationship between increased creativity and living overseas. Students in various business schools were evaluated using common tests for creativity, and the more overseas experience they had, the more creative they tended to be.
It was not totally clear from the study which leads to which. That is, does living abroad help develop creativity, or are creative people simply more likely to try living overseas?
But it seems likely that those who have lived overseas have had a chance to sharpen their creative skills. First, by living in another culture they have been exposed to new ideas and different ways of thinking. Creatives with a stronger foundation like that are in a better position to develop new ideas for you that set you apart from your competitors. Second, they have learned how to adapt, and that ability to fit into a new culture will help them as they take on diverse projects for you. Lastly, they have realized there is not just one way of thinking out there…even if they were raised in a pretty homogeneous environment, their experiences overseas have helped them see new ways of addressing familiar issues, and helped them realize they do not always have the right, or the only, answer. There are probably plenty of other advantages to this sort of background.
This can help you when you’re recruiting new employees. The study’s authors wrote:
Knowing that experiences abroad are critical for creative output makes study abroad programs and job assignments in other countries that much more important, especially for people and companies that put a premium on creativity and innovation.
The end result is that, regardless of which way the causality arrow is pointing, looking for employees with overseas experience can help you identify those with a stronger creative bent.
So as you are hiring, and looking for people who can help your organization be more innovative, spend some time looking for people with some living experience outside the country. Maybe they had a job somewhere else. Maybe they went to university overseas. Maybe their parents worked for an MNC and they spent part of their childhood growing up in another culture.
Perhaps you should take your job search outside the country. 6% of Singaporeans live outside the country; how about trying to attract some of them back? 20% of Malaysian university graduates leave to work somewhere else; their experiences could be very useful to you if you can bring them home. A recent report noted that 10% of Filipinos work overseas, and despite the economic impact of remittances, it is the host country that gets the bigger boost; what if you could bring that productivity, and that overseas exposure, back home? If people have gone to work in another country, they could add a lot to your organization if you can get them to come back and bring that experience with them.
Of course, if you are going to look for people with this kind of background, then once you get them you need to take full advantage of it. But that is a discussion for another time.