“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” (Henry Miller)
I spent last week travelling around Switzerland. Highly recommended if you like a joined-up transport system and changes of language. The Son has been living out there for the past seven months and in that time has become a fount of knowledge about the fastest, easiest and cheapest ways to get around, how to negotiate the ticket machines, and the quirky local language (having learnt German many moons ago, I discovered a whole new gap in my knowledge when it comes to understanding the Swiss variation). The Son has learnt an enormous amount in a very short time, and according to some recent research, it could be that living abroad could help him think more creatively.
In their 2009 study, researchers Maddux and Galinksy found a consistent relationship between living abroad and creativity across a number of different measures (including insight, association and generation). It seems that spending time embedded in a different culture from our own forces us to tolerate a degree of ambiguity. Doing things differently allows us to see that ours is not the only way, and opens up our minds to accommodate multiple perspectives. Suddenly we are all at sea: we don’t know how things work and what’s the right thing to say or do. In his travel writing, Bill Bryson is constantly surprised and bemused to discover how alien he feels in the places he visits.
This ability to handle whatever life in a foreign country throws at us must surely mark out ‘ex pats’ as some of the most creative groups around. Similarly, those leaders who can harness the diversity of multi-cultural teams and make them work (sometimes a big ask) are likely to be rewarded with some truly innovative thinking. Understanding difference and adapting are the critical factors here. Continuing the (understandable) quest for the full English breakfast and a large mug of PG Tips may not be the most helpful way forward.
As a student, I spent a year living in Germany at the same age The Son is now. Perhaps I hadn’t appreciated just how much the experience teaches you. However, having moved around from hotel to hotel last week, I had to smile when I came across this quote:
“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” (Lin Yutang)