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Professional Experiences Abroad Make You More Creative

FLI working abroad

Professional work experiences abroad can be a critical catalyst for creativity and innovation within an organisation, according to new research from management researchers at INSEAD and Columbia Business School. The research, published in the Academy of Management Journal: ‘Fashion With A Foreign Flair: Professional Experiences Abroad Facilitate The Creative Innovations Of Organizations,’ involved the analysis of 11 years of fashion collections from 270 of the world’s top fashion houses to determine the effect of creative directors’ foreign work experience on their collections’ creativity ratings.

In today’s interconnected world, professional experiences abroad have become fundamental to organisational life. “Experiences in foreign countries are key drivers of novel ideas”, notes Professor William Maddux. “Lab studies show that multicultural experiences have a positive effect on individuals’ creativity”, he continues. Despite this, all too often companies see overseas work experience of their executives as both expensive and not necessary.

For the first time, this research assessed the real-life impact of professional experiences overseas and creativity and found a positive correlation between the two.

Examining different dimensions of executive foreign work experience, INSEAD professors Frédéric C. Godart, William W. Maddux, Andrew V. Shipilov and Columbia Business School professor Adam D. Galinsky found that they all had a positive impact on creativity. In particular, they examined the foreign work experiences of the creative directors of the world’s top fashion houses, and how these experiences were related to the creativity of fashion collections produced.

When examining the number of countries creative directors worked in, the total time spent working outside their home country, and the ‘cultural distance’ to which they are exposed in their current positions, the authors found that moderate or high levels of work experience abroad was associated with more creative fashion collections produced. “The findings show that there is an optimal level of cross-cultural experiences: moderate cross-cultural experience is great for creativity, but when an individual moves too much around the world or accepts a working assignment in the country that is culturally very different from what she is used to, then this person’s creativity will suffer”, shares INSEAD professors Frédéric C. Godart.

Commenting on why the professors chose to examine the fashion industry, Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Business at Columbia Business School and Adam D. Galinsky said: “The fashion industry is a one-trillion dollar machine and the success of individual brands depends on keeping the engine of creativity running smoothly. Our findings could prove useful to not only the world’s leading fashion brands but companies more generally when they’re assessing what their next executives should bring to the table”.

While the research looked specifically at the fashion industry, the results have broad implications for managers accepting job opportunities overseas, firms looking to hire managers with foreign experiences and states designing mobility programmes and dealing with diasporas. INSEAD’s professor Andrew Shipilov concludes: “Creativity is the driver of growth for companies and individuals in the 21st century. Professional foreign assignments are the surest way to become creative, and fashion industry understands that. Companies in other industries also should value executives’ foreign experiences and promote them through global talent mobility programmes.”

For more information on the study, please visit:

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