Why a Summer Vacation Might Lead to Your Next Business Breakthrough
Other studies in scientific journals have confirmed the link between getting away and thinking more creatively. Cultural Borders and Mental Barriers: The Relationship Between Living Abroad and Creativity, co-written by business professors William Maddux of Insead in Fontainebleau, France, and Adam Galinsky of Northwestern University and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, concluded that people who had lived in a foreign country were more likely to be creative problem-solvers.
The authors designed five studies, each with a different measure of creativity. (One study rated how well test subjects handled a tricky one-on-one negotiation; for another, test subjects were asked to draw a picture of an alien creature.) The more subjects had adapted to a foreign culture -- learning the language, making friends with locals -- the more creative they tended to be. Intriguingly, simply asking subjects to recall their past experiences abroad was enough to increase their creativity temporarily, by taking them mentally out of their present circumstances.
As the authors wrote: "It may be that those critical months or years of turning cultural bewilderment into concrete understanding may instill not only the ability to 'think outside the box' but also the capacity to realize that the box is more than a simple square."
Another study, Lessons from a Faraway Land: The Effect of Spatial Distance on Creative Cognition, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology by researchers at Indiana University, found that test subjects showed more creativity in problem-solving when they thought the test they were given was designed far away, rather than close to home. In other words, just thinking about a distant place made them more creative. The same phenomenon has been demonstrated with time distances: If a person thinks an event is not likely to happen, or will happen in the far-off future, they will be more creative when describing it.
The common thread between all this research is clear: The more we immerse ourselves in new, unfamiliar experiences, the more creative we can be. Vacations force us out of the everyday, allowing our brains to spark with ideas.
Now if only we could write off a trip to Italy as a business expense.