The people we surround ourselves with tend to inspire us. They influence our taste and color our opinions, often enriching our views by providing a perspective that’s unlike our own. These shared perceptions make it easy to see the great benefit of diverse relationships and how they boost our creativity both personally and professionally.
It’s more than just a feeling. The connection between our ideas and the people with whom we have relationships is real. And while the familiar may be were we’re the most comfortable, it’s when we expose ourselves to people and cultures, we don’t know that we thrive the most creatively. Studies have found that these moments where our views and experiences intersect with others help us create and think outside the box.
What is the Edge Effect?
The edge effect is an ecological concept which describes a greater diversity of life in the regions where two different ecosystems overlap. Known as ecotones, these transition areas are places where species from either of the adjacent ecosystems can easily live and thrive. But is here too where new life that is completely unique to these combined environments is created. Life that can’t be found anywhere else.
A similar thing happens when we think about us and the deep connections we form with people from other cultures or, on a smaller scale, those who have different backgrounds and views than our own. These collaborations and their diversity become the perfect environment for innovation and creativity to happen. For possibilities that could only blossom as a result of those unique and diverse relationships.
Meeting of Strangers Proves Diverse Relationships Make a Difference
The cellist Yo-Yo Ma decided to answer the question by creating the Silk Road Ensemble, an “innovative experiment” involving different world-class musicians from all over the world. Silk Road “creates music that engages difference, sparking radical cultural collaboration and passion-driven learning for a more hopeful and inclusive world.” It achieves this by mixing sounds as different as the Galician bagpipes and the Chinese yangqin. The result is as beautiful as it is unlikely and unique.
These musicians have created a fusion of music which works as a reminder of the extraordinary things that can be found in these diverse alliances. Of all the beauty that can happen when each of their specific backgrounds and fields learn to harmonize with each other to create something new. The ensemble has seven albums, including their Grammy winning Sing Me Home.
Diverse Relationships Boost Our Creativity
Adam Galinsky, a professor of business at Columbia Business School, found that people who have been involved with someone from another country become more creative and do better in routine creativity tests that those who haven’t. According to Galinsky, “there’s something about deeply understanding and learning about another culture that’s transformative.”
Through a couple of studies, Galinsky and his colleagues found not only that intercultural romantic relationships made students more creative, but that even looking back on having had that kind of deep connection with someone from another country can spark an enhancement in their creativity. It wasn’t just about being with someone from a different culture, but their willingness to immerse themselves and truly learn about it. Casual friendships won’t do, since a deep understanding of another culture is a key part of expanding your creativity.
Increased Creativity at Work
Engaging with people from other cultures has a transformational effect in how we view the world, but it also impacts the way we relate to the world and our work. According to a study that surveyed people who worked in the United States between two months or three years, the more they kept in touch with their American friends and colleagues, the more ambitious and risk-taking they proved to be once they returned to their home country.
Additionally, companies are beginning to find that their more diverse teams tend to perform better. They are seeing increased creativity and innovation, better problem-solving, higher engagement and a better reputation not only for those involved in the teams, but for the companies and businesses that house them. It’s not just about our friends and partners. Diversity in our professional relationships also boost the collective creativity of a team.
These benefits are readily available in places like the United States, where one can choose to truly engage and learn from people from other cultures and nurture deep connections.
In his Podcast Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantam (the host of the show who inspired this article) considers if perhaps the diversity that exists within the United States may have played a role in being home to around 60% of all Nobel laureates. He likes to think it has. If you’re interested in this and similar topics, subscribe to his amazing podcast.