Multicultural influences boost creativity

A recurring theme from speaking to some the UK’s top PR creatives as part of our forthcoming Creativity in PR Study with the Holmes Report, is a need for mixing things up a bit. Some wanted to add a little spice by borrowing from the ad agency model of using multiple smaller teams; just as many thought that a diversity of talent was the key to a fantastic creative melting pot.

Few would argue with the basic theory that experimenting with different things and trying something new is a good idea, and there are multiple studies to back it up. One of the more unusual I’ve seen was conducted at the Singapore Management University. In order to see if exposure to multiculturalism affected creativity, Associate Professor Angela Leung at the University’s School Of Social Sciences showed undergrads one of three 45-minute multimedia slide-shows. The first was laden with images of one single culture, such as hamburgers and the Statue of Liberty, representing, of course, the USA. The second showed dual cultures with a mixture of American and Chinese images while the third set of slides were a “fusion of cultures” – a bit of everything.

She then tested the students’ creative output and came to the conclusion that participants showed better creative skills when they had looked at either the dual or multi-cultural slides. More importantly, she claimed that the “spark” lasted for up to seven days. “Perhaps the exposure to separate cultures gave them the space to engage in cognitive juxtaposition of the ideas from the respective cultures,” said Leung. “When they seek to actively compare and contrast the presented cultures, they delve deeper into the different cultural representations and receive more creative inspirations.”

Could something like this be a way to liven up your next round of creative thinking? Instead of reaching for your normal bag of stimuli, what would a little Japanese influence or a sprinkling of Russian culture bring to the party? Would a look at Malaysia’s top viral videos or an Italian cookery blog subconsciously unlock a slightly more wide-ranging way of thinking?

Sometimes random creative stimuli is dismissed as it probably all sounds a bit “out there” (OK, yes, a bit “try hard”, too). But if the evidence is there – why not try it? What’s the worst that can happen?!

An easier fix might be to encourage employees to attend events that embody different cultures. Quite a few teams pay for staff to go to gigs and exhibitions – might these extracurricular freebies be more beneficial still if they brought the furthermost corners of the world back to the office, too?

At the very least it’s worth considering how truly diverse your creative teams are – creativity thrives on diversity – of experience, age, geography, beliefs, ways of thinking.

Incidentally, one of the creative tasks that the students were asked to look at was coming up with new ways to use a bin bag. This is a version of a classic creativity test called the Torrance Test. It’s fun and something easily replicated, using an equally mundane object. Thinking just for the sake of thinking and pleasantly free from any kind of pressure might just remind you and the rest of the team that you’re more creative than you sometimes think you are. And maybe a refreshing change from goal-driven ‘big thinking’ on behalf of a client, too. You can read the full original study here.

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