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Cultural Intelligence: The New Link to Creativity

davelivermore | April 8th, 2011 2 Comments

My MacBook Pro makes me happy. Really! I’m a happier man because I’m writing this article on my slick Mac. My I-Phone has the same effect on me. And even though I’m loathe to EVER wait in lines, I did exactly that for 3 hours a few weeks ago so I could be among the first to own the latest and greatest I-Pad 2.0. Apple and innovation seem to be pretty much synonymous these days. With each product launch, they remind us that the new competitive frontier in the global economy is innovation and creativity. And they keep doing it.

Now there’s a new way to up your creativity—Improve your CQ or cultural intelligence. Creativity and innovation are the newest payoffs that have emerged from research on individuals who can be described as culturally intelligent, that is, they’re capable of working effectively across various cultural contexts. For a number of years, the research on cultural intelligence has found some other important and recurring results for individuals and organizations with higher levels of CQ: Superior cross-cultural adjustment, improved job performance, enhanced personal well-being, and greater cost-savings and profitability. But this newest finding—increased CQ correlates with improved creativity and innovation—creates an entirely new impetus for assessing and developing CQ.

In the preliminary studies examining creativity and cultural intelligence, creativity was evaluated by assessing subjects’ creative problem-solving skills and their ability to generate new and productive ideas. It’s not surprising that creativity and cultural adaptability are correlated. A great deal of what’s required to work effectively in a cross-cultural context requires creative solutions: How will I negotiate this deal so that I come home with a signed contract? The way you negotiate effectively with a Japanese firm will be very different from how you do so with a Saudi one. We could make the same argument about negotiating with two firms in the same country given their unique organizational cultures. But creative solutions are especially needed when negotiating across national borders.

The studies on creativity and CQ did not indicate that international experience by itself is what yields greater creativity. There are many globetrotting managers who continue to lead with their gut, unaware that their colleagues or clients in various cultures are the ones creatively adapting to them rather than vise versa. And when we travel widely but not deeply, the demand for creative adaptation is more subtle. When you return to the comforts of the Marriott at night, only certain aspects of your creative impulses have been exercised.

Bilinguals scored better in creativity than mono-linguals. And creativity was found at relatively high rates among first and second-generation immigrants. But there were many other individuals who didn’t have that kind of diverse background whose cultural intelligence still enhanced their overall creativity.

On the whole, creativity was most likely to be higher among individuals who:

  • Demonstrated an intrinsic interest and openness to the cultures they encountered
  • Could not only describe a culture but could juxtapose it with their own by articulating both similarities and differences
  • Could tolerate ambiguity, hold things in tension, and be okay without an abundance of firm, categorical answers
  • Were members of diverse teams—not only nationally and ethnically but functionally and ideologically

Creativity is arguably the driving force determining the scope of your long-term impact. In what way does your work make an obvious contribution to your field? Does it add something new and substantial? Does it generate new spinoffs? And/or does it provide new and exciting ideas?

Cultural intelligence is one of many ways to increase your overall creativity. But given the growing importance today of being able to effectively work across a diversity of cultures, why not get the double benefit of improving your CQ and simultaneously improving your ability to be an innovator who makes a long-term impact.

2 Responses to Cultural Intelligence: The New Link to Creativity

  1. This is an interesting read Dr. Livermore. I am not sure how much work exists but I think the link between Biculturals and CQ would also be interesting to follow. Since biculturals have more than one cognitive schema, I think they would have a higher propensity for CQ and would be better able to navigate cross cultural scenarios as compared to monoculturals.

  2. Thanks for the post, David. This makes a lot of sense. The greatest potential for creativity lies at the intersection of disparate ideas. Regularly living at the intersection of different cultures would allow those with high CQ to more readily see the connections. Being more comfortable with ambiguity would also allow them to withhold judgment of an idea until it is fleshed out.

    I would imagine that high CQ would also allow one to more profitably work in creative ways across functions and industries, as well as cultures, maximizing the potential of finding “intersectional” ideas.

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