“Going Out” of the Box: Close Intercultural Friendships and Romantic Relationships Spark Creativity, Workplace Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

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Abstract

The present research investigates whether close intercultural relationships promote creativity, workplace innovation, and entrepreneurship—outcomes vital to individual and organizational success. We triangulate on these questions with multiple methods (longitudinal, experimental, and field studies), diverse population samples (MBA students, employees, and professional repatriates), and both laboratory and real-world measures. Using a longitudinal design over a 10-month MBA program, Study 1 found that intercultural dating predicted improved creative performance on both divergent and convergent thinking tasks. Using an experimental design, Study 2 established the causal connection between intercultural dating and creativity: Among participants who had previously had both intercultural and intracultural dating experiences, those who reflected on an intercultural dating experience displayed higher creativity compared to those who reflected on an intracultural dating experience. Importantly, cultural learning mediated this effect. Extending the first 2 studies, Study 3 revealed that the duration of past intercultural romantic relationships positively predicted the ability of current employees to generate creative names for marketing products, but the number of past intercultural romantic partners did not. In Study 4, we analyzed an original dataset of 2,226 professional repatriates from 96 countries who had previously worked in the U.S. under J-1 visas: Participants’ frequency of contact with American friends since returning to their home countries positively predicted their workplace innovation and likelihood of becoming entrepreneurs. Going out with a close friend or romantic partner from a foreign culture can help people “go out” of the box and into a creative frame of mind.

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