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Four surprising factors influencing creativity

Some people—maybe even most of us—don’t think they’re creative. And while it seems anecdotally true, at least, that certain people are more creatively inclined than others, it’s no less the case that we can all train ourselves to think more creatively. The links researchers are uncovering between some activities and creativity may surprise you.


Researchers at Tel Aviv University, the Kellogg School of Management, and INSEAD have discovered that living abroad might do more than just broaden your cultural horizons—it may also contribute to making you a more creative thinker. The researchers conducted a series of experiments on MBA students and workers from 26 countries living in Europe and the United States. They found that those who were more deeply immersed in the cultures of their adoptive locales yet still maintained strong bonds with their home countries not only scored higher than others on tests of creativity, they also had greater professional success.

Certainly, each of these factors—creativity, cultural immersion, professional success—are difficult to quantify, and the experiences of MBA students might not match up with those of the general population. Nevertheless, those correlations make intuitive sense. In order to thrive in an unfamiliar country, you need to balance two divergent (and in some cases overlapping) sets of societal rules and expectations simultaneously.

Negotiating between the two not only demands many of the skills associated with creativity—like being able to find unusual solutions to complex problems—but that challenge is itself fertile ground for creative thinking. Coming into contact with new people and experiences forces you to make new connections and continuously shift your perspective.


Science is finally starting to confirm what booze swillers have suspected (and in some cases, no doubt, drunkenly insisted) for centuries: That alcohol can be a lubricant to creative problem-solving.

Ancient Greek symposiasts would have needed little convincing of what one psychologist’s research team at University of Illinois recently discovered. One group of social drinkers consumed enough alcohol to achieve a blood alcohol level of 0.07%, while a control group of social drinkers stayed sober.

Both cohorts were then administered Remote Associates Tests, a common tool used by psychologists to measure creative thought, and the intoxicated group outperformed the sober one, in terms of both accuracy and speed. (Perhaps less surprisingly, the intoxicated group also reported feeling more insightful.)

The researchers concluded that out-of-the-box thinking is actually facilitated by the diffused thought processes brought on by limited doses of alcohol. The team cautioned, though, that these creative benefits peak when subjects are tipsy, not outright drunk. Still, it’s something to raise a glass to.


The phrase “thinking on your feet” seems to have some basis in science after all. And contrary to what movies and cartoons might have you believe, pacing around a room isn’t necessarily a sign of nervous energy.

Researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Education found that walking may actually help stimulate creative ideas. Based on tests performed on a group of 176 college students, creative output appeared to increase dramatically when the subjects were walking as opposed to standing still or sitting down.

The study also found that the setting is irrelevant; the very act of walking is all that matters. Subjects were placed on treadmills, told to pace indoors, and take a stroll outside in the fresh air, and the results were similar in all three environments: Their creativity roughly doubled from when they were stationary.

The researchers encourage walking for creative inspiration but caution that it isn’t the best solution for every mental task. Those that require deep focus and analytical thinking are still best tackled sitting down.

This article was first published on Fast Company. Click on the link to read the full article.

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