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Archive for January 2010

How to stimulate creativity? Go live abroad

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Want to be creative? Take time off to live and work abroad.

People who live abroad are more creative; and the more time they spend away from home, the more creative they become. That’s according to a recent study done by William Maddux, an assistant professor of organisational behavior at INSEAD.

Certain conditions, however, apply, says Maddux, who conducted the studies in collaboration with Adam Galinsky, a professor of management at Northwestern University.

For example, creativity is unlikely to spark for people travelling abroad for a short holiday. “We don’t find a positive correlation with travel abroad and creativity.” Maddux says it has to be at least a short stint abroad, but also adds that the quality of the experience matters as much as amount of time spent overseas.

“Not only does time matter – which can explain why living abroad matters and not travelling abroad – it’s also the psychological transformation that you might go through while you’re abroad.”

For instance, your creative levels can spike if you fully immerse yourself in local experiences, in particular, languages. “There’s a very strong, robust association between foreign language aptitude and creativity. So bi-lingual and tri-lingual people are more creative in general. And I think that the language is part of the adaptation.”

“So you can imagine a person who goes to live abroad for a year, but hangs out mostly with expatriates, maybe from their own country – that person is not going to derive the same kind of creative benefit as those who try to adapt themselves to a new culture, learn the language, learn the customs and get really involved in changing who they are and how they behave.”

Age matters too because, according to Maddux, younger people have greater capacity to learn languages. “If you’re getting those cultural experiences at a young age, it’s going to have a stronger effect on subsequent creativity.”

Another of his studies reveals that even if you have long since returned from working abroad, you can tap into your creative reserves by mentally reactivating your experiences abroad.

“So if you recall and write about having lived abroad, people who do this show more subsequent creativity within the next five or 10 minutes, compared to people who recall other experiences – for example going to the supermarket, being in their hometown … When we reactivate the experiences, it does seem to cause increased creativity.”

Yet another positive correlation exists between entrepreneurship and creativity. “We’re finding the same correlation between time abroad and entrepreneurial activity … Entrepreneurs tend to have the experience of having been abroad as well.”

Clearly, where creativity is concerned, the benefits of living abroad far outweigh those of staying put.

Maddux’s advice to companies interested in promoting creativity is to look for people who have these enriching experiences abroad. Conversely, they should also not skimp on offering international assignments, as these seem to be key for developing significant mental processes.

And while abroad, he emphasises that adaptability is key. “It’s not just enough to spend 18 hours in the office and then go home and sleep. If you want to get these kinds of (tangible) benefits from the international experience, it will help to get out into the culture and try to adapt yourself while you’re on these international assignments.”

While Maddux agrees that living abroad is “not the be all and end all of facilitating creativity”, it is, and will continue to be a major driver.

Reprinted with permission by INSEAD Knowledge.

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Written by Human Resources

January 5, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Longer maternity leave in Singapore’s future?

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Will a longer maternity leave encourage women to have more babies?

Will maternity leave in Singapore be extended beyond the current four months in the future? It might very well be the case, if an interview with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew is anything to go by.

In a recent interview with National Geographic’s Mark Jacobson, MM Lee talks about Singapore’s low fertility rate and how the government is using the incentive of baby benefits to encourage Singaporeans to procreate. If you read the full interview transcript, MM Lee actually dropped a hint that the maternity leave could be extended in the future.

Q: “No, thank you. That’s interesting.  I hate to be jumping around but I don’t want to  take so much of your time.  What do you do about this kind of thing? I would assume in a government, it is easier to legislate people having less children than it is to legislate having them more children.”
Mr Lee:  “No, we can’t legislate.  We don’t legislate, we just encourage and we say if you have the third child, you will get these benefits.”
Q:  “Well, legislate is the wrong word but …”
Mr Lee:  “We encourage them with incentives.  Yeah, we pay for full pay leave, we don’t burden the employer because the employer will then say look I’m not going to employ these women.  So the government pays for them, the employer is entitled to two-three months, three months?”
YY: “Four months now.”
Mr Lee: “No, no. Employer two months, we pay two months and it will become six months and so on.”
(Emphasis mine)

And that’s not all. Later in the interview, MM Lee also goes on to talk about how Singapore has studied developed societies such as Sweden and France to understand how they have managed to hit a replacement fertility rate and how Singapore will eventually emulate those countries in terms of baby benefits.
Q: “There is this feeling that you want to keep the society going.”
Mr Lee: “Well, fortunately for us.”
Q: “And reproduction is an important part of that, right?”
Mr Lee: “I’ve been urging them. The only developed societies that have succeeded are Sweden and France and that’s not that they have succeeded, they have just about reached replacement rate.  And we’ve studied their incentives and they are enormous. Crèches, full pay leave for husband and wife, nine months and you can extend it and so on and free nurseries, factories and offices have nurseries and feeding rooms for the mothers.  We will get to that stage eventually but meanwhile, it takes a long time to change mindsets.”

With these little hints, what would it ultimately mean for HR and the workplace?

For one, it means that companies better start getting used to the idea that employees are more than just workers but have family obligations to maintain as well. As such, many will need to take time off to care for their families.

Two issues ago, I interviewed a number of women-friendly workplaces and found that having family-friendly work policies will reap dividends for the company. Not only does it help retain female employees, but it can also attract ex-employees who have left the workforce in order to take care of their children.

What do you think? How would a longer maternity leave affect your company and operations? What are some of the hindrances towards becoming a family-friendly company?

Written by Human Resources

January 5, 2010 at 11:05 am