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Boost Your Innovation and Creativity

Innovation and creativity cannot be taught in a classroom, but they can be learned. That learning occurs by placing individuals in situations that challenge them to think and act in new and unexpected ways. 

Recently in an article titled “Cross-Cultural Bonding Leads to Higher Creativity,” William Maddux, and Andrew Hafenbrack report that cross-cultural collaboration between employees can help organizations make their workforce more creative. Their research, published by INSEAD, strongly supports the idea that cultural differences should be treated as “priceless learning opportunities.”

What can individuals and learning and development organizations do to promote these opportunities?

Make friends who are culturally different. For some, the idea of stepping out of their comfort zone may be a challenge. But if you can join a club or activity where there is a common interest with people who are culturally different, you may find an easy avenue to establish friendships that will open you to new learning opportunities. Many organizations have created employee resource groups to leverage the insights of diverse groups of employees. These ERGs usually encourage membership from those outside the group to join them. This is another opportunity to see the world from another perspective and build your innovative and creative skills. 

Experience another culture at home. There are many ways organizations can promote opportunities for employees to experience another culture, and they do not necessarily require a passport. The opportunity to experience anther culture can be promoted by L&D through projects in underserved neighborhoods or communities known for their distinct ethnic character. Ideally, participants should be fully engaged with members of the community and have an opportunity to share experiences, histories, and personal stories.


Learn from short-term business travel. Exposure to new ideas and new frames of reference can occur even on short business trips. The key to taking advantage of short-term opportunities is to plan two to three days of immersion in the destination immediately before or after the “official business.” Such immersion can take the form of asking co-workers in another country if you can shadow them for a couple of days and noting any differences in normal operating procedures. These can range from length of workday, breaks, lunches, socializing, office arrangements, meeting styles, or commuting norms. It is important that these differences be discussed with your host associates to understand the rationale behind the difference.

In addition to spending a couple of days in a co-worker’s shoes, you can also take a mini-immersion program in the culture through a short-term educational experience—a cooking program, art tour, or historical visit—or find a guide to give you an insider’s view of their culture. It is important that there be an opportunity for conscious reflection on the experience. Keeping a journal or traveling with others who are looking to learn about other cultures help deepen and sustain the experience.

Seek an international assignment.
Many organizations have created development opportunities for employees to build their cultural intelligence. These include short-term international assignments, global leadership development programs for high-potentials, and longer term global assignments. There is a direct correlation between international experience and innovation. Those who seek out and participate in these assignments will gain insights that cannot be taught in a classroom or through virtual experiences. 

There are many other ways to build innovation and creativity. What ideas, cases, or best practices have you seen? Post your comments below or email

© 2017 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author
Neal Goodman is an internationally recognized authority on globalization, global mindset development, and cultural competence for global corporations. His programs have helped hundreds of thousands of corporate executives to be more effective in international settings by learning how to apply a global mindset. Global Dynamics, the company he co-founded in 1983, designs, organizes, and implements programs that support global mindset development, cultural competence, global team building, global leadership, virtual workforce effectiveness, and diversity and inclusion in leading Fortune 500 companies that wish to succeed in the global arena. As CEO of GDI, he leads a team of more than 400 innovative, cross-cultural experts from around the globe to create in-person, blended, and web-based solutions for his clients.
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