Duende is all about inspiring cultural explorers and creative travellers, but what is the real link between creativity and travel? How does one benefit from the other? In this post we scratch the surface of the science of creativity; what it is; what goes on in our brain; and why increased creativity is one of the benefits of travel.
What is creativity really?
Creativity has traditionally been associated with artistic pursuits – painting, writing, acting, music etc. However, the definition of creativity used by psychologists and scientists is much broader than just the arts. Creativity is to make novel and useful connections between two ideas. Applying this definition, we can see how creativity is relevant to a variety of fields and activities, from everyday problem solving and self-expression, to professional work in design through to science.
Creativity can be learnt and taught
All people have the capability to be creative to some level, in fact, most of us start very creative as youngsters and have it taught out of us. In 1968, scientists Drs George Land and Beth Jarman commenced a research study on a quest to learn more about whether creativity is a result of nature or nurture.
Drs Land and Jarman put together a representative sample of the United States population with 1600, five-year-old children. Their team put the group through a creativity test that he had developed for NASA, and retested them at ages ten and fifteen. The results are as follows:
5 year olds: 98% measured genius-level on creative thinking scale
10 year olds: 30% measured genius-level on creative thinking scale
15 year olds: 12% measured genius-level on creative thinking scale
Same test given to 280,000 adults: 2% measured genius-level on creative thinking scale
The good news is that creativity can be regained, but it requires work – it is a skill that must be developed and practised frequently.
There are also a number of personality factors that contribute to a person’s innate creative potential. We may not all reach Picasso or Einstein creative status, but we all have the ability to be creative to some degree. One of the most important of these personality traits and the one that relates strongly to travel is openness to experience.
A person who is flexible in their thinking or open to new experiences is generally more creative than someone who is not, simply because of the way our brains are wired. Cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufmann summarized results from his study of the relationship between openness to experience and creative achievement in the arts and sciences by saying:
Openness to experience—the drive for cognitive exploration of one’s inner and outer worlds—is the single strongest and most consistent personality trait that predicts creative achievement – Scott Barry Kaufman
Neuroplasticity and building a creative brain
When we learn new things our brain forms new nerve connections, as we repeat the new knowledge or activity the connection physically strengthens. This is what scientists refer to as neuroplasticity and just as we can build new connections, we can lose them if we don’t continue to use them – which is why we use the phrase “use it or lose it.” Connections are forming all the time; building in accordance with the things we practice; and disappearing when we don’t.
Travel, the immersive experience
Ok, so how does travel benefit our creativity? Well, travel is one of the most all-immersive new experiences we can have–taking us way outside our usual environment. Not only are we exposed to new sights, smells, sounds, language and textures in foreign surroundings, but have the opportunity to learn from cultures different from our own.
As a result, our brains blossom with nerve connections as they attempt to process and store all of this new information. This brain bank is where we draw from when being creative. Professor at Columbia Business School, Adam Galinsky, has conducted various studies into the link between people’s capacity for creativity and overseas travel. He says:
Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms. – Adam Galinsky
Creativity and the benefits of travel – the next level
Furthermore, studies of students and fashion designers both found that creatives who live overseas exhibit even greater creativity. They get the positive effects of travel on steroids! It makes sense when you think about some of the great creatives throughout history…
Frida Khalo of Mexican birth, lived in Europe and North America for periods of her life, accompanying her artist husband, Diego Rivera as he too worked and lived abroad.
American writer Ernest Hemingway lived in France and Cuba.
Paul Gauguin famously found inspiration in Tahiti.
German composer Handel spent extended periods in Italy and the UK.
The key to reaping the brain building, creativity cultivating benefits of travel, is engaging with the place, people and culture of a destination. You’re going to have to get comfortable outside your comfort zone; mix with locals; observe keenly; and ask lots of questions. If you don’t know where to start, you may want to try my 5 fun ways of experiencing new cultures.
Science has proven that creativity is one of the benefits of travelling because of the immersive experience that it provides. While the lightbulb moments of creative thinking cannot be planned or forced, our potential for having brilliant ideas and creative breakthroughs can be developed and practised to increase their likelihood.
If you need ideas to build creativity while you’re not travelling, here’s a list of new experiences to seek at home and ideas for exploring your hometown with fresh eyes.
Peace, love and inspiring travel,
I agree with this so much. I find myself to be so much more creative than the people I work with at my 9 to 5. I don’t know if this is from traveling or just thinking differently. My brain is constantly analyzing ways I can do something differently. I will even try stuff which look utterly idiotic to others. I am not afraid to experiment.
I really think creativity and travel go hand in hand because travelers are not afraid of CHANGE. Being open to new ideas and change breeds creativity. People like this are not afraid to put themselves out there. This is inherent in traveling and creativity. In other words you have to fail to succeed. Curiosity also naturally comes from traveling. This breeds even more creativity. I think the future is really in people who can be more curious and creative.
Yes, travellers are very adaptive and confident in being able to deal with change which is a distinct advantage in today’s world. Your comment reminds me of my favourite quote by Matisse “creativity takes courage.” You certainly have to be willing to put your ideas out there, be vulnerable to criticism and even failure to more forward. Creative people seem to do that better than anyone.