Dating people from other cultures is a key to success, studies show


Facebook’s billionaire founder Mark Zuckerberg with his wife Priscilla Chan: Studies show the longer you stay in a multicultural relationship, the more creative you become.

What do Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, Sergey Brin and Arianna Huffington have in common?

Apart from being famous entrepreneurs and ridiculously wealthy, they’re also currently (or were once) married to a spouse of a different race.

Could there be a connection between that and their success? That suggestion might sound far-fetched but it isn’t when you consider compelling new research that reveals being in a relationship with someone from a different culture – or even just being friends with them – ramps up creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Anne Wojcicki and Sergey Brin .


Anne Wojcicki and Sergey Brin .

Before you write off the research as a desperate attempt to find a connection where none exists, take into account the following.

* Women of Influence: Getting knocked back is a big part of success

* Rocket Lab’s Peter Beck makes it to World Entrepreneur Hall of Fame
* Eat My Lunch founder Lisa King, social entrepreneur

First, it was conducted by some of the world’s most respected institutions such as Columbia University, the University of California, and INSEAD. Second, it was published in The Journal of Applied Psychology, one of the most prestigious academic publications with a ruthless peer-review process. Third, the findings are the result of four separate studies, each of which used very different methodologies and, in combination, thousands of participants.

In the first study, MBA students were asked to engage in various activities over a 10-month period. One required them to think of as many creative uses as possible for a brick. Another needed them to solve a challenging puzzle. The outcome: “Participants who dated individuals from other cultures exhibited superior creative performance.” Not by a little but by a lot.

In the second study, the researchers moved away from university students and instead analysed adults. The participants were this time required to write an essay about one of their prior relationships such as “where their partner was from, what they had done together, what they had learned from their partner, interactions with their partner’s friends and family,” and so on.

They were then asked to complete a series of problem-solving exercises. Well, those who had written about an intercultural relationship – one where they had dated someone from a different race – were way more successful at solving problems. That’s because being with someone who’s culturally different, or even just reflecting on such an experience, triggers open-mindedness and a willingness to learn, both of which are key to creativity.

For the third study, the scholars surveyed employees who were tasked with inventing creative names for pasta products and pain medication. You can probably guess the results: “The depth of multicultural experiences … [and] the duration of intercultural dating emerged as the critical predictor of creativity.”

In other words, the longer you stay in a multicultural relationship, the more creative you become.

So let’s move on to the fourth study, which is the most pertinent because it relates specifically to entrepreneurship. It also doesn’t involve any kind of puzzle or game. It simply involves a survey of 2000 people who had worked in the United States for a while but had since moved back home.

When those who stayed in contact with their American friends were compared to those who hadn’t, the former were much more likely to have since started their own business. And if they weren’t entrepreneurs, they were significantly more likely to at least be more innovative as employees.

So what’s the point of all this?

The researchers conclude that even though our world is more globalised than ever, most relationships are still intracultural. People stick with their own kind, even in friendships. Big cities still have enclaves like Chinatown and Greektown. People live their entire lives unable to communicate in a language other than the one they’ve known since birth.

Our desire to stay within the confines of our comfort zone means we form cultural in-groups that are difficult to break.

And all of that is detrimental to creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.

 – Sydney Morning Herald

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