Working Papers

Innovating at the World's Crossroads: How Multicultural Networks Promote Creativity

Executive Summary:

In this research, HBS professor Roy Y.J. Chua proposes that cultivating a culturally diverse social network helps improve creative problem solving in a multicultural context because it promotes a flow of novel ideas and concepts from cultures other than one's own. New ideas from other cultures can serve as raw materials for recombination or stimulate new thoughts. Combining social network analysis and experimental methods, this research investigates the effects of multicultural networks on individuals' creative performance, identifying when this effect arises, as well as underlying mechanisms. Key concepts include:

  • The more your network includes individuals from different cultural backgrounds, the more you will be creatively stimulated by different ideas and perspectives. Importantly, these ideas do not necessarily come from the network members who are culturally different from you.
  • Chua's experimental research found that cultural heterogeneity induced creativity for tasks that required the use of varied cultural knowledge resources. But for other types of tasks, cultural heterogeneity had no effect on creative performance.
  • The research is relevant to business practitioners because creating a multicultural workplace is often touted as a strategy to foster organizational creativity. While this is sometimes effective, managers still need to seek other drivers of creativity.

Roy Y.J. Chua

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Author Abstract

This research examines the effects of multicultural social networks on individuals' creative performance. Combining network analysis with experimental methods, two studies using different samples found that networks' degree of cultural heterogeneity positively predicts creativity on tasks that draw on varied cultural-knowledge resources but not on other tasks. The results also indicate that a culturally heterogeneous network increases the likelihood of receiving culture-related novel ideas from others in the network whether or not they share one's culture of origin. This finding sheds light on the mechanisms that underlie multicultural networks' effects on creativity. Theoretical and practical implications for creativity and networking are discussed.

Paper Information