Capacity of the Creative Brain

Two of the key benefits we derive from living a Global Lifestyle are a release from habitual behaviors and our forced exposure to foreign experiences. As the primary intellectual currency of any creative individual is his or her unique problem solving ability and capacity, such exposure translates into great opportunity as s/he is able to leverage experience and knowledge from other places and arrive at novel solutions.   As such, any mind-space consumed by rudimentary day-to-day survival based thinking will negatively impact our productivity.

We propose that the same portion of our brains’ resources are engaged in survival-based problem solving, e.g. where to sleep or eat, or how to get from A to B, and creative- or business-related problem solving, with the prior always taking precedence. Until our fundamental needs are satisfied, we can’t fully focus on being productive.

We define survival-based problem solving as any activity that does not directly result in creative output or productivity. Such problem solving is both disruptive, it affects our work flow, and is time consuming, taking up time and energy that should have been used for more productive activities. We make no distinction between work-related or personal-related factors as these essentially have the same consequences.

This effect was highlighted in a recent conversation with an American film writer we met in Amsterdam. He’d been traveling with his girlfriend for 6 weeks through Europe. The trip was part vacation and part inspiration/work. When we suggested that with so much new inspiration he must have been able to write some great new material, he frustratingly commented “I would have thought so too but I’m just never in the zone. I’m spending all of my time working out how to get from this city to the next one. What time the train leaves. Where we’re going to sleep…”.

This thinking reflects the research of Maslow in what is commonly referred to as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs”.  Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus energy upon) the secondary or higher level needs. Within the context of the Global Lifestyle Project this means that if we are to remain equally productive as we move from one base to the next, it is crucial that we satisfy our basic needs as soon as possible on arrival, or even better, have these issues anticipated and addressed before we arrive.

The ultimate state is one in which we feel ‘at home’ in all of the places we choose to make our bases. In this state, we are able to switch to auto-pilot on arrival and immediately focusing all of our attention on new opportunities that become apparent as we enter the new destination with a previous destination in mind.

A simple illustration of this occurred during our last visit to London. A close friend had just launched a new cupcake company and was looking for ways to boost sales through new channels. Having just arrived from New York where there is a food truck on every corner, that seemed an obvious solution.  For us it was instantly apparent, yet for her, it was an idea outside her day-to-day frame of reference and was one she had not thought of herself.

The most important implication for individuals wanting to go Global is to be aware that you are better off establishing a defined set of well chosen bases. This is one of the key issues also covered in both the City Grid and Sustainability of Nomadism articles. As you invest more time in each base, your experience and knowledge grows meaning that in every subsequent return you will feel more and more ‘at home’.  Consequently, you’ll have ever greater capacity for being productive. If you are continually rambling all over the world, you’re having to reinvent yourself in every new destination, leaving little time for truly productive work.

For organizations moving staff to new destinations and/or attracting staff from foreign destinations, you should not underestimate the return on your investment in getting your people fully integrated as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

This does not mean creating discrete expat communities around the world, which are on the one hand an easy solution, but on the other do a disservice to the individuals within them, making it hard to breakaway and uncover the truly “local” experience.  Instead, look for ways to build bridges between your international employees and local organizations, communities and networks.  This provides a better quality of life for them, and simultaneously increases the chances of finding new clients, expanding business operations and producing better quality ideas for you.

For governments and public authorities looking to attract global creative talent, systems must be in place to expedite the process through which such individuals are able to feel ‘at home’ in your city, region or country.  It is no coincidence that certain cities in the world are more or less inhabited by Global Lifestylers, and not by chance that the ones inhabited by more, are commonly known to be centers of innovation and excellence.