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Travel Much? Living Abroad Tied to Entrepreneurship

International travel can make you more creative and a better problem solver, research suggests, but only if you approach the experience right.

What makes a regular person into an entrepreneur? Is it her parents and a particular type of upbringing? Or is it certain born preference and qualities? Maybe a stint at a start-up accelerator or training program can have an influence?

Certainly any and all of these biographical details can contribute to the making of a successful entrepreneur, but so can living abroad, research suggests.

A much discussed 2010 study by professors from INSEAD, the Kellogg School, and Tel Aviv University found that "travel and living abroad have long been seen as good for the soul. What's perhaps less well known is that they're also good for the company. People who have international experience or identify with more than one nationality are better problem solvers and display more creativity," according to the Harvard Business Review.

Clearly, better problem solving abilities and boosted creativity will only be good for your business career, but if you're still not convinced of the benefits of international travel, a whole host of nomadic entrepreneurs, bloggers, and economics professors (and more economics professors) have expressed why they feel travel is valuable for reasons ranging from conquering fear to heading off future regrets and challenging our bias for the status quo.

But just because lots of folks recommend spending time abroad to aspiring entrepreneurs, doesn't mean that simply packing your bags and grabbing your passport is enough. It isn't just important that you travel but also how you travel, according to a series of three studies recently conducted by an Israeli professor. The research shows that that the mental benefits of life abroad only accrue to those who neither cling to their home country nor go completely native. Those who get the most out of travel learn the mental agility to see things from the perspective of both their own culture and the one they're visiting. Or as the BPD Research Digest reports:

To extract maximum benefit from time in a foreign land, what's needed is a "bicultural" perspective--the ability to identity with your new home, but all the while continuing to connect with your native country too.

This form of dual acculturation breeds creative and professional success, the new findings suggest, because it encourages a sophisticated style of thought. Juggling the conflicts and complexities of a dual-identity fosters an ability to register multiple perspectives and to understand the conceptual relations between them.

Of course, international travel isn't a cure all, right for everyone or without its downsides (Ben Casnocha has written thoughtfully about them) but these studies do suggest that it's an option worth considering for young entrepreneurs.

Do you think international experience is valuable for budding business owners? 
 

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Last updated: Aug 21, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in Cyprus with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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