problem solvers

Talents with International Experience Are Creative, Good Problem Solvers

A growing body of research points to the positive effects of studying and working abroad. A few years ago, a study led by William Maddux of INSEAD came to the conclusion that MBA international students experienced “multicultural engagement” that led to a more “integratively complex” thinking.

In layman’s terms, it meant students were able to make more connections among contrasting ideas when — guessed what? — they adopted an open and adaptive attitude toward foreign cultures.

Those who came from other countries to study and work in the United States often experience this, especially if they come to study and later work for American companies. It’s common in Northern California, particularly Silicon Valley,  where many of the tech founders came from other countries.  These are the founders:

  • Sergey Brin, Russia (Google)
  • Pichai Sundararajan, India (Google)
  • Eduardo Saverin, Brazil (Facebook)
  • Andrew Viterbi, Italy (Qualcomm)
  • Pierre Omidyar, France (eBay)
  • Satya Nadella, India (Microsoft)
  • Edouard Bugnion, Switzerland (VMware)
  • Jerry Yang, Taiwan (Yahoo)
  • Francisco D’souza (Cognizant Technology)
  • Eli Harari, Israel (Sandisk)


Then there’s Elon Reeve Musk, a South African-born Canadian American business magnate, investor, engineer, and inventor. He is the founder, CEO, and lead designer of SpaceX, which has been in the news lately if you’ve been living in a cave for sometime now. He is also the co-founder, CEO, and product architect of Tesla, Inc.; and chairman of SolarCity. He’s separated from all the others in the list here because of the fact that he holds various positions which makes him almost an anomaly. If there’s one thing that will make you succeed in business, it’s having that laser-like focus.

Maddux might have been talking about Musk in his Time Magazine interview, “People who have international experience or identify with more than one nationality are better problem solvers and display more creativity, our research suggests. What’s more, we found that people with this international experience are more likely to create new businesses and products and to be promoted.”

In the same Time piece, Angela Leung, an associate professor of psychology at Singapore Management University, reported that “people with more experiences of different cultures are better able to generate creative ideas and make unexpected links among concepts.”

However, what these studies don’t mention is how long-time residents or citizens in the US, for instance, may feel threatened by foreigners who excel, especially if they don’t  come from developed countries. Fortunately, in the US, as proven by many foreign tech founders, it’s not often the case and great talents from all over the world are welcome.