In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, British prime minister Teresa May railed against ‘citizens of the world’.  She regarded these globe trotting individuals as baseless individuals who were ‘citizens of nowhere’, with no real attachment, loyalty or affection for an individual country.

It’s a philosophy that INSEAD’s Linda Brimm disagrees with entirely.  We live in an increasingly volatile world, where adaptability and resilience are often key characteristics of success, and these are qualities that citizens of the world have in abundance.

In her recent book, The Global Cosmopolitan Mindset, she tracks hundreds of people who live and work around the world to try and see if there are any defining characteristics that underpin their personality.  She believes that the cosmopolitan mindset has three core elements to it:

  • A growth mindset – this is something examined in great depth by Stanford’s Carol Dweck, and can be characterized as a belief that intelligence can be developed, and a desire to learn new things, embrace new challenges and generally persist in the face of setbacks.
  • A global mindset – which is defined as the ability to see and understand the world from multiple perspectives.
  • A creative mindset – the last characteristic is one that is defined by attitudes such as curiosity and a tolerance for ambiguity.

If we’re building an identikit for an innovative individual, I suspect that all of these factors would feature highly.  The power of global individuals is highlighted clearly by the high numbers of patents and startups created by people living outside of their nation of birth.  Many of these innovations arrive courtesy of applying fresh thinking to old problems.  The values and behaviors that people bring with them from afar can offer new perspectives on problems that have stumped the native population.

This ability to step outside of one’s comfort zone is also a common feature of research into developing softer skills, with work from Rice University, Columbia University and the University of North Carolina  highlighting the potential for overseas assignments to provide a similar boost to one’s soft skills.  The study found that living abroad boosts our self of ‘self-concept clarity’, which is our understanding and acceptance of ourselves.

The researchers suggest that living in a foreign country prompts people to reflect on the norms and values, not only of themselves and of their home country, but of their host nation too.  This spell of reflection proves incredibly powerful in helping that individual understand who they are, and what values define them.

Successful assignments

Overseas assignments are no golden ticket however, with a recent study from Florida Atlantic University suggesting that the personality of employees will go a long way towards determining whether those overseas deployments are successful or not.

“Oftentimes, expatriates have difficulty adjusting to this new environment. They can suffer poor well-being, experience conflict between their work life and family life, perform poorly and turnover,” the authors say. “All expatriates are different. Maybe some are more adept to adjusting effectively where others aren’t. We wanted to understand what characteristics of expatriates make them more or less likely to adjust effectively.”

 The data revealed that those who responded best to overseas assignments tended to be extroverts who were emotionally stable and open to new experiences. The authors suggest this is because extroverts are better at forming new social networks that help them with both the informational and emotional aspects of adjusting to a new culture.  Emotional stability was also crucially important however, as the whole experience of adapting to a new culture can be incredibly stressful.

If you find the right people however, the experience can be hugely rewarding, and give your innovation initiatives a jolt in the arm.