Why Hiring Creative Directors With Experience Abroad Can Lead Fashion Houses To New Creative Heights

Columbia Business School study shows that professional experiences abroad can fuel creative innovations

Oct 29, 2014, 13:00 ET from Columbia Business School

NEW YORK, Oct. 29, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- The role of creative director or head designer, or artistic director—the actual title varies —is one of the most coveted in the fashion industry. The impact a creative director can have on a company can either make or break its brand. And it's not just in fashion: the shift to a more innovation-driven economy is emphasizing the need for creativity as an essential component of entrepreneurial thinking and global success.

To help connect theory to practice, research from Columbia Business School and INSEAD recently examined the collections of the world's top fashion houses to see whether foreign professional experiences of creative directors facilitate innovations for firms. They discovered that the experiences abroad of the creative directors were indeed driving the creativity ratings of their collections. 

"The fashion industry is a one-trillion dollar machine and the success of individual brands depends on keeping the engine of creativity running smoothly," said Adam Galinsky, the Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Business at the Columbia Business School. "Our findings could prove useful to not only the world's leading fashion brands but companies more generally when they're assessing what their next executive should bring to the table."

Through the study, Galinsky and his colleagues at INSEAD, Frederic Godart, William Maddux, and Andrew Shipilov introduced the Foreign Experience Model of Creative Innovations to explain how three dimensions of foreign work experience—breadth, depth, and cultural distance—can be a critical catalyst for creativity and innovation:

  • Breadth describes the number of foreign countries in which the creative director had worked;
  • Depth describes the number of years a creative director had spent abroad in his/her professional career; and
  • Cultural distance describes the distance between one's home country and the foreign countries in which a creative director had been working.

The researchers found that the world's top fashion companies delivered more creative innovations if their creative directors had professional experiences abroad. The breadth, depth, and cultural distance all had positive effects on the creativity of their firm's fashion lines. However, there is one important caveat – although time spent abroad always remained positive, too much breadth and too much cultural distance began to have negative effects on creativity. So there is an optimal amount of breadth and cultural distance to produce these creative innovations.

These results have implications for both companies and individuals. Companies may benefit from ensuring that their leaders have or can acquire professional experiences abroad. Additionally, individuals who want to enhance their creativity might proactively seek to work abroad for substantial periods of time to increase their creativity, which would enhance their appeal to other organizations.

"While the effectiveness of professional foreign experiences on creative outputs varies based on the types and amounts of experiences, executives who have no professional foreign experience are at a significant creative and career disadvantage," says Frederic Godart, a Columbia alum now assistant professor at INSEAD.

The broader research stream explains how experience in foreign countries:

  • Encourages outside-of-the-box thinking;
  • Enhances the capacity for complex and sophisticated thought
  • Increase the ability to get jobs and promotions

The Research

The study titled, "Fashion with a Foreign Flair: Professional Experiences Abroad Facilitate the Creative Innovations of Organizations," is authored by Adam Galinsky of Columbia Business School and Frederic C. Godart, William W. Maddux, and Andrew V. Shipilov of INSEAD.

The paper examines 11 years worth of collections from 270 of the world's top fashion houses. In addition, the researchers collected life and career histories of creative directors who worked for the various fashion houses.

The study found that breadth, depth, and cultural distance of a creative director's foreign professional experiences all had positive effects on the creativity of their firm's fashion collections. However, too much breadth and cultural distance had negative effects on fashion collections creativity. Overall the depth of foreign experiences turned out to be the most critical factor for these creative innovations. Deep foreign experience affords greater the opportunity for greater adaption whereas breadth and cultural distance offer variety, but not the same opportunity to adapt to one's foreign environment.

To learn more about the cutting-edge research being conducted at Columbia Business School, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.

About Columbia Business School
Columbia Business School is the only world–class, Ivy League business school that delivers a learning experience where academic excellence meets with real–time exposure to the pulse of global business. Led by Dean Glenn Hubbard, the School's transformative curriculum bridges academic theory with unparalleled exposure to real–world business practice, equipping students with an entrepreneurial mindset that allows them to recognize, capture, and create opportunity in any business environment. The thought leadership of the School's faculty and staff, combined with the accomplishments of its distinguished alumni and position in the center of global business, means that the School's efforts have an immediate, measurable impact on the forces shaping business every day. To learn more about Columbia Business School's position at the very center of business, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.

SOURCE Columbia Business School