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For a More Creative Brain, Travel

There are plenty of things to be gained from going abroad: new friends, new experiences, new stories.

But living in another country may come with a less noticeable benefit, too: Some scientists say it can also make you more creative.

Writers and thinkers have long felt the creative benefits of international travel. Ernest Hemingway, for example, drew inspiration for much of his work from his time in Spain and France. Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World, moved from the U.K. to the U.S. in his 40s to branch out into screenwriting. Mark Twain, who sailed around the coast of the Mediterranean in 1869, wrote in his travelogue Innocents Abroad that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

In recent years, psychologists and neuroscientists have begun examining more closely what many people have already learned anecdotally: that spending time abroad may have the potential to affect mental change. In general, creativity is related to neuroplasticity, or how the brain is wired. Neural pathways are influenced by environment and habit, meaning they’re also sensitive to change: New sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain and may have the potential to ...

Do Government Employees Have Freedom of Speech?

I ran across this comment I posted on April 22, 2013. Nearly two years later, the principles still hold up pretty well. 

It’s a free country, everybody has freedom of speech, and it is statistically impossible that you will agree with every single thing your agency, another agency or the government does as a whole.

You want to make the government work better. And every day people take to social media, face-to-face conversation and everything in between to say what they think.

Plus, honest conversation promotes transparency and therefore credibility. To my mind it shows the public that we care.

However, there are times when speaking your mind may not be the best choice.

Here are five factors I use to guide and sometimes limit my public comments:

  • Focus on the general (rules and best practices) not the specific.
  • Remember that I am in a sense a representative of my agency’s brand (and the brand of government) whether I am speaking in a personal capacity or not. This is true of any employee of any organization.
  • Stick to designated roles and responsibilities—in my agency only Public Affairs or designated experts on specific topics are authorized to explain ...

How to Make Your Organization Less Sexist and Racist

Decades' worth of social-psychology research has demonstrated that humans classify each other by race and gender and respond instinctively based on stereotype and social norms. In the workplace, these unconscious biases mean white men are more likely to be hired, promoted, and paid well compared with equally deserving women or racial minorities.

One famous experiment found that resumes that appeared to be from white people received 50 percent more interviews than identically qualified applications from black candidates. This effect shows up even when the decision maker is from the less-powerful group. A more recent study showed that men and women alike were twice as likely to hire a man for a math-intensive job, even when the candidates’ math skills were identical. Awareness of implicit bias has grown thanks to academic initiatives such as Project Implicit and grassroots blogs like the Microaggressions Project and I, Too, Am Harvard, which is now a YouTube meme, as well as media coverage and advocacy by business leaderssuch as Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg.

A key difference between this sort of unconscious bias and more deliberate discrimination is that those perpetuating it often wish they could stop it, if only they knew how. Existing efforts ...

Precrime Comes to the Office

As an indicator of a job candidate's virtues, the trio of a résumé, a cover letter, and an interview is rudimentary at best: Recruiters have been shown to spendabout six seconds pondering the average résumé, and those who formed positive impressions from certain candidates’ résumés have been shown to go softer on them in interviews. A hire is the result of a series of imperfect judgments.

The rewards of selecting a good employee are obvious; the harms of hiring a bad one are less commonly discussed. In the U.S., dishonest retail employees steal more from their employers every year than shoplifters do, and Kevin Murphy, now a professor of psychology at Penn State, once estimated that nearly a third of all failed businesses could be blamed on employee deviance. A recent reportfrom Cornerstone OnDemand, a company that sells software that helps employers recruit and retain workers, said that good employees are 54 percent more likely to quit when they start working closely with one who acts out.

If a single problem employee can wreak so much havoc, shouldn’t there be more of a focus on identifying better indicators of honesty? Some ...

Leaders Rarely Do What It Takes to Develop Others

There are some myths about what it means for leaders to develop the people they’re responsible for leading. Here's the reality behind a few of them:

  • Developing others doesn’t belong to human resources, talent management, organizational development, or whatever other helpful organization you may have access to, although they can help. Let’s be clear that developing others is your job.
  • Developing people doesn’t have to cost oodles of money. In fact, it doesn’t have to cost anything but your time and your effort; and you might just find a great deal of satisfaction helping others to grow and learn.
  • Meaningful development isn’t only about delegating work to others. Delegating is important, but it’s what you delegate and how you do it that can make it a growth opportunity.
  • Don’t wait for someone to come to you and ask to be developed. Don’t tell them to think about what they’d like to do as a development opportunity; that’s pretty scary and they may not be comfortable throwing out ideas that will get shot down because of cost or fit within the organization.

Be intentional about your efforts to find ...