multilingual photo Photo by quinn.anya [CC]

Hypothesis: if a culture does not possess an absolutely fluent command of at least one language, creativity may be impeded.

The two main communication methods in most brainstorming sessions are drawing/writing and talking. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it is often the spoken words that bring life to the drawings, tell the story, engage the participants, and trigger unexpected thoughts.

A strong command of the subtleties of a language and the ability to have fun with it – double-entendres, homonyms, synonyms, puns etc – enables participants of a brainstorming session to paint intricate and rich concepts in their heads, and in turn to express those concepts compellingly.

Now you may think this has interesting implications for brainstorming teams comprising cross-cultural and cross-lingual participants. I don’t think it does.

The thing I have noticed is this – the immediate translation/communications challenge aside, the brainstorming session tends to still work well, as long as the participants each have one fluent base language to think and play with. (Sometimes I think the additional challenge of trying to understand each other can trigger more divergent ideas.)

What about a culture that lacks widespread fluency in one single language? Would such a culture be less innovative in general? Put another way, if we look at the least creative cultures globally (and I don’t yet know if such an index exists), would we find that those cultures lack a single fluent language?