Profound Learning: Creating The “Edge Effect”

The “Edge Effect” is the creativity generated where two ecosystems or cultures meet. Like the ocean meeting the land—new life systems and ideas emerge.

How do you achieve a profound learning experience, one that will be life changing and bring about insights that will generate the pathways to new insights and creativity? What can you do to get the edge on innovation and creativity, and maximize your potential and that of your associates at work?

In a previous column, we examined the five steps organizations can take to improve innovation ( &p=58#{“page”:58,”issue_id”:422693}). More recent research on individual and organizational innovation demonstrates that an intense interpersonal experience with those who are different is one of the most important supporting factors. What happens when we encounter “strangers” in our lives? What are the impediments, barriers, or challenges that prevent effective working relationships, and what are the actions you can take to improve the likelihood of success?


Much depends on the willingness of each party to learn from the experience or to share a common goal. Cultural disruption in our lives is not easy but can be transformative. For example, while learning to work on cross-cultural teams requires extra work, when done right, teams that are multicultural outperform teams that are mono-cultural.

Cultures are learned patterns of behavior that promote survival within each group. These cultures can be tied to national cultures but also to other cultural dimensions of diversity such as ethnicity, generations, professions, racial groups, and other factors that bond people together to form social groups. The key is that each of these cultures is learned. For example, there is jazz culture and classical music culture. When these cultures come together, they can either clash, or they can create new musical genres that neither could create alone. Each culture may use similar stringed instruments, but their concept of music is different. The Silk Road Ensemble, for example, brings together musicians from different cultures and musical traditions. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma calls the creativity generated by the differences the “Edge Effect,” where two ecosystems or cultures meet. Like the ocean meeting the land—new life systems and ideas emerge.

Adam Galinsky of Columbia University cites numerous studies that demonstrate the “Edge Effect”( For example, Galinsky reports that multicultural groups come up with more creative solutions to business problems. Similarly, a McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that the companies that were in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity were 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean (

Why is this the case? When you collaborate with people who are the same as you, you are at a distinct disadvantage to those who collaborate with more diverse colleagues. This is especially true if your organization promotes a positive appreciation of learning about each other. This is not magic. There are scores of learning paths that can be taken to achieve success. The most successful organizations in all fields are using the tools, techniques, simulations, and stretch activities to stay at the top.


The “Edge Effect” can be a result of planned corporate initiatives or from dating or marrying someone from another background, for example. It is the depth of intercultural relationships that predicts how much change, transformation, and innovation occurs in organizations and individuals. This has significant implications for how organizations can maximize the outcomes of an international assignment. Those who have deep intercultural experiences tend to stay in touch with their colleagues abroad after their assignments. The promotion of in-depth intercultural interactions needs to be integrated into expatriate training. When we implemented this in our training for a Global Fortune 100 company, the number of expats who remained in the company after the assignment rose significantly, saving the company tens of millions of dollars.

You don’t have to go abroad to get the benefits of having intercultural contact. You can get that same benefit by engaging with people from other cultures at home. But it can’t be superficial contact. Deeply understanding and learning about another culture and interacting with others is what makes this transformative and leads to creativity and innovation.

In a future column, we will examine the profound learning readers have achieved from their in-depth intercultural experiences. So if you have any personal stories, or you have done any training on this topic and would like to share your experiences, worst cases, or best practices, please send them to me at: and I will compile them for a future column.

Neal Goodman, Ph.D., is president of Global Dynamics, Inc., a training and development firm specializing in globalization, cultural intelligence, effective virtual workplaces, and diversity and inclusion. He can be reached at 305.682.7883 and at For more information, visit

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