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So many of us have been raised to see strangers as dangerous and scary.

What would happen if we instead saw them as potential sources of comfort and belonging?

“Stranger danger” casts all people we don’t know as threats to be feared!

Research explains that we have learned to see strangers as potential carriers of a dangerous virus, as threats, so we do our best to avoid them. We step out of the way of strangers to keep our social distance.

So, social distancing has provided an added excuse to avoid the sort of interpersonal contact that many people find uncomfortable. But it’s worth remembering that this discomfort can be key to our collective thriving.

Conversations with our outer circle — with people far outside our own inner circle of either friends outside of work life or our inner circle in our work life — conversations with our outer circle is what drives innovation and creativity.

In fact, the further out we go, the further away we go from our core team, increases the chances that we’ll have an innovative, fresh, new, different idea. That’s where our best ideas and thoughts come from.

So why is that? What is it about conversations with somebody who’s totally different from us, who has a different discipline from us, different life experiences from us? Why does it work? What is the mechanism that drives that?

It’s the scientific fact that a new idea is born when two disconnected things become connected.

The isolation and sameness in our Covid existence has negatively impacted our creativity — our ability to put ideas together in new, useful combinations to solve problems. Creativity is enhanced when we’re exposed to new people and new situations.

Even activities as mundane as taking a new route to work because of a construction detour, or having a hallway conversation with a colleague can help increase our cognitive flexibility.

At its core the fact is that all human interaction is important for us.

We are hardwired for connection. We need each other.

Human interaction increases creativity, changing how we think, feel, and behave so we can reach the full extent of our creative thoughts and perform our absolute best when creating.

In-person encounters allow us to experience life from others’ perspective.

As long as we go into it with the right mindset, human interaction builds empathy. The more we get to know others and connect with them beyond a superficial level, the more we become willing and able to experience their emotions with them. This expands perspective and prompts creativity.

That’s why conversations are so powerful. They spark lots of opportunities for our brain to make new associations and connections.

We need to connect to communities, to thoughts, to ideas, to people that are specifically and intentionally different from our own.  It’s exactly those interactions that will ignite innovative ideas.

As an adult, reaching out to new people has the potential to do us more good than harm.

Talking to strangers, even for a few seconds, makes us smarter, happier and more creative!