Perhaps the most fitting description of Micael Dahlén is “creator”. We are in a conference room at the Stockholm School of Economics (Handelshögskolan), to talk about how creativity is related to travel and why traveling is important. The long hair, beard, and black nail polish in many ways mirrors Micael’s unconventional and creative thinking. And his reasoning leads us to think in new ways.

Micael flies a lot, 100 times a year, both domestic and international, and often in the company of his children. He thinks about why travelling make us feel good.

“New impressions disrupt our thought patterns. If you want to develop a new behavior in a person, the best way is to take the person to a new location. We become braver in new places since a new behavior does not seem as an equally big step as if it had been taken in our normal environment. There is nothing that we need to break free from. We allow ourselves to be more curious because we do not take things for granted in the same way. It is quite fascinating to see all the new things we do when we come to a new place. We try new food, listen to new music and talk to new people.”

The average time it takes a person to change or create a new habit is 66 days. But neuroscience research done by UCLA’s Longevity Center shows that the time may be shortened considerably if the behavior is repeated daily. More precisely down to seven days, or a holiday if you like.

Travel patterns change over time, and although traditional destinations such as London and Berlin remain popular, we can see that new regions are climbing into the top lists. The Orient is becoming increasingly popular during the summer, while the Middle East attracts a record number of Swedes for Christmas and New Year celebrations. For Micael, an equally important result of travelling is that we get visits from the outside world.

“Travelling is just as much about getting people here who will help us see what we have, but in new ways. We are to bad at this since we think that no one else knows our surroundings and cities as well as we do. The problem is that we have locked ourselves into a certain way of looking at our surroundings. We might see 80 percent of what is around us, but a Japanese person might see the remaining 20 percent, and those 20 percent are 100 percent new to us. We are rarely so prone to rediscover our immediate surroundings as when we have visitors from abroad.”

Micael also has a definite opinion about what makes an airport a good airport. An important part of his argument is that we cannot only think logically and practically if we want to create environments that make people feel comfortable.

“The things that make me appreciate airports are the multiculturalism, the movement and the new meetings. When it comes to designing airports, an important part is to not only look at an airport as a place where passengers should be transported from point A to point B as fast as possible. It should also move away from the traditional model that segregates travellers depending on their needs. Creativity needs a dose of chaos, and a good starting point is to create large rooms that promote meetings between different people.”

Having a unique touch on an airport is something worth striving for, says Micael. There is a value in being different and not only complying with the international standard. We also must be able to compromise efficiency in the short term if we are to promote creativity. Anyone who has the ability to combine the rational, structural and practical with the creativity of traveling is the winner of Micael’s airport rankings.

Then the next question becomes whether there exists an optimal balance between creativity and efficiency.

“It is difficult to quantify, but it is about feeling a little uncomfortable and curious all the time. It should not go so that it becomes too difficult or scary, but the point is that we want to get away from the simple and comfortable.”

We often hear about its importance but it might be worth considering what purpose creativity actually fills. Creativity leads to innovation that ultimately leads to more efficient solutions; therefore, creativity is an important building block when making something that is good, even better. The thing that distinguishes creativity from fantasy is that it actually leads to a result in the form of a new process, a new painting, a new song or a new patent.

Creating more effective solutions is only part of the answer. Happiness is another. Creativity is important for our personal development. Learning new things and solving problems is something we all feel good about. The day Micael got the news that he had been chosen to put together a play at the National Theatre in Oslo, he gave his taxi driver a bottle of champagne and made it clear to his family doctor that he had been Micael’s idol since the age of six. This reaction may show that creating makes us happy and that we are happy to share that joy.

“Creativity is needed if we are to realize our full potential.”

Since Micael values creativity, he welcomes easier and more spontaneous travel. Then what can get us to travel more?

“Increased demand, more effective airplanes and low-cost airlines are only part of the answer, equally important is what they in turn give rise to in the form of new routes and new premium offerings. There are simply no bad choices. This is a dynamic process since there is an extremely wide range of needs to be met. It is the companies’ task to make a business out of this.”

Micael Dahlén points out that we should not underestimate the importance of our ability to be inspired by encounters with other countries, cultures and people, thereby creating our own path to success.

“In the future travel will be a big source of inspiration when the major social problems of our time are to be solved. From a societal perspective, the effective trip from A to B is an important prerequisite, but the biggest gains lie in what the trip will bring in the next stage.”

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Micael Dahlén

Professor of Marketing
Born in 1973, wife and two children.
Author, lecturer, and since the age of 34 Professor of Economy at the Stockholm School of Economics.
Among other things, he is responsible for research related to consumer behavior and social psychology, and has written the celebrated book Nextopia (2008).
He has been nominated as Professor of the year by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit and is ranked by the Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising as one of the ten leading scientists in the world in his field.

How often do you travel and where?

As often as I can, both in my free time and at work, preferably simultaneously. I rather not make any difference between free time and work, time is tight enough anyway. Usually it is in Europe, since time is short, but when I can I like to go further west and east.

What is your best and worst memory from a trip?

Serbia. Everything on the way there went wrong. Cancelled flights, missed buses, wrong addresses. It resulted in me staying two days longer and I still did not finish what I went there to accomplish. In a way, it is my worst and my best travel memory.

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