Measuring Creativity - the Last Windmill?

Measuring Creativity - the Last Windmill?

Measuring Creativity - the Last Windmill?

Creativity measurement is creativity’s Achilles heel.

James C. Kaufman is a Professor of Educational Psychology in the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut. The president of the American Psychological Association’s Division 10 (Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts), he is the author/editor of more than two dozen books and 200 papers, mostly about creativity

Driving Question:  Is the measurement of creativity the last windmill

“As we all know, true creativity comes from simple formulas and the memorization of data”

-- Eric Hoffman and Gary Rudoren, Comedy by the Numbers

I am a creativity researcher. It is both a boon and annoyance to study something that is of (some) interest to the general public. One common reaction from skeptics is that it is impossible (and, perhaps, foolhardy if not a bit deluded), to measure creativity.

I have my ready-made answer. It usually involves the fact that we have many well-established, commonly-used creativity tests that have been around for more than 60 years. But the secret is that there is more truth than I would like to admit in this criticism. Creativity measurement is creativity’s Achilles heel.

Consider what assessment means in some common constructs.

  • Intelligence and personality tests have a major impact on our lives. Personality tests are standard components of job applications. Those who score low on emotional stability or conscientiousness will probably not get a follow-up phone call. Further, many people have internalized basic (if outdated) labels for themselves, taking social media tests to see if they are an INTJ or if their Star Wars personality is Yoda or Chewbacca.
  • IQ and achievement tests have played an even more dominant role in today’s society, for better or worse. IQ scores can determine who gets government assistance, who gets into gifted programs, and who lives or dies (in states with the death penalty). The SATs, ACTs, and their brethren shape the curriculum. Your scores might lead you to scholarships and better employment opportunities or make it nearly impossible to get into a good school. Whether you love or hate standardized tests, you ignore them at your peril.

In contrast, creativity tests are rarely used. They have little influence. Personality and intelligence measures have (slowly) evolved over time, reluctantly embracing theoretical advances. Creativity’s leading instruments are strikingly similar to the same ones used sixty years ago. Newer, more applied ways of assessing creativity are unstandardized, expensive, and cumbersome. We don’t value attributes that we can’t measure well, easily and cheaply.

This past year, I moved to the University of Connecticut to join my friends and colleagues Jonathan Plucker and Ronald Beghetto, two of creativity’s top scholars and leaders. One of our primary goals is to explore the next level of creativity measurement. Advances in technology, computer science, online communications, and digital media can be used to develop state of the art tools.

Will this be our windmill? Can a computer assign a creativity score? Can social media concepts be used to get subjective opinions from around the world? Can there be an online playground of creative outlets with virtual easels, laboratories, cameras, and inventions allowing people to express themselves in an endless number of ways? These are just some of the ideas that we have been discussing. I think it will be an exciting next decade – and hopefully one that can see creativity’s main weakness become its strength.

This entry originally appeared at Partnership for 21st Century Skills website. 

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