How to measure creativity at the employee level

Thursday August 26 2021
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By Business Daily Africa

An innovation conference here and a creativity seminar there. It seems that nearly every speaker at professional events tries to weave in the now omnipresent concepts of inventiveness, originality and resourcefulness.

Further, interview panels in our professional spaces often ask questions to probe the level of creativity of an applicant by asking them to explain something creative they did in an earlier job or ask how creative would fellow employees rate them.

Such useless measures feed into overall research that shows interviews as a colossal waste of time and inaccurate in securing the right employees.

Much of the narratives in industries revolves around two aspects of creativity: the creative characteristics of a worker at the individual level and then organisation-level fostering of creative-inducing environments.

But social scientists also investigate how to adequately measure both personal and firm creativity.

In search of firm creativity, one can look for the causes supported by a plethora of research that shows how to optimise entity creativity by granting autonomy to staff, shared decision making, reward risk-taking, implement feedback loops, foster trust and fairness all while enabling employees to perceive that they are heard and valued.


Researchers and human resource managers can measure these causes of company creativity through sophisticated employee perception surveys.

Firm creativity can also be observed through outputs, or effects, through well-established indicators such as organisational performance, longevity, profits and growth, among others.

But how can you measure creativity at the individual level? Typical methods involve having respondents write sentences or say alternative uses for common everyday objects.

Then an interviewer or researcher assesses the creativity of the responses leaving wide room for subjectivity.

But Jay Olson at Harvard University along with an international team including Johnny Nahas, Denis Chmoulevitch, Simon Cropper, and Margaret Webb, used samples of respondents from 98 countries to create a much more simplified verbal assessment that gives a quick response on one aspect of creativity.

Their new divergent association task has now gone viral since their research publication two months ago.

Essentially, a respondent can enter 10 different words into their webpage, making the words different from each other as much as possible in both meanings and uses for each of the words.

Then an algorithm instantly checks the definitions and similarities between the word meanings, using the science of semantic distance.

Pause for a moment and do the quick three-minute task at:

The international average for the correlations in the self-test stands at 78. Did you score higher or lower than average?

If you did not score as high as you hoped, how can you improve your creativity? Interestingly, you can try to regularly think of as many uses for various objects as possible.

Daily for a month, pick a particular object in your home or office such as a marker or a bottle, etc, and come up with as many alternative uses for that object as possible.

A whiteboard marker, as an example, could also alternatively be used as a back scratcher, weapon, pointer, and so forth. Keep doing divergent thinking object uses exercises daily for a month until you can name over 20 alternative non-traditional uses for every object you try.

Then go ahead and take the divergent association task online again. You will likely have become much more creative even to the point where you notice better ideas and solution-oriented thinking as you go about your daily work life.

But on the flip side, if you need to hire creative workers for key positions, you can verbally ask them to name 10 diversely different nouns in an interview.

As they say them, you or another panel member enters their answers into the above website and get a quick glimpse at the candidate’s imagination on one aspect of creativity.

Dr Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor