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A Creativity Test?

It would be difficult to design an accurate way to test a person's creativity, but some suggestions for doing that follow. Such a creativity test could be scored according to these three basic criteria:

1. Quantity of ideas.

2. Originality of ideas.

3. Quality of ideas.

It is difficult to imagine that a test based on these criteria could ever be very precise in distinguishing who is more or less creative, but that doesn't mean it would tell us nothing. For example, if people were asked to list in ten minutes as many ways as they could to use a pen, those who found sixty ways might reasonably be said to be more creative than those who found just three.

Why is the quantity of ideas important? Because experience and history shows that having more ideas in general leads to more good ideas. For example, it seems unlikely that Edison would have been as successful with his light bulb if he had only thought of only five things to try as a filament instead of the hundreds he tried. Great photographers will tell you that one secret to taking good photos is to take many and pick out the good ones. This seems to hold true with ideas as well.

Originality is important because new ideas are most likely to add value to what exists. After all, ideas which have been around are more likely to have been used already. Of course, since we're measuring originality of the individual, the important question is not whether the idea has been thought of before, but whether is it new to the person whose creativity is being measured.

Quality is a tough thing to measure. With new products this is done to a large extent by success in the marketplace. For our purposes though, we can simply ask of each idea; "Does it seem likely that it could be used and be of some value?"

A Test of Creative Ability

If you want to measure how creative you are, then, I propose the following simple creativity test. It isn't meant to be definitive, and you may be able to design a better one yourself, but this one will give you the basic idea. Start with a pen and a couple pieces of lined paper, and in twenty minutes write down as many ideas as you can for one of the following:

- Ways to cross a lake.

- Materials a house can be built with.

- Possible and actual uses for a pencil.

- Possible and actual uses for a bicycle.

- Ways to make money with a car.

You can do this test by yourself, and perhaps test yourself again weeks later to see if you have made some progress. For a more immediate measurement by comparison with others, make this a game with friends. All of you should use the same item from the list above.

Players get a point for each idea they write down. They get another point for each of idea which they have not heard of or read about before (you'll have t trust players to be honest for this). Finally, to measure the quality of the ideas, ask, "Does this idea have any likely value in actual application?" Score two points for each "yes." Players can all vote on this last measure, if necessary.

The idea here is to use this as a relative measure of your creative ability, as a point of comparison. This is why I have no scores listed - no "x and above = very creative." But after working with some of the techniques for increasing creative output, you can take the test again, with another item from the list (or make up your own), to see how you score.

Of course, the quantity of ideas will be different with different subjects (how many uses are there for a chair versus a window?), making the scores questionable. To make this more accurate then, take the test several times before and after your "creativity lessons," with different challenges each time. Compute an average score for each series of tests you take, so you can more reasonably compare the "before and after."

Note: Part two: How to Be More Creative, covers a few more components of creative ability which can be measured, as well as how to improve the skills of creative thinking.

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