How To Assess Creativity

Have you ever heard that you can’t assess or test someone’s creativity?  Well you can.  Read on.

I am a teacher so “assessments” are always a hot topic among my colleagues...and my students.

I know that students are so concerned with assessments that I started letting them make their own assessments.  Your mind probably responded by asking “but how can they be trusted?”. Good question.  If you’re an educator, I challenge you to test this out with your students.  Ask yourself if they’re really trying to “pull one by me” or maybe you need to let go of some control and allow curiosity to lead.

Anyways, when I let my students make their own assessments for projects there is usually someone who throws out that “creativity” should be an objective.  It’s usually followed by another student saying “you can’t grade that though!”.  I initially agreed with this but have recently discovered a “deeper truth” to this.  

First off, creativity can only be assessed over time.  It must be compared to previous work or examples.  Simply by looking at an art piece, business, project or presentation doesn’t give me enough evidence to evaluate whether an individual is demonstrating “creativity”.  I need a portfolio of something to respond to.  

 

If you’re assessing yourself then you already have this.  If you’re assessing others for creativity then you might need to do some digging. Just look at and think about your/their most recent projects.  Compare and reflect.  There are some specific questions to ask when doing this:

Do I/they have the ability to produce a large number of ideas?

Do I/they have the ability to produce a variety of approaches to solve a problem?

Do I/they have the ability to develop, embellish, or fill out an idea?

Do I/they have the ability to  produce ideas that are unusual, statistically infrequent, not banal or obvious?

 

The four components of “assessing creativity” are:

  1. Fluency

  2. Flexibility

  3. Elaboration

  4. Originality

 

I stumbled upon these four areas while going through an Adobe Education course called “Assessing Creativity in Today’s Classroom”.   They come from a psychologist named Ellis Paul Torrance.  Torrance has spent his entire life devoting himself to research in “creativity”.

 

Fluency: The Ability To Produce A Large Number Of Ideas

I’m all about the “process”.  You probably know this if you follow my work.  I believe that the process is more important than the product.  

I challenge my students (and you...and me) to generally spend more time in the beginning of the creative process.  It’s tempting to come up with an idea that you know will “change the world” and then quickly move on to planning it and rapidly executing it.  It’s important that we discipline ourselves to “hang out” in the idea generation part of the process.  Or at least be willing to revisit it throughout the whole process.  You might have a journal and want to give yourself a number of ideas to come up with before you move on to choosing which ones to execute. You might say “I’m going to brainstorm for 30 minutes without stopping” and then afterwards choose your favorite ideas. You might need to spend some more time researching inspiring work from other artists or creative people.  Maybe just walk outside and look around.  You might have a way of generating ideas that can be expanded on.  Think about it.  You’re smart!

 

 

Flexibility: The Ability To Consider A Variety Of Approaches To A Problem Simultaneously

Basically,  how many different ways can you execute your idea to completion.  If you come up with an idea and after thinking about it for a minute or two decide that it can’t be done then I would challenge you to see if there are similar ways that others have done the same thing or something like your idea.  Sometimes this sparks better ideas.

In my classroom the situation I just mentioned happens often because of the culture that young people are generally educated in.  If something is too difficult then my students are caught in a dilemma:  think of another idea or figure it out.

Most of the time our default is to just think of another idea (or easier idea).  The most creative people can look at a problem, situation or idea from multiple perspectives and they will always find a way to solve or complete it (even if they only figure out some of it).   Sometimes this means letting go of ‘perfect’ and doing some “hard” thinking.  You can do it though!

 

 

Elaboration: The Ability To Develop, Embellish, Or Fill Out An Idea

Time is so limited in our world.  We feel we have to be on all of the social networks, be reading all of the creative blogs and hanging out with the coolest people.  It’s basically a form of multitasking and it kills our creative process and our ability to “elaborate”.

Spending time chewing on a concept is what I recommend to my students once they make a decision and move forward.  

It’s so easy to jump in and try to quickly make our project, business or creative endeavor happen in a day or two.  I would challenge you to “pull back on the reins” and say whoooaaaa Nelly!

Similar to mediation is “elaboration”.  We allow our minds to think on a deeper level with a heightened sense of awareness regarding our creative work.  

If you’re struggling to “fill out an idea” then try turning off all of your devices, sit in a quiet space and write down the name of your idea on piece of paper.  Then just stare at it.  When thoughts come into your mind then write them down around the idea.  This a form of mind-mapping and can be used for any idea that you want to develop and elaborate on a deeper level.  

This is a challenge in our society so you have to be intentional to demonstrate this level of creativity.  You can do it though!

 

 

Originality - The Ability To Produce Ideas That Are Unusual, Statistically Infrequent, Or Obvious

This might also be called “individuality”, “finding your niche” or “being you” in your work.  It’s one thing to be able to imitate another artist but to imitate, replicate, twist, shape and convert it into your work is a demonstration of deep creativity.  Austin Kleon writes about this in “How to Steal Like An Artist”.

Don’t get me wrong, imitating others work is a great first step to finding your most creative self but it’s not a means to an end.  It’s a small step towards you as a creative person where you come out in your work.  Some artists who have taught me about this are Ben Haggerty (AKA Macklemore), Jeremy Cowart, Chase Jarvis and Casey Niestat.  They all have taken what was already happening and made it their own to become highly successful and creative humans.


As you attempt to assess yourself or others regarding this thing we call “creativity”, I would challenge you not to judge but to simply “notice” and if you want to...make a change in your life.  What’s one thing that you can do to be more creative? Think about the people you consider to be the most creative in your life.  Why do you think that?  How can you begin to incorporate what they’re doing into your life?

CHALLENGE: assess your creativity or someone else’s creativity and write down these four questions in a journal or paste them into a document and (in a non-judgmental way) respond with writing or drawing for 30 minutes.  

  • Do I/they have the ability to produce a large number of ideas?
  • Do I/they have the ability to produce a variety of approaches to solve a problem?
  • Do I/they have the ability to develop, embellish, or fill out an idea?
  • Do I/they have the ability to  produce ideas that are unusual, statistically infrequent, or obvious?

 

Let me know how that works out for you.

Creatively,

Mark

P.S. you might enjoy these other articles that I've written:

 

 

Mark Maya

Mark Maya Photography, Durham, NC, 27707, United States

Mark Maya is a photographer and educator from Durham, NC.

Mark Maya is a wedding photographer and educator from Durham, NC.