A New Way to Unleash Creativity and Innovation

January 10, 2019 Richard Justenhoven

This article was published in: HRzone.

Creativity has been a difficult competency to measure but, with Artificial Intelligence, the ‘holy grail of assessment’ is now a reality, says Richard Justenhoven.

A New Way to Unleash Creativity and Innovation

Innovation is essential to today’s organisations. When your competitors have access to similar technology and resources as you, and when they have the ability to replicate your offering - your business will die if it doesn’t find new ways to become better, faster or fresher. Creativity is therefore a highly desirable employee competency, though it’s always been challenging to assess ... until now.

The pioneering American psychologist Joy Paul Guilford developed the first test* to measure “divergent thinking”’ (the ability to have creative thoughts) in 1967. Test takers were instructed to list multiple uses for a common object, such as a brick, shoe or paperclip. Their results were scored on factors such as originality, fluency (the quantity and relevance of the answers) and flexibility (the number of different categories of answer). Another US psychologist, Ellis Paul Torrance built on Guildford’s work with his own creative thinking tests**. In these, test takers were asked to construct pictures from certain shapes. The downside of both of these approaches was the time needed to evaluate each test taker’s results and the difficulty of assessing the ‘originality’ of the responses. These factors made creativity tests prohibitively expensive to use for employee selection or development.

The advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has changed this. Today’s creativity tests, which have been inspired by Guildford and Torrance, quickly assess verbal creativity and “figural creativity”, though drawing skills are not important. The tests feature lines and objects which can be manipulated to form a picture and the candidates give their pictures a creative title. AI algorithms score the responses on fluency and flexibility. The algorithms then run a Google search to check the originality of each candidate’s words and drawings. Unlike their predecessors, these creativity tests aren’t manually reviewed by human raters; they are scored automatically (in less than a second).

Two Other Roles for Innovation

The ability to measure creativity in an objective and cost-effective way has been described as the ‘holy grail of assessment’. Although it’s an exciting development, it doesn’t guarantee innovation.

Generating ideas by thinking “outside the box” is unquestionably an important skillset. But on its own, it’s not enough. Novelty and originality may be the cornerstones of innovation, but ideas still need to be vetted and they need to be channelled into something useful or practical. So, as well as idea generators, you need idea vetters and idea communicators.

Throwing your computer out of the window could be a creative idea. But it’s probably not going to benefit you in the long-run (or maybe it would?). Someone with relevant knowledge and experience needs to vet ideas and decide which of them are viable. Someone also needs to present the chosen idea(s) to senior management, or the client, in order to turn a good idea into something beneficial. It’s rare that one individual will be skilled in all three areas: idea generating, idea vetting and idea communicating. However, if you want a high performing creative team, you must ensure its comprised of individuals who are skilled in each of these roles.

Assessing Key Skills

In order to enhance innovation, many organisations are now combining a creativity test with a personality questionnaire and an abstract logical thinking test. These assessments can be used as a diagnostic to determine the “innovation skills” of your employees. They can help you identify your best idea generators, idea vetters and idea communicators. The results can then be used to form or develop innovative teams. If any of the three key roles are lacking, these assessments can be utilized to recruit candidates with the required competencies.

Remember, innovation doesn’t always have to be about breakthrough products. Good ideas at every level can help your organisation make incremental improvements to processes or operations that might enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of your business model - or the convenience, accessibility and affordability of your product range.

Now that it has become affordable to assess the important roles that are required for innovation, you can ensure your teams have a blend of the necessary skills. This will not only improve each team’s ability to innovate, it will ensure your organisation’s competitive advantage.

Find our more about assessing for creativity.

About the Author

Richard Justenhoven

Richard Justenhoven is the product development director within Aon's Assessment Solutions. A leading organizational psychologist, Richard is an acknowledged expert in the design, implementation and evaluation of online assessments and a sought after speaker about such topics.

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