Who Will Innovate? A New Approach to Spotting the ‘Creatives’

July 10, 2019 Richard Justenhoven

For many organizations, workplace innovation is becoming increasingly important. Generating ideas, finding new angles, taking a different perspective all help to differentiate products and services - and businesses.

But how can we identify those in our teams or in our applicant pool who are ‘creative’ or ‘innovative’?

As product development director, I have been interested in this area for many years and have explored and investigated this with our product development team. We have recently published our research studies in the EAWOP journal, InPractice and below is a summary. You can access the full article here.  

Why did we set out to re-look at how to assess creativity?

For decades, assessing creativity has fallen to either practical and difficult-to-score exercises, or paper-based assessments which need in-person supervision and specialist scorers.

We knew that the advances in psychometrics and technology could open up new and robust ways to assess creativity – and we wanted to explore this.

What were the fundamentals driving our research studies?

Quite simply, we wanted to see if we could develop an online, unsupervised test that could be completed by candidates remotely which was valid, robust and indicated the level of creativity of an individual. At the start of our research we did not know if this was possible but over time we developed an approach and algorithm that resulted in what we now know as our sparks test.  

A summary of our work is below.

Our research

When being assessed objectively, innovation or creativity is typically viewed as consisting of four components:

  1. Fluency - the number of ideas or responses given within a time-frame
  2. Flexibility - the diversity of categories and perspectives offered
  3. Originality - the extent to which responses are novel, unconventional and infrequent
  4. Elaboration – the amount of detail given in each response

Taking these, we set out to develop an online creativity test across three studies that would use a fully automated scoring algorithm, which would be optimized for unsupervised settings and would be language independent.

The studies: a summary

In the first of these three studies - and not knowing where our research would take us - we set out to investigate if it was possible to design a scoring algorithm for a test such as the TTCT (Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, 1974). This was an established test which is highly resource intensive and impractical for wide use as a talent assessment.

The results from this study gave us a clear indication of the key differentiators of creativity and this helped us to define the algorithm.

We validated these differentiators in our next studies, but Study 2 focused on how to measure the Originality component of innovation as this was the far more complex component of the algorithm. For Study 2, we designed a new online creativity test (later to be known as sparks).

Study 3 focused on the three scores of Fluency, Flexibility, and Originality as well as looking at the entire creativity test for test-retest reliability and convergent and discriminant validity.

The result of the final study was the release of sparks: an online creativity test for unsupervised use and makes use of automated scoring algorithms which removes the resource need of having trained experts as assessors.

Next steps

But the work doesn’t stop. Since the initial three studies, we have embarked on a program of continued research to look at how the scoring algorithms generalize across those with different backgrounds and those with different levels of computer usage, as well as investigating the prognostic validity of the tool.

But sparks is already part of the assessment toolkit for talent practitioners. It can be used early in the hiring process to identify those who are likely to be creative and an idea generator – and also with current employees when they’re needing to draw together a creative team from a broader talent pool.  sparks adds that extra piece of information to the decision-making process.

Learn more about sparks here - https://assessment.aon.com/en-us/assessment-solutions/creativity-assessment.


Amabile, T. M., Conti, R., Coon, H., Lazenby, J., & Herron, M. (1996). Assessing the work environment for creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 39(5), 1154-1184.

Kesselring, A., Blasy, C., & Scopetta, A. (August, 2014). Workplace Innovation: Concepts and indicators. Brussels: European Commission, DG Enterprise and Industry.

Maier, G. W., Streicher, B., Jonas, E., & Frey, D. (2007). Innovation und Kreativität. In D. Frey & L. von Rosenstiel (Eds.), Enzyklopädie der Psychologie: Wirtschaftspsychologie (pp. 809-855). Stuttgart: Hogrefe.

Torrance, E. P. (1974). The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking-Norms-Technical Manual Research Edition-Verbal Tests, Forms A and B- Figural Tests, Forms A and B. Princeton, NJ: Personnel Press.

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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