The Calculated Creative

Assessing Creative Potential

The outdated view of creativity as formless, untestable, and unteachable is being challenged by sophisticated research-driven approaches.

Creativity has long been viewed as an elusive, even mystical talent that cannot be easily measured or developed.

But a growing body of research suggests that creative potential is more quantifiable and teachable than we once thought.

Here is a contrarian perspective on some common assumptions about creativity:

Creativity Cannot Be Assessed

The common view: Creativity is too subjective to measure. Unlike academic skills, creative talent resists rubrics or standardization. Divergent, nonlinear thinking is simply too complex and multifaceted to quantify into a numerical score. Standardized tests only measure convergent thinking, so there are no effective "creativity tests" that schools or employers can use to identify creative potential.

The contrarian view: While assessing creativity has unique challenges, research shows that useful guidelines and approaches do exist. Tests of divergent thinking such as the Torrance Test evaluate critical dimensions like ideational fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration, providing a quantifiable picture of creative potential. Open-ended response formats, project-based assessments, rating scales and portfolios also reveal facets of generative, novel and adaptive thinking. Expert consensus evaluations offer another methodology. Synthesizing these tools, researchers have identified best practices for quantitative creativity assessment. Creativity assessment has advanced and evolved into a reliable discipline, debunking the belief that creative potential is wholly subjective or unmeasurable.

Creative Genius Cannot Be Taught

The common view: Creative giants like Steve Jobs, Picasso and Mozart had an inexplicable genius beyond what any education could cultivate. They had a serendipitous “creative spark” - or perhaps genius neurons wired differently at birth. Either you have these elusive gifts or you don’t. Hence most creativity training falls flat, as schools cannot transform average thinkers into creative geniuses through sheer practice or skill development. Creative talent is largely innate and unteachable according to this mythic view.

The contrary view: Exceptional creators do have innate talents, but evidence suggests that foundational creative thinking skills can absolutely be strengthened and taught. Meta-analytic reviews of creativity training programs find they produce sizable improvements in divergent thinking, problem solving, idea generation, and insightful thinking. How? Effective programs focus on key attitudes like embracing ambiguity, deferring judgment, and disinhibition to expand possibility spaces. They build skills in associative, metaphorical thinking while attacking assumptions. They integrate explicit creativity frameworks and implicit thinking habits through repeated practice. And science reveals even the brains of eminent creatives develop gradually in “learning loops” with mentors not in one revelatory moment. The view that creativity cannot be systematically nurtured is outdated - creative capacity demonstrably expands with the right inputs over time.

Standardized Testing Diminishes Creativity

The common view: Research confirms that current focus on standardized testing and rote learning actively inhibits creative thinking in children over time. Strict accountability to scripted standards inherently contradicts the fluid cognition of creativity. Further, emphasis on the single "right answer" approach rewards algorithmic thinking and punishes imaginative thinking, eroding intrinsic motivation. Hence as testing penetrates deeper into curriculums, creativity scores decline. To truly foster 21st century skills, schools must move away from industrialized testing models toward more creativity-centered project learning. Standardized testing stiffles creativity - the two are fundamentally incompatible.

The contrarian view: The root problem is less standardized testing itself and more curricula that lack creativity development. Testing and creativity need not be at odds - top scoring countries like Singapore integrate creative thinking into assessments through open-ended challenges. Further, well designed tests can define and quantify higher-order skills that overlap with creative cognition. The issue is not teaching to the test but the test failing to sufficiently value ingenuity. Rather than less testing, a contrarian view holds that schools need more focus on integrating creativity into testing. Creative thinking must be a visible, measurable learning outcome reinforced at all levels. With rich enough psychometric models, standardized can incentivize not inhibit creative excellence. But creative mindsets must first be nourished through curriculum for tests to reflect them. Through synergistic, evidence-based integration of creativity into learning standards creativity thrives.


The Takeaway

Research continues to uncover new insights into systematically assessing and cultivating creative potential.

The outdated view of creativity as formless, untestable, and unteachable is being challenged by sophisticated research-driven approaches.

With reliable measurement frameworks and quality pedagogical inputs, creative capacity can undoubtedly be expanded in people from all backgrounds.

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