PART 1: What is Creativity?

In the late 1960s, the psychologist J.P. Guilford drew a distinction between two forms of thinking: convergent and divergent. With its frequent use of standardized tests, education today tends to lean heavily toward convergent thinking, which emphasizes the importance of arriving at a single correct answer. Divergent thinking, however, requires coming up with alternative theories and ideas, sometimes many of them, to produce a useful solution.

Guilford claims that divergent thinking is required during all stages of the creative process. However, some degree of convergent thinking (which leads to a single solution) is also required, particularly during the elaboration phase of the creative process, when it is essential to discriminate and choose between alternatives (convergent) while at the same time generating new ideas (divergent).

Essentially, Guilford is equating thinking creatively with thinking "outside the box," a concept with which we are all familiar. Rosa Aurora Chavez-Eakle of the Maryland State Department of Education Council for the Gifted and Talented goes into more detail in this passage from a 2010 paper published by the Johns Hopkins School of Education:

"During the past decade, I developed the association integration-elaboration-communication phenomenological model of creativity (Chávez, 1999, Chávez, 2004). This model was developed from phenomenological observations and deep phenomenological interviews with poets, scientists, writers, music composers, social researchers, and plastic artists. The first stage of the creative process, the association-integration stage involves the association of previously unrelated elements of inner and outer experiences, forming new associations among what is perceived through the senses, thoughts, memories, ideas, and emotions.

"The second stage, the elaboration, involves all the subsequent conscious and voluntary work that is required to transform the associations developed in the previous stage into tangible works. The final stage, communication, involves sharing the work with others, a process that can be challenging and requires special courage. Sharing the creative outcome with others often unleashes new creative processes in other individuals, making creativity 'contagious.'"

Note that Chavez says she interviewed not only artists but "scientists" and "social researchers," still identifying a singular definition of the creative process. This finding is in keeping with the current notion that creativity should not only be associated with fine artists and performers, but with doctors, engineers, historians, technicians, and anyone else whose job requires—or even allows— them to think outside the box.

But wouldn't you call doctors and engineers innovative, not creative? What is the difference?

True, creativity and innovation are often conflated, and rightfully so--each contains elements of the other. The consensus appears to be that, while creativity may never manifest itself in a measurable way, innovation always leads to a quantifiable end product or result.

In April, Business Insider released a piece entitled, "There's a Critical Difference Between Creativity and Innovation." The author writes, "The main difference between creativity and innovation is the focus.

Creativity is about unleashing the potential of the mind to conceive new ideas.

Those concepts could manifest themselves in any number of ways, but most often, they become something we can see, hear, smell, touch, or taste. However, creative ideas can also be thought experiments within one person's mind.

Creativity is subjective, making it hard to measure, as our creative friends assert.
Innovation, on the other hand, is completely measurable. Innovation is about introducing change into relatively stable systems. It's also concerned with the work required to make an idea viable. By identifying an unrecognized and unmet need, an organization can use innovation to apply its creative resources to design an appropriate solution and reap a return on its investment.

Organizations often chase creativity, but what they really need to pursue is innovation. Theodore Levitt puts it best: "What is often lacking is not creativity in the idea-creating sense but innovation in the action-producing sense, i.e. putting ideas to work."

By this definition, we can gather that innovation requires creativity to be effective, and creativity requires innovation to be effected.

Some may argue that it doesn't matter which term you use; creativity and innovation are part and parcel of the same idea: originality.
But is this even true?

Kenneth Goldsmith, the first-ever poet laureate of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, thinks not. For the past several years, Goldsmith has been teaching a class at UPenn called Uncreative Writing, which inverts the paradigm of traditional "creative writing" courses. His students are penalized for any semblance of originality and "creativity," and rewarded for plagiarism, repurposing, sampling, and outright stealing. But as counterproductive and blasphemous as this may sound, it turns out to be a gateway to something unusual yet inevitable, that certain slot machine quality of creativity:

"The secret: the suppression of self-expression is impossible. Even when we do something as seemingly 'uncreative' as retyping a few pages, we express ourselves in a variety of ways. The act of choosing and reframing tells us as much about ourselves as our story about our mother's cancer operation. It's just that we've never been taught to value such choices. After a semester of forcibly suppressing a student's 'creativity' by making them plagiarize and transcribe, she will approach me with a sad face at the end of the semester, telling me how disappointed she was because, in fact, what we had accomplished was not uncreative at all; by not being 'creative,' she produced the most creative body of writing in her life. By taking an opposite approach to creativity — the most trite, overused, and ill-defined concept in a writer's training — she had emerged renewed and rejuvenated, on fire and in love again with writing."

This concept may be too difficult for younger students to grasp, but it is an extremely useful redefinition of creativity in today's information-saturated world, and an idea that Thomas Friedman was getting at in his New York Times piece, "The Professor's Big Stage": Due to the sheer volume of text on the Internet, and the ease with which we are granted access to information, it no longer matters what we know but what we can do with what we know.

According to Goldsmith, the definition of creativity is shifting, so that it no longer aligns with notions of "original genius" and inventiveness. A vast amount of material is here before us; why waste our creative energy adding to it when we can use that energy to manipulate what we already have?

Still, one could argue that this idea is, itself, original.

Regardless of how you choose to define creativity, experts tend to agree that it's attainable for everyone. Researchers say that no one is born with a special capacity for creativity; it's an innate form of potential found in all human beings. That isn't to say that everyone grows up in an environment that values or nurtures creativity—because it will remain in the form of untapped potential if no one bothers to tap it— but it will flow freely if permitted.

How Do You Measure Creativity?

Arguably the most famous organized assessment of human creativity is the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), created by E.P. Torrance in 1990. The tests remain the most widely used instrument to measure creative potential, and have proven reliable in multicultural settings.

The TTCT provide a creativity index (CI) and scores for the following dimensions: flexibility, fluency, originality, elaboration, resistance to premature closure, and abstractness of titles. Additional points are added to the final score for emotional expressiveness, story-telling articulateness, movement or action, expressiveness of titles, synthesis of incomplete figures, unusual visualization, internal visualization, extending or breaking boundaries, humor, richness of imagery, colorfulness of imagery, and fantasy (Torrance & Safter, 1999). The TTCT have shown high reliability and high predictive validity for future career image, and for academic and style-living creative achievements in 22 and 30-year follow-up studies (Torrance, 1988, Torrance, 1990, Torrance, 1993).

In addition, the TTCT have been used in more than 2,000 research projects and translated into 50 languages (Bronson & Merryman, 2010). A normal distribution of the creativity index in the general population has been reported using these tests, finding no significant differences between males and females (Torrance, 1990; Torrance & Safter, 1999).

Like intelligence tests, Torrance's test—a 90-minute series of discrete tasks, administered by a psychologist—measures for concrete behaviors and patterns of thought, usually in school-aged children.

But the shocking thing about Torrance's creativity index, wrote Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman their 2010 Newsweek piece, is how incredibly well they predicted those kids' creative accomplishments as adults.

"Those who came up with more good ideas on Torrance's tasks grew up to be entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers," Bronson and Merryman reported. "Jonathan Plucker of Indiana University recently reanalyzed Torrance's data. The correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ."

Another prototype tool for assessing pupils' creativity in school, outlined by the Chronicle of Higher Education, maps the dispositions of creative habits of minds along 5 dimensions: inquisitive; persistent; imaginative; collaborative; disciplined (each dimension including 3 sub-dispositions). The findings of two field trials in English schools show that the "formative assessment tool" led teachers to be more precise and confident in developing their pupils' creativity, and learners to be better able to understand what creativity entails and to record evidence of their progress.

The common thread, no matter the discipline, is that students must produce an original work, be evaluated by their peers, and revise their work based on that feedback.

Creative tasks are, by their nature, ambiguous, with no clear right or wrong answer, they say. Such tasks require taking intellectual risks, trying, evaluating, and discarding ideas, and making connections. To check whether these mental processes are actually happening, students at a private school in Kentucky, for example, must complete writing assignments for each project; faculty and administrators collect samples of finished works and use rubrics to assess them.

An even more direct way of measuring creativity would, ideally, be through brain scans. In neuroscience, logical thinking has traditionally been related to right cerebral hemisphere activation, whereas the kind of thinking that takes place in dreams has been related to left hemisphere activation (Martindale et al., 1984).

During creativity, both kinds of thinking take place at the same time (Arieti, 1976).

When evaluating differences in brain cerebral blood flow (CBF) between highly creative individuals during the performance of activities from the Torrance Tests, individuals with high creative performance showed greater CBF activity in both right and left brain hemispheres at the same time (Chávez-Eakle, Graff-Guerrero, García-Reyna, Vaugier, & Cruz-Fuentes, 2007). In this research, areas that showed greater activation were right precentral gyrus, right culmen, left and right middle frontal gyrus, right frontal rectal gyrus, left frontal orbital gyrus, and left inferior gyrus (BA 6, 10, 11, 47, 20). These areas are involved in cognition, emotion, working memory, novelty response, imagery, multimodal processing and pleasure (Chávez-Eakle et. al, 2007).

At the Centers for Research on Creativity (CRoC) in Los Angeles, James Catterall and Anne Bamford are developing a test called the Next Generation Creativity Survey, which uses traditional self-report scales along with ratings of original student work on the basis of creative skills and motivations. "By assessing individual creative thinking and motivation," the CRoC website reads, "the NGCS measure goes beyond current models that rely only on counting curricular and afterschool offerings. Current creativity index designs provide a limited indication of creativity in the curriculum and are not useful for assessing creativity learning among students."

The test is being piloted in eight art, science, and social problem-solving programs across the United States—for example, through The Wooden Floor ballet school in Santa Ana, CA; the Los Angeles Teen Classic Poetry Slam; the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education; and the Little Rock, Arkansas public schools. The 2013 survey is still in progress, but the results of a preliminary inquiry at the Inner-City Arts Creativity Laboratory in Los Angeles from 2012 is available on the CRoC website.

For a great overview of different ways of measuring creativity at the national, regional, and individual level, see The European Commission's Measuring Creativity: the book, which considers a wide range of human traits as they relate to creativity, including confidence, independence, sensitivity, intelligence, entrepreneurship, financial success, introversion/extroversion, problem-solving skills, imagination, initiative, inquisitiveness, awareness of others, and much more.
However, there is a school of researchers and educators who believe that creativity can't, in fact, be measured in a standardized fashion. It is such a mutable, abstract quality—capable of shifting and being manifested differently from individual to individual— that some argue measuring it would be counterproductive, even harmful.
The alternative is to recognize, foster, and reward creativity when we see it.

"I think you can see creativity in action," says retired high school English teacher Dawn Hogue.

"When a student presents an idea or a point of view so uncommon or new that it turns heads, that's evidence of creative thinking. I imagine there is no accurate rubric or measurement tool for creativity. Plus, what's creative and what's not is somewhat subjective, so I would hate for it to be too entrenched in standard assessment. I've seen rubrics that refer to things like 'uses creative approach' or 'shows divergent thinking,' but I'm not sure those markers are meaningful."

Creativity expert Keith Sawyer agrees, rejecting a general quotient like the Torrance Test Creative Quotient. The most appropriate way to teach and assess creativity, he says, is in specific domains.

"Creativity research shows that you get the best results when you teach creativity within the context of a specific discipline (rather than teaching one "general creativity" course)," Sawyer says. "This means that if you want creative physicists, then your physics department classes need to be changed; if you want creative computer scientists, then the computer science curriculum needs to be changed. If you just add a three-credit creativity course, but then students get the same old memorize-and-regurgitate curriculum in their STEM classes, the creativity course won't be able to overcome the uncreative STEM teaching." Creativity assessment, he adds, should be tailored to each subject.

Creativity consultant Jeffrey Davis, taking a middle-of-the-road approach, says, "It would be valuable to measure conditions that allow creative ideation and insight to occur," noting that it could help teachers to better design their classes.

He proposes a series of "creative strength assessments" for teens and young adults which would inform them of the ways in which they are strong creatively.

Instead of a black-or-white, have-it-or-don't assessment model, Davis's model would help students identify their innate potential and leverage their strengths to create individually and in collaboration with others. The assessment might measure things like problem solving ability, interpersonal intelligence, and communication skills.

In addition, "the report would mirror back to students one or two 'dormant' qualities," Davis says, emphasizing the distinction between dormant and absent, "along with suggestions for balancing or compensating for them."

Though the debate over measuring creativity has been raging for several decades, the data is slow to catch up. What educators and researchers can be sure of is that creativity is valuable at any level, from any individual, for any purpose.

Can It Be Taught and Why Should We Care?

When we talk about the importance of creativity in education, we no longer need to make a qualitative argument for personal enhancement or the de-automatization of society; the proof is in the numbers.

A recent IBM poll of 1,500 American CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 "leadership competency" of the future. A study of over 1,000 college-educated professionals showed that 71% of respondents think creativity should be taught as a class, like math and science, and 85% believe that creative thinking is critical for problem-solving in their careers. As early as the 1990s, curriculum developers in England, Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, and the United States deliberately highlighted creativity as a prerequisite for functioning in modern society. More recently, Richard Florida's Global Creativity Index survey (2011) found a trend of 0.84 between a nation's "creativity" and its GDP per capita.

There is a positive correlation between the creativity of a nation's workforce and that nation's economic prosperity, and there has been for a while. Let's not kid ourselves here.

But the correlation between economic prosperity and creativity in education— now, that is a little murkier. Finland is currently ranked number-one in Florida's Index, but does this mean that Finnish schools foster creativity more than other schools do, or that Finnish people are simply more innovative? Are Finnish students encouraged to think creatively, or are a few creative minds running the whole show (read: Nokia)?

In any case, what matters is that every student receives the opportunity to tap into his or her own creative potential. Naturally, the greater number of creative citizens a country has, the better. And schools can help this cause.

In addition to economic prosperity, experts have cited adaptability as one of creativity's many boons. Today's students can't possibly anticipate the information and skills they will need years down the road, especially as our technological landscape continues to evolve at such a rapid rate. However, as Sir Ken Robinson has pointed out, if they have the tools to be creative and to innovate, they will have a much better chance of succeeding no matter how the world changes.

Supporters of traditional, passive learning styles tend to pit creativity against standardized testing and rote memorization as if the two can't coexist in a single learning environment. However, creativity has been shown to enhance memorization through associative mental devices such as the Method of Loci, a mnemonic tool whereby items are paired mentally with physical locations in a sort of "memory palace."

You could go on and on arguing for the value of creativity on a personal level, but what else—on a societal, national, global level—makes creativity so important?

Mark Batey, Ph.D., wrote an illuminating piece for Psychology Today on the subject. He lists seven themes and research studies that convinced him that creativity is the number-one skill for the 21st century:

Creativity and innovation are the number-one strategic priorities for organizations the world over;
Creativity is part of our day jobs;
Organizational profitability rests on individual creativity;
Creative teams perform better and are more efficient;
Creative organizations are more profitable;
Creative leadership is fundamental; and
Successful economies and societies will need to be creative.
The full article may be read here, but here are a few highlights:

Creative organisations are more profitable:
First, creative companies harness the creativity within the organization to improve or invent new products, processes and services. As indicated in the Ernst & Young 2010 Connecting Innovation to Profit report:
"We assume that 50% of our revenue in 5 years' time must come from sources that do not exist today. That is why we innovate."

In the same Ernst & Young report it was found that highly successful companies realise that:
"the ability to manage, organise, cultivate and nurture creative thinking is directly linked to growth and achievement."
Further, the report highlighted that "Innovation 'for the sake of it' is often essential, but the speed at which a fast-growth company moves forward will depend on its ability to connect creativity to profit."

In a recent study of 190 agile companies, Bottani (2010) found that their flexibility and speed of reaction were strongly dependent on creativity. Similar results have been found in a study of agile companies by BTM where agile firms were prepared to innovate and experiment with creative approaches to emerging technologies, work practices, product or service concepts and customer segments or product markets.

Similarly, within the research frameworks that have examined the characteristics of High Performing companies, creativity features strongly. The Accenture Institute of High Performance (2003-2010) found that High Performing organisations created powerful strategies, encouraged deep insight, originality and the engagement of creativity across all employees. Lastly, these companies invested disproportionally in recruiting and developing people."

And, with regard to 7) Successful economies and societies will need to be creative:

"From an organisational perspective we can see why we must demand creativity from individuals, teams and the firm. However, according to the 2010 Winning Ingredients report from Standard Chartered... successful economies will need to utilise cash, commodities and creativity. The report concluded that:

"Creativity may be the most powerful of all the resources to be rich in. With vast numbers of people entering the workforce, huge improvements in productivity, and continued globalisation, the rewards for innovation and creativity will become even greater."

Given that for much of the western world we have exhausted our supplies of cash and commodities, creativity may be all we have left."
If we agree more or less on the definition of creativity as the ability to think "divergently" and "outside the box," to challenge assumptions and propose alternative solutions, then the true task of education systems around the globe becomes, in essence, teaching students to be different. And in saying be different, I mean thinking differently, doing things differently, expressing oneself differently, and appreciating differences (which happens to be the foundation of respect). There is a time and place for sameness, to be sure, but it is not in an academic environment.

Every good idea is a different idea. Even if someone's success story involves copying others—for example, the social media platform Pheed, which is basically a repurposing of Twitter and Facebook— that act in itself requires divergent thinking. This is the sort of thing Kenneth Goldsmith was getting at: It takes a certain fearlessness to see the potential for difference in something that appears to be mundane. It may be the ultimate challenge creativity has to offer, and the number-one skill educators should foster in their students.

In the same study mentioned above, 91% of respondents believed there is more to success in school than focusing on course material.
Again, it's not what you know but what you can do with what you know.

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