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Creativity. How to Measure It?

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

Why do we need creativity more than in the past?

After technologies have empowered humans significantly, scarcity of innovative ideas is limiting humans more than scarcity of resources.

What is creativity?

Creativity is associated with producing new, original, imaginative things. It can denote a capability to produce them, a quality (of a producer, an idea, a product etc) or, less frequently, a process of production.

Does an idea need to be valuable to count as creative?

No, value and creativity are independent from each other. (Although many disagree with this.)

Even useless things can be highly creative.

Many kids’ drawings are creative, although they are seldom considered valuable. Sometimes absence of any known type of value makes things valuable in a new way, like it happened with some particularly original works of art. For example, Black Square by Kazimir Malevich is a painting with nothing on it but a black square – it became iconic as a symbol of several new movements in art.

Value is always subjective and can even be negative. Can creativity be negative? Shall the degree of creativity depend on who is evaluating it? Obviously not.

Value can be perceived differently in different times, while creativity is usually determined once, with reference to the relevant past. As the relevant past does not change, there is no need to re-evaluate the degree of creativity.

For example, value of clean water was typically lower in the previous century when it was more abundant, but it increased when clean water became scarcer. Value of ideas, inventions, innovations is also changing with time. Sometimes we realize that an idea is valuable after we have learnt something new. Creativity, on the other hand, does not need to be re-evaluated because of the changing contexts. It is determined in reference to its relevant past. Einstein’s theory of relativity is considered creative because it was original once when he formulated it. The past of his theory does not change any more, so the degree of creativity does not need to be re-evaluated either.

What is problematic about measuring creativity?

Newness and originality are not easy to define and quantify. How much original is original enough? Who ought to decide about it? And how to determine unequivocally what is more creative and what is less creative?

Although there are over one hundred approaches to evaluating creativity (see a short overview, e.g., here (Simonton, 2012)), I have not found any that would allow comparing degree of creativity of different ideas. At best, the existing approaches rely on subjective opinions.

My way to measure creativity takes into account the content of the proposed ideas yet does not depend on subjective evaluations.

How can creativity of an idea be measured?

Intuitively, we differentiate between innovations of small and large scale. For example, if an idea changes an insignificant property of an object, leaving most other properties intact, we will probably not call such an idea very creative. If an idea changes all or a high share of the properties of an object, or if it proposes an absolutely new object, we will probably call such an idea very creative.

To measure the degree of creativity, I propose to count a percentage of properties that change qualitatively.

A change is qualitative if a property changes its essence, nature or completely disappears or appears. A change is quantitative if the same property becomes more or less intense (e.g., weight, speed, colour etc.). Quantitative changes do not usually count as new or original properties.

For example, if a bicycle gets a cabin or if its wheels get replaced with skis, the change is qualitative because the properties of the object change by nature: the bicycle gets new, different properties.

If a bicycle gets ten wheels instead of two, it is a quantitative change, which is not usually perceived as very creative. The property is essentially the same: the bicycle still runs on its wheels.

The formula for degree of creativity of an idea is:

New properties / All properties * 100% = Degree of Creativity of an Idea

If an object is absolutely new, it has never been produced before, e.g., a time machine, then all its properties are new and its degree of creativity is 100%.

If an object is partially new, we need to count (i) how many properties are qualitatively new and (ii) how many properties in total the object has. For example, if a smartphone has one new function and the total number of its properties (including the new one) is 100, then its degree of creativity is: 1/100 * 100% = 1%.

What to count as a property does not matter for the metric. If the phone has 10, 100 or 1000 properties, the resulting metrics for different ideas can still be used to compare their degrees of creativity.

Why do we need to measure creativity?

  1. To compare the creativity of different ideas (but not their value).

  2. To help evaluate a creative capacity of a person.

If we measure not only a number of new ideas a person can generate in a unit of time, but also degrees of their creativity, we can obtain a better picture of that person’s creative capacity.

How often do people measure creativity?

Seldom, compared to how often they praise it. For example, HR specialists still pay more attention to skills that can be verified with diplomas or formal experience. Creativity is understood as given, it is hardly ever checked, although it is a skill that requires training and development.

I do not want to repeat numerous rankings that identified creativity as number one skill we need (e.g. The Future of Jobs Report 2020 by the World Economic Forum (2020)), but I do call to measure it more frequently. When knowledge is easily accessible, our success depends more on new original ideas than on old diplomas.


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