How do we best measure creativity?

Creative performance is fairly easy to assess. It is usually obvious to judges or observers, and at the highest level, in historical records. It is, in a word, unambiguous. Creative potential, on the other hand, is a huge challenge. It is, after all, "mere potential" and not apparent in products or awards and achievements. If there were objective indicators, it would be creative performance, or at least overt creative behavior; but there is no observable indication of creative potential. It must be inferred. We must rely on indicators that have proved to be good predictors in the past and that fit, according to sound theories of creativity, with the requirements and underlying processes of creativity. Research in the past two decades suggests that creative potential can be accurately assessed.

What influences creative potential?

There is a big difference between creative potential and actual creative performance. Arguably the most important issue in creativity research concerns the best methods for supporting creative potential so it develops into creative performance and achievement.

Genetics research shows that everyone has a range of creative potentials—the key there being the idea of "a range of reaction." Creative potentials seem to be influenced by cultural values; parenting styles and choices; investments made into creative skills, including practice; and, of course, education.

How do we systematically fulfill creative potentials?

Values represent an overarching influence on the fulfillment of creative potentials. If someone values creativity, they will look for it, invest in it, appreciate it, try to express it. If parents, teachers, supervisors at work (and culture as a whole) value creativity, they will model creative behavior and are likely to support and reward creative behavior and provide opportunities to express and develop it. One of the most powerful ways to fulfill creative potentials, then, is to insure that it is a part of value systems. Efforts to develop and express creativity will follow naturally from value systems.

Decisions are critical for fulfilling creative potentials—and here again, if people or organizations value creativity, they will make decisions that lead to creative behavior and creative thinking. This includes decisions about careers and choices about how to invest their time, but it also applies to thinking and decisions about what kinds of solutions to consider when faced with a problem (original ones, or solutions that are consistently more conventional and common rather than unconventional and novel?) and what kind of ideas to explore and express.

Parents and teachers can contribute to creative potentials by modeling creative behavior, insuring that children and students have opportunities for creative thinking, and rewarding original and effective creative thinking. They can also target tactics for creative problem solving and model a creative attitude. As a matter of fact, attitudes may represent the easiest avenue for changes in creative behavior. Still, it is useful to have the "know-how" and tactics for finding creative ideas and solutions.

What is the nature of the creative process?

The classic 1926 theory of process from Graham Wallas is still widely cited and used. It includes Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and Verification stages. Research since Wallas has defined Preparation such that it includes problem finding, and more specifically, problem identification and then problem definition (and re-definition).

Another modification of the classic process involves the last stage. That is because creativity is important in many different ways, but one important application is innovation. Certainly, creativity is a prerequisite for innovation. This is relevant because when creativity is used for innovation, there is an implementation stage in the process. The process also no doubt varies some from domain to domain, with scientists following one process that may vary a bit from that followed by artists, musicians, designers, and leaders.

This does not imply that there are no universal contributions to the creative process. Very likely, all creativity involves (a) discretion and choice, (b) intentions and intrinsic motivation, and (c) the construction of original interpretations of experience. There are, then, both universals and domain differences in the creative process.

What are the practical applications of creativity?

It is almost easier to identify human behaviors and achievements that do not involve creativity! Creativity is involved in personal and societal health and progress, as well as technological advance and cultural evolution. It plays a role in learning and, of course, problem solving. It is vital for both high-level, eminent achievement, but also for everyday coping and adaptation. Research has tied the creative process to innovation, invention, discovery, imagination, and even intelligence. To be thorough, we must also recognize that creativity contributes to a high quality of life.