Database: Measuring Creativity

By Patte Barth

When the dot-com bubble collapsed in 1999, Steve Jobs reportedly told his Apple analysts that “if we’re going to get out of this, we’re going to get out by innovating our way out of it.”

The story may be apocryphal. However, we do know that, while the rest of Silicon Valley was letting workers go, Jobs and his talented team entered into a period of extraordinary creativity  -- think iPod and iPhone  -- and produced profits for the company that have yet to show signs of abating more than a decade later.

Jobs’ quote is often repeated by business writers and CEOs to illustrate the importance of innovation to maintaining the nation’s long-term competitive edge. In 2005, a distinguished group of leaders from business, education, and government extended the idea further to include creativity as a necessary 21st century skill for the new generation of workers. The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce asserted: “The crucial new factor, the one that alone can justify higher wages in this country than in other countries with similar levels of cognitive skills, is creativity and innovation.”

The commission called on public education to pay more attention to developing these abilities in our youth beginning in prekindergarten. Among the specific recommendations was a call for standards, assessments, and curriculum designed not just to evaluate students’ acquisition of knowledge, but also their ability to be creative alongside other skills like problem solving, critical thinking, and being a team player.

Creativity may be a relative newcomer on the industrial world’s wish list for prepared workers, but it has long been valued in teaching and in learning. Parents and administrators always have wanted teachers who were imaginative, whose lessons would engage their students and, in turn, foster students’ creativity. The problem, then and now, is that for most of us “creativity” is fairly easy to recognize but hard to describe. There is a widespread tendency to think of any creative endeavor as an individual act of inspiration, usually artistic, and springing from natural talent. But researchers are finding that creativity can be clearly defined  -- and, more importantly -- taught.

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