Practical Tips for Assessing Creativity with the Use of innCrea Tools
Creativity – the ability to ask how something can be done differently, better, combined with the ability to design widely understood changes. It is the ability of creative thinking, adaptive flexibility resulting in finding creative, original solutions that go beyond the accepted patterns.
The innCREA audit tool assesses creativity levels that are related to types of creativity skills used in work environments separated into those used by individuals, by teams working together to find solutions, by leaders in their leadership roles, and those used across organisations. Because each role, working alone, working in a team, leading a team, being part of a larger organisation, has specific characteristics, the assessments focus on the soft skills most needed for each role/level separately.
4.1 Preparation for the Assessment
The innCREA audit tool is designed to be used in conjunction with the innCREA crash courses and individual creativity exercises.
- To get the most benefit from the assessment, the audit tool should be used before or at the beginning of the crash course or before trying any of the innCREA creativity exercises.
- The results of the audit tool will give suggestions for exercises that will be most efficacious for developing creativity softs skills based on the audit tool users’ current assessed level of creativity.
It can be helpful to share the innCREA definition of creativity with audit-takers before they take the audit, so that they will have a better sense of what is being measured. The innCREA project defines creativity as follows:
- Audit tool users may select to test their own creativity in individual, team, leadership or organisational roles. Before taking the assessment, audit tool users should be instructed or will need to choose which of the four kinds of creativity (individual, team, leadership, or organisation) they want to assess.
- The audit tool can be used individually in offices on computers or in smart classrooms or other facilities with devices connected to the internet.
Primarily designed to be used as a teaching tool in conjunction with innCREA creativity exercises in an innCREA crash course or incorporated into an HEI course curriculum, the audit tool is freely available on the world wide web for anyone to use.
The innCREA audit tool can be accessed online at https://www.inn-crea.eu/audit-creativity. It is advisable to take the test at a time and place conducive to focusing and giving undivided attention for up to 15 minutes.
4.1.1 Assessment in Higher Education Institutions: Institution and Staff
The primary target group of the innCREA project is HEI students, however, developing creativity skills can also benefit HEI staff. Utilising innCREA tools can benefit HEI staff at the individual, team, leadership and organisational levels.
- HEI staff may find it useful to audit their own levels of creativity in advance of teaching the innCREA creativity techniques or for the purpose of assessing and developing their own levels of creativity.
- Developing creativity skills in HEI teaching staff benefits students who will learn from more innovative teaching methods. In much the same way that developing creativity and soft skills can enhance career opportunities for students, those same skills can augment the tools HEI staff have at their disposal. This may serve them throughout their own careers. This also benefits the HEI institution as a value-adding activity that expands what staff have to offer the institution.
- Correspondingly, developing creativity and soft skills at the leadership level can enhance the leadership abilities of HEI teachers and HEI staff in leadership roles. Team creativity techniques can be used to strengthen working relationships at the team level and organisation-level techniques can be used across the university in contexts such as staff days or in, for example, launching institution-wide initiatives.
4.1.2 Assessment in Higher Education Institutions: Students
Students are the primary intended beneficiaries of the innCREA tools. Students can be assigned to use the audit tool in a classroom or computer resource room setting or on their own. The audit tool can be used to give a baseline for individual students’ levels of creativity and can be used to retest the same students to measure progress.
It is helpful for students to understand that developing creativity skills is one of the ways they can make themselves more attractive to future employers.
Tip: students may find it especially challenging to audit their leadership and organisational skills if they have limited experience in the labour market for frame of reference. It may be helpful to conduct a warm-up exercise to help students think about a team they are part of or even to have students develop personas in scenarios that allow them to imagine an office culture (organisational) or what to consider in a leadership role. The students could answer the audit questions from the point of view of a person that works, for example, for a large energy company, or is a department manager.
4.1.3 Assessment in Business: Work Environment
The innCREA project is a response to a challenge to help HEIs develop in their students the skills that the business world demands. Businesses may find the innCREA tools useful for improving the creativity skills of their organisation, leadership, teams and individual employees.
The audit tool can be used in various contexts such as onboarding, team-building, staff workshop days, or simply as a tool that is provided as an optional activity for staff to choose to use themselves to strengthen their own soft skill capacity. However, the innCREA audit tool is not intended to be a tool for management to evaluate employees.
- The audit tool can be used in a group or individual environment.
- Businesses can provide training to use the innCREA audit tool and creativity exercises or make them available for staff use. The audit tool can be used in preparation for running a crash course for staff or for using a baseline result to select exercises to build creativity skills.
- Because many of the creativity exercises are intended for groups, an employer may want to make the innCREA audit tool assessment an organised staff activity in preparation for having staff work together on the inCREAse creativity exercises.
4.2 Conducting Assessments
For best results, users of the innCREA audit tool should answer each question to the best of their ability and as honestly as possible. Results are immediately available at the end of the audit and a point system is used to evaluate an individual’s current level of creativity at the given level. In addition to their score, audit tool users will be given suggestions for how many innCREA exercises to try out to develop their creativity soft skills based on their current assessed abilities.
4.2.1 Higher Education Institutions: Institution and Staff
HEI teaching staff can assign the use of the audit tool to their students before teaching a crash course on creativity or any of the exercises. This will give a baseline assessment to indicate how creative the students are at the starting point and to measure their progress after they have completed an innCREA crash course or worked on their creativity soft skills using specific innCREA exercises.
One of the suggestions from innCREA desk research and interviews was that to encourage creativity, grading should be deemphasized so that students feel free to try new things without worrying about results. For this reason, it may be desirable for the student alone to see and track their assessment results and for the assessments to not be used as a basis for assigning a grade for using innCREA tools. Another option would be to collect the assessments without identifying information so that the individual students may remain anonymous and the HEI instructor can judge the needs for creativity development of the students in their class as a whole.
HEI students are the targeted primary beneficiaries of the innCREA tools. However, HEI teachers and other staff may find it valuable to assess and develop their own creativity and soft skills.
- In HEIs, the audit tool can be used by individuals, teams, classes, leaders, or the entire organisation.
4.2.2 Higher Education Institutions: Students
Students can use the audit tool in a smart classroom or computer lab, on their own or their institution’s internet-connected devices in a classroom, or on their own outside of class. HEI instructors can decide if they want students to share their results with the instructor as a benchmark or let students record the result for themselves for future reference to compare when they later reassess their abilities with the innCREA audit tool.
- Students will need to be directed to use the audit tool for the creativity level (individual, team, leadership, organisational) that corresponds to the innCREA crash course that their instructor will be teaching.
4.2.3 Business and Work Based Environment
Businesses can have employees use the audit tool in the context of organised activities such as staff development workshops or offer the tool as a resource that staff members can freely choose to use on their own if they so choose.
- The innCREA audit tool should not be used as a means of formal employee evaluation but rather as a helpful tool for staff development.
4.3 Analysis of the Results and Selection of Short Courses to Increase Creativity
At the end of the audit, users will see their score and a list of score ranges. Skills are assessed by points given for answers. Higher scores indicate higher levels of creativity. Based on the score, audit users will be given suggestions to try one or more creativity exercises that are included in the innCREA training programme.
The number of exercises that an individual will be encouraged to try out will correspond to their current level of creativity as determined by the audit tool. A person with a lower score will be given a recommendation to do more exercises than a person with a higher score.
Individual creativity exercises have been ranked by order of difficulty. It is recommended that individuals with lower scores try more accessible, lower ranked exercises and before attempting more challenging ones.
4.3.1 Higher Education Institutions: Institution and Employees
When analysing the audit results and selecting short courses to increase creativity in HEIs keep in mind:
- The audit tool will be most useful if used to assess the baseline level of creativity that students possess before they are taught the innCREA creativity techniques.
- The audit tool can be used to retest and measure progress over time.
Audit results can be used to determine how many creativity techniques may be necessary to achieve desired results. For example, if most students score low, such as in the 20th percentile for creativity at say the team level, the HEI instructor would know that it would be most beneficial to run the crash course on team level creativity or find another way to incorporate all five of the team level creativity exercises into their curriculum. If, on the other hand, students already show 80% mastery, an instructor might decide to select only the one, most challenging technique to build on the students’ already high level of competency in that area.
Another consideration may be testing and training students in more than one kind of creativity (individual, team, leadership, organisational).
Crash courses for the different levels of creativity are designed to provide a time efficient way to teach the creativity techniques of each course to students. Beyond the crash course format, individual exercises can be incorporated into teaching methods and curriculum.
Because skills at all of the levels are important for students to develop for their future career success, chapters 1 and 6 offer ways to introduce students to techniques from each of the levels (individual, team, leadership, and organisational)
4.3.2 Higher Education Institutions: Students
When analysing the audit results and selecting short courses to increase creativity in students keep in mind:
- The audit results indicate current level of creativity and gives guidance for increasing creativity soft skills. The results can be used to measure progress over time: they are not intended to be used as an evaluation tool in assigning letter grades.
- Especially for students who are assessed at lower levels of creativity or who have limited to no experience with creativity enhancing exercises, it will be important to create a relaxed, judgement-free environment for them to practice these new skills without the pressure or fear of failure.
4.3.3 Business and work environment
Because creating a non-judgmental atmosphere is needed to allow creativity to flourish in a work environment, employees should ideally be allowed to keep their innCREA audit tool assessment scores to themselves. The assessment is not intended to be used for the evaluation of employees by their employers, but it is a tool the employer may offer to aid employees in their soft skills development.
4.4 Conducting short courses to increase creativity
The innCREA crash courses are designed to offer a time effective way to introduce students to creativity exercises that can enhance their soft skills and thereby help them develop into valuable employees and team members.
- The exercises can also be taught or used individually.
- The innCREA exercises can be modified for use in any field of study.
- More time can be allotted for completion of any of the exercises.
- The exercises can be used repeatedly in HEI curriculum and in work life.
In the innCREA crash courses, students will learn:
- why soft skills are important for their current and future careers.
- which soft skills are most important for individual, team, leadership, or organisational creativity.
- five exercises chosen for their efficacy in enhancing the most important soft skills.
In preparation for a crash course or teaching innCREA creativity exercises, consider success factors for encouraging creativity from the innCREA interviews. These success factors can be used as guidance to enhance the effectiveness of teaching innCREA courses and exercises.
Create a conducive space:
- Keep the mood positive and atmosphere relaxed in the group.
- The physical space should suit the exercise.
- It is necessary to create an atmosphere that allows for a creative approach to the problem and motivates participants to take a new look at the possibilities of solving it.
- Create working conditions that allow for independent thinking, use of knowledge, experience in achieving goals.
- Create a climate and organizational culture conducive to finding solutions, inquiring, taking the initiative.
- Exercises can often be carried out by telephone and video-conferencing. This is especially useful when it is impossible to meet in person as has been the case during parts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Consider how and why a team is assembled:
- Working in a team, e.g., on a project, can enable faster results and more effective detection of emerging errors, deficiencies, or inconsistencies.
- Benefits come from the synergy effect as there is more knowledge and experience in the group.
- Some exercises work better with fewer or larger numbers of participants.
- Incorporating game elements in the team-building process can greatly benefit creativity and innovation.
- Ensure diverse points of view through engaging team members with different functions in an organisation.
Prepare participants to succeed:
- Regardless of the technique used, group participants must have a good understanding of the problem to be solved.
- Gather as much information as possible.
- Gather as many ideas as possible.
- Engaging visual aids to support day-to-day work can help all team members easily identify concepts and ideas.
- Techniques used to solve specific needs and problems are tailored to the specific situation, and the team solving the problem with a particular technique.
- Employees’ and students’ creativity and pioneering skills should be developed systematically and continuously.
Encourage a non-judgmental ideation process:
- Never attempt to classify an idea as foolish, or not appropriate.
- Be aware that even absurd ideas can be valuable. Individuals and group members should look for ideas that are as original as possible. Everyone should encourage each other to develop ideas and create new combinations or developments of ideas.
- Each person in a group should be given the opportunity to put forward their idea on how to solve a given problem without fear that the idea will be negatively evaluated or rejected.
- Provoking reverse thinking can be a great asset in the problem-solving process.
- Participants need to have the ability and patience to listen to the ideas and arguments of other group members.
- Disregard for inexperienced people, the negation of ideas, lack of imagination are the elements that reduce the effectiveness of creativity techniques.
- Open group discussion can be led by the participants.
Incorporate time for reflection, analysis and synthesis:
- If possible, in a separate session, sort out the most relevant ideas (others can be kept as a valuable resource for the future sessions.)
- Motivate all group members to think creatively and search for solutions using the submitted ideas.
- Sometimes in order to be really useful, it is essential to come back to the analysis to evaluate it again, and to repeat the activity.
4.4.1 Higher education institutions – institution and staff
In preparation to conduct innCREA training, it could be beneficial to consider incorporating suggestions and success factors from innCREA’s project research. Findings from innCREA interviews highlighted the following factors encouraging creativity and pioneering in higher education:
- More space for creativity and the implementation of creative techniques: Institutions can support teachers in developing more creative classrooms and learning experiences for students. Teachers need more opportunities for observant learning to become familiar with standards, officialising creativity techniques throughout the curriculum, not only in the art departments but in all departments. Creativity techniques should be made systematic for use by all teachers.
- From teacher-centred to learner-centred approach: Teaching should focus on giving more space for students to develop their critical thinking skills. This involves students more and motivates them. However, some controls should in place for analysing results of creativity exercises.
- Assessment system: Grading systems should be deemphasised because they increase the fear of failure and hinder the creativity in students. Assessments needs to be modified and developed.
- Addressing industry-related issues: Creativity should also be practical and address real-life problems and ways to solve them – instead of imagining only. This merges the gap between courses in institutions and work in industry.
- Role of teachers: The role of teachers in fostering creativity and pioneering innovation in students should receive more attention and support from institutions. Institutions should prepare or allow a range of resources for teachers to try, test and fail; and encourage teachers to participate in a supportive and collaborative teaching culture. They should be more aware of the workload of teachers and working conditions that institutions provide teachers as they influence teachers’ capabilities to implement the creative techniques.
In higher education, factors inhibiting creativity and pioneering are:
- Lack of sufficient knowledge: Weisberg (1999) considers knowledge a fundamental, undeniable hindrance to creativity. Previous studies proposed a U-shaped curve relationship between creativity and knowledge. This suggests that limited knowledge in the sector(s) would hinder creativity as much as abundant sectoral knowledge and that there is a sweet spot in the middle where creativity can more easily thrive.
- Non-creative learning and teaching style: Within the current pedagogical curriculum, learning favours memorisation and teaching refers to the imparting activity. This does not actively involve all students and their abilities to reinforce creativity and pioneering innovation. A culture of one-correct-answer stops learners from being willing to make mistakes. Instead, students learn to guess what answer the teacher expects to hear.
- Assessment construction: Typically, assessment focuses on the summative function that aims to judge or grade students’ achievements. Formal, national assessment, especially in the form of tests, enforces comparison and competition among students and schools. National or end-of-year tests place enormous pressure on teachers and students as these assessments focus on getting a better grade instead of innovative practices.
- Role of teacher: Some teachers are traditional, while others are innovative. Traditional teachers tend to discourage students’ individual autonomy, which ultimately inhibits creative performance. Additionally, traditional teachers seem to judge good students as ones who are conformist and considerate rather than risk taking.
By providing a supportive environment and innovative teaching methods, HEI institutions and teachers can help their students to develop their creativity and soft skills. The use of innCREA tools will be more effective in an environment that supports innovation.
4.4.2 Institutions of Higher Education: Students
Considering the ways that HEI institutions can encourage creativity, teachers can create more conducive settings for their students to develop the soft skills offered in the innCREA training tools.
When HEI students use the innCREA creativity exercises:
- Students should have adequate knowledge and preparation in the topics of study that will be used in the crash course exercises so that they can feel confident and comfortable using their creative abilities and offering their ideas.
- The classroom environment should be comfortable and ergonomic so that students can be optimally productive.
- Teachers should endeavor to create a supportive environment in which students can trust their teacher, fellow students and themselves as they face a learning curve practicing new skills and risk making mistakes.
- Students should not be pressured to succeed or master but instead to try-out and experiment.
- Students should be discouraged from judging their own tentative, spontaneous ideas or those of others.
- Understanding the importance of creativity soft skills in business and work environments can encourage student engagement.
4.4.3 Business and work environment
Similarly, supporting innovation and creativity in a business environment will enhance the development of creativity and pioneering innovation skills. Businesses can capitalise on the benefits of working with innCREA exercises by maximising factors that enable creativity and pioneering innovation and minimising those that inhibit.
In work life, factors enabling creativity and pioneering innovation are:
- Sufficient domain-related knowledge and skills: Employers should allow opportunities and conditions for employees to grow and develop capacity in their fields.
- Reasonable amount of resources: The availability of resources nurtures creativity and innovation.
- Creativity-valued and supportive working environment: including leader support for goal setting, space for autonomy, persistence, open and permissive environment of diverse ideas, and reward systems that encourage experimentation and allow mistakes and failures.
In work life, factors inhibiting creativity and pioneering innovation are:
- Lack of sufficient knowledge: Weisberg (1999) considers knowledge a fundamental, undeniable block to creativity. Previous studies proposed a U-shaped curve relationship between creativity and knowledge. This suggests that too little knowledge in the sector(s) would hinder creativity as much as abundant sectoral knowledge.
- Lack of sufficient resources: Finance, people, time, and other tools and materials influence creative performance. Unrealistic deadlines and lack of access to a minimum level of resources hinders creativity and pioneering innovation. Overwhelming with too many resources has similarly negative impacts on creativity.
- Inadequate organisational support: This is the responsibility of an organisation’s leaders, who must put in place appropriate systems or procedures and emphasize values that prioritise clearly the role of creativity in employees. Infighting, politicking, and gossip are found to be damaging to creativity because they take employees’ attention away from work.
- Lack of autonomy and freedom to work: The lack of autonomy and freedom to choose how to work discourages creativity. Micro-managements that direct individuals on exactly how to perform their job take the ability to work and generate ideas from them. The continuous interruptions of an individual’s working process by leaders negatively influences the intrinsic motivation which is considered an important component of creativity.
Intolerance towards failures and mistakes: This factor decreases the risk-taking level and initiatives of employees, while increasing fear of experimentation.
4.5 Conclusions from the assessment and conduct of the courses
The innCREA audit tool and crash courses offer concrete ways to measure and develop creativity soft skills.
- After running one or more crash courses, participants can re-audit their creativity to measure gains. Because each crash course offers a three-hour introduction to five creativity techniques, results may not show improvement so soon. Ideally, the audit could be taken after a longer period of more significant engagement with the exercises to develop creativity.
- Using the innCREA audit tool will give a way to concretely measure levels of individual, team, leadership and organisational creativity.
- In the crash courses, students will become better-familiarised with the importance of developing creativity and soft skills in support of their future careers.
- Students will be introduced to creativity techniques in the crash courses that they can use repeatedly in other contexts to develop their own abilities and to offer those skills to current and future employers.