How Creative Are You?

First Overall Prize for 10K in Valdosta, GA in 2014
Painting by deceased Valdosta artist 

Most colleges and universities celebrate cognitive feats such as logic, critical thinking, abstract reasoning, and knowledge. Even in courses where creativity and intuition and spontaneity might shine--courses such as music or art appreciation, creative writing, humanistic psychology--students are inundated with information and techniques for how to do something the best and most efficient way.

It is all devoid of creativity. 

Creativity requires a unique perspective. Everybody has a perspective, so there is as much diversity in creativity as there is diversity in people. Unfortunately, however, students learn how to override their creativity by learning techniques.

Oltremare by Ludovico Einaudi played shortly after I learned it

Few understood the poverty of technique better than Jacques Ellul, who wrote the book The Technological Society. Ellul defines technology broadly as anything that maximizes efficiency. Tearing blades of grass by hand is one way to mow a lawn. A lawn-mower tears many thousand blades of grass every second, which makes it a superior grass-tearing technology. But the lawn mower is essentially the hand-based individual grass-blade-tearing method that has been maximized for efficiency.

With techniques, we understand that the means (how something happens) are more important than the ends (the final product). With technique, it isn’t about making a hamburger or raising a child; it is about doing something in the most efficient way. We are surrounded by potential ends—food to prepare, property to maintain, hobbies to practice, and so forth. Students want to become teachers, therapists, business owners, doctors, nurses, lawyers, and on and on. The ideology of technique tells these students that there is a best way to do each job. School is for being trained in that one best way.

This is the opposite of creativity. And I personally think it is counterproductive if the goal is cultivating the best possible historians and mathematicians and social workers.

Technique replaces the personal, subjective, and intuitive judgement that makes your perspective a unique one. This judgment is replaced by one that is rational, objective, and well-reasoned. Say a novice painter has chosen to paint a realistic-looking sunset. They will experiment with different pigments, brush-strokes, and blends, and eventually discover for themselves how these mediums work together. Technique only rears its hideous face when our painter thinks “now which way is the best way?” As soon as we replace painting with the best and most efficient production of a painting, we have exchanged process for content, creativity for efficiency. We have exchanged living as a human being for ideology of technique.

In the painting example, the idea of “best” has worked its way into the consciousness of our novice painter. For college students, they wonder about being the best nurse or teacher or therapist that they can be. They study techniques of masters, hoping to imitate them and become masters themselves. They don't realize that the master nurses and teachers and therapists each developed their own unique way of nursing, teaching, and therapy-ing.

The ideology of technique has reached its height once the judgement of best falls out of the hands of the painter entirely. The decision no longer belongs to the worker, parent, teacher, or student; it falls to the specialist, whose specialization has made it impossible to understand where or what the recommendation means or how it fits into life. 

This is what college has become today: a specialization mill. 

Creativity, by comparison, begins with the idea that the kind of therapist or teacher or doctor or nurse that you will become hasn't occurred yet. There is no model for the kind of professional you will become. Carl Rogers has summarized this nicely when he wrote:

El Greco, for example, must have realized as he looked at some of his early work, that "good artists do not paint like that." But somehow he trusted his own experiencing of life, the process of himself, sufficiently that he could go on expressing his own unique perceptions. It was as though he could say, "Good artists do not paint like this, but I paint like this." Or to move to another field, Ernest Hemingway was surely aware that "good writers do not write like this." But fortunately he moved toward being Hemingway, being himself, rather than toward someone else's conception of a good writer. Einstein seems to have been unusually oblivious to the fact that good physicists did not think his kind of thoughts. (On Becoming a Person, 1961, p. 175)

In order to unleash the unique teacher or doctor or [fill-in-the-professional-blank] that you have inside, you will have to cultivate your creativity. It's there, you need only let it out and nurture it.

The Inventory

Below is a self-report inventory for assessing how creative you are. It is a kind of test that you can take multiple times in order to see if you are improving. At the bottom, you will find a scoring rubric. However, you don't need to score it in any formal way. You could always simply read through the questions and look for areas in which your creativity could improve. For example, if you can never find something to do when you have no money, then maybe brainstorm two activities each week that require no money, and then try them out. After a few months, you will notice that ideas come to you more naturally.

You might alternatively read over the inventory as though it were a list of examples of what to do. You might go to a museum and admire a beautiful painting (#48) or doodle on an assignment sheet (#44) or solve an algebraic proof for fun (#40).

To take the formal Kaufman Creativity Scale, score each question with a 1-5. Then add up your score.

1 = Much less creative
2 = less creative
3 = neither more or less creative
4 = more creative
5 = much more creative

  1. Finding something fun to do when I have no money _____

  2. Helping other people cope with a difficult situation _____

  3. Teaching someone how to do something _____

  4. Maintaining a good balance between my work and my personal life _____

  5. Understanding how to make myself happy _____

  6. Being able to work through my personal problems in a healthy way _____

  7. Thinking of new ways to help people _____

  8. Choosing the best solution to a problem _____

  9. Planning a trip or event with friends that meets everyone’s needs _____

  10. Mediating a dispute or argument between two friends _____

  11. Getting people to feel relaxed and at ease _____

  12. Writing a non-fiction article for a newspaper, newsletter, or magazine _____

  13. Writing a letter to the editor _____

  14. Researching a topic using many different types of sources that may not be readily

    apparent _____

  15. Debating a controversial topic from my own perspective _____

  16. Responding to an issue in a context-appropriate way _____

  17. Gathering the best possible assortment of articles or papers to support a specific point of

    view _____

  18. Arguing a side in a debate that I do not personally agree with _____

  19. Analyzing the themes in a good book _____

  20. Figuring out how to integrate critiques and suggestions while revising a work _____

  21. Being able to offer constructive feedback based on my own reading of a paper _____

  22. Coming up with a new way to think about an old debate _____

  23. Writing a poem _____

  24. Making up lyrics to a funny song _____

  25. Making up rhymes _____

  26. Composing an original song _____

  27. Learning how to play a musical instrument _____

  28. Shooting a fun video to air on YouTube _____

  29. Singing in harmony _____

  30. Spontaneously creating lyrics to a rap song _____

  31. Playing music in public _____

  32. Acting in a play _____

    33. Carving something out of wood or similar material _____ 

    34. Figuring out how to fix a frozen or buggy computer _____ 

    35. Writing a computer program _____

36. Solving math puzzles _____

37. Taking apart machines and figuring out how they work _____ 

38. Building something mechanical (like a robot) _____

39. Helping to carry out or design a scientific experiment _____ 

40. Solving an algebraic or geometric proof _____

41. Constructing something out of metal, stone, or similar material _____

42. Drawing a picture of something I’ve never actually seen (like an alien) _____

43. Sketching a person or object _____

44. Doodling/Drawing random or geometric designs _____

45. Making a scrapbook page out of my photographs _____

46. Taking a well-composed photograph using an interesting angle or approach _____ 

47. Making a sculpture or piece of pottery _____

48. Appreciating a beautiful painting _____

49. Coming up with my own interpretation of a classic work of art _____

50. Enjoying an art museum _____

SOURCE: Kaufman, J. C. (2012). Counting the muses: Development of the Kaufman Domains of Creativity Scale (K-DOCS). Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts6(4), 298.