Getting Creative: The Looming Creative Deficit

In this series on creativity, we’re looking at the challenges faced in being more creative and some ways you can address those challenges successfully. Why focus on creativity? It’s one of the skills of the 21st century. With more forms of media accessible to more people than ever before, creativity is going to be one of the defining traits of your career and your business success.

We need to do a bit more table-setting to emphasize why creativity is such a major issue. Beginning in 1958, creativity tests have been administered alongside intelligence tests to students in America. Tests are as simple as placing a toy in front of a child and asking them how to make it a better toy, and are measured using a system called the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, named after psychologist E. Paul Torrance.

The four dimensions of creativity that Torrance Tests measure are:

  • Fluency: how many new ideas were created?
  • Flexibility: how many categories of ideas were created?
  • Originality: how rare or unique are the ideas?
  • Elaboration: how detailed are the ideas
  • In 2010, Po Bronson of Newsweek looked at the longitudinal data of the Torrance Tests for the United States and saw this:

    Torrance tests

    You don’t need to be a mathematician to figure out that things are not good. Our creativity peaked in 1990 and has been on a steady decline in all four areas of the Torrance Tests since then. In some cases, the decline is gradual; in other cases, alarmingly steep.

    What does this mean for your business? The reality is that creativity is becoming a scarce resource. Our businesses demand more creativity than ever, as every business is now a publisher, every business is now a media channel. Every business needs writers, photographers, musicians, videographers, painters, wordsmiths, and even dancers. Most of the disdain for content marketing and social media comes from the fact that many businesses lack creative people to make great content, or even good content.

    On the other hand, the available pool of creative talent, as measured by Torrance Tests, is on the decline. A student fresh out of college today was born in 1992 – 2 years after our creativity as a nation appears to have peaked.

    What should you do about this? You have two fundamental options: you can buy more creativity through your hiring processes, and you can grow your own creative skills. Our recommendation is to do both, because the businesses with the best and most creative workforces will win in an age when everyone is a publisher. Consider implementing creative tests as part of your employment process, using Torrance’s criteria as benchmarks. Show a candidate a product, service, or piece of content and ask them for as many ways to improve it as possible, and measure their creative output.

    Simultaneously, build up your own creative powers using proven methods of creative thinking. We’ll be covering many of these methods in the next few posts in this series, so stay tuned!

    Christopher S. Penn
    Vice President, Marketing Technology


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