Assessing Creativity

A study presented at this year’s Academy of Management conference in Montreal shows that our supervisor’s assessment of our creativity does not relate to any objective assessment of creativity. This is important because creativity and innovation are critical to organizational success. However, the authors found that once they considered the employee’s perception of the likelihood of success in bringing a creative idea to the attention of a supervisor, there was a positive relationship between supervisor evaluations of creativity and objective creativity.

The study by Amy Randel, Kim Jaussi, and Anne Wu, is fascinating. They matched 191 pairs of supervisors/employees for the study. Each employee completed an objective test of creativity, listing as many uses as they could for a cardboard box in one minute. Creativity was determined by the number of items listed that had been presented by less than 1% of people who previously took this test. They then compared the supervisor evaluations of creativity to the actual, “objective” creativity of employees.

They found that supervisors are really bad at assessing the creativity of their employees with no correlation between supervisor assessment and objective creativity. However, when employees believed that they could successfully get their ideas in front of their supervisor, the supervisor’s assessment of the employee creativity was in line with the objective assessment of employee creativity.

Why is this? Perhaps it is about competence. Studies show that we are subject to a bias that when we don’t have knowledge, we don’t know that we don’t have knowledge. If our supervisors are not particularly creative, then perhaps they are not equipped to recognize and assess creativity. But the study suggests a couple of other explanations. First, are employees self-censoring? If they believe that their supervisors are not open to creative ideas, perhaps they don’t bring them up to the employer. It also suggests that perhaps employees don’t have the belief in their own creative abilities (“self-efficacy”). Or perhaps they believe that the organization doesn’t value or reward creativity.

No matter what the explanation, this research has some practical implications for organizations that are trying to build creative capabilities. First, relying on supervisor assessment of employee creativity may not be an effective way to measure creativity. Second, skill building activities are needed to build creative capability within an organization, including training of supervisors to be open to new ideas, developing a culture of creativity, rewarding creativity and sending messages to the organization that creativity is valued. Creativity is an important competitive advantage which organizations need to manage and encourage.


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