Using Guilford's Test of Divergent Thinking in the Workplace

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Is it possible to test creativity? Psychologist J.P. Guilford certainly thought so. His test of divergent thinking is the basis of this lesson, where you'll learn how to conduct it and how to score it afterward.

Testing Creative Thinking

When you were a child, did you ever lie on your back, stare at the clouds and picture them as other types of objects? Maybe you saw a rabbit, a dolphin or a dog. Whatever it is, it gave you a way to pass the time and stretch the bounds of your creativity a little.

Finding shapes in clouds was a childhood exercise in creativity.
guilford, test, alternative, uses, task, creativity, divergent, thinking

That childhood exercise is very much like a formal test developed by psychologist J.P. Guilford. In the mid-20th century, Guilford studied intellect and creativity. What he found was that the two weren't necessarily related; in fact, creative thinking could stand on its own. His research led him to define two types of thinking: divergent thinking and convergent thinking.

Divergent thinking in particular is a big component of this lesson. Divergent thinking is about coming up with as many ideas as possible using a creative technique, like brainstorming. Conversely, convergent thinking is more about finding a single solution or specific idea.

The process of divergent thinking was something that Guilford wanted to test. So, that's what he created - a test to analyze divergent thinking, called Guilford's Alternative Uses Task.

Alternative Uses Task

The test behind the Alternative Uses Task, sometimes called Guilford's Test of Divergent Thinking, is pretty simple.

An everyday object is presented to the test taker. It could be a paperclip, a coffee mug or a spoon. Then the test taker is given a time limit and asked to brainstorm as many uses for that object as possible, no matter how basic or grand. For a coffee mug, some answers might be a planter, a candle holder, a pencil holder or a pet bowl.

Pretty simple, right? But, Guilford was convinced this process - thinking of random uses for everyday items - was an effective ways to test a person's creativity.

Test Scoring

To analyze a person's creativity, Guilford scored the results of their test in four areas:

  1. Fluency, or how many uses the test taker came up with. Fluency points are awarded one per answer.
  2. Flexibility, or how many different categories or areas the answers covered. Flexibility points are awarded one per category.
  3. Originality, or the unusual nature of certain answers. Originality points are awarded as 1 point for unusual answers or 2 points for unique answers.
  4. Elaboration, or how detailed and developed the answer was. Basic answers don't earn any point, but more detailed answers earn 2 points.

Workplace Application

Guilford's test can easily be adapted for a workplace setting. Maybe you want to stretch the creativity of your team, perhaps you want to assess which employees excel in creative thinking, or maybe you want to measure team creativity.

Consider this approach:

Schedule a meeting with the members of your team. Without telling them what the test is about, arrive at the meeting and present an everyday object to the group. Set a timer and give each group member an opportunity to brainstorm as many uses for that object as possible. Ask each team member to write his or her answers down on a piece of paper. Then once the time is up, discuss the answers aloud and score the test using the scoring system provided in this lesson.

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