Assessing creative problem solving is not easy. It can be done though. You do not need to be a pro either. I call this way the Outlier Method.
The creative answer by default is abnormal. It is strange. It is unusual. It is a surprise. On the up side it is new, fresh and young. It can be a source of success. It is a key addition to organizational culture.
Creative Problem Solving versus Problem Solving
I once told a colleague that someone was smart. He asked, “Why?”
“She had a pretty neat idea.”
“How do you know she did not get it out of a book?”
For instance, here is a similar difference. One answers a riddle because he heard it last year. Another answers the riddle because she thought through it.
When we use the Outlier Method, we look for unexpected responses. The more different they are from what we expect or from what we have heard, the more creative the person is likely to be.
A single unexpected response does not mean much. Their number and frequency do though. As both increase, the potential for creative problem solving does too.
It is important though that the responses have some connection to the question, issue or subject at hand. If we cannot make the connection, it is best to ask something like, “How does that relate to what we are discussing?”
The response might be unexpected but not creative. We can check this by asking, “How did you come up with that?” If the response is, “Oh, some friends told me about it,” or “I read it in a book,” it does not hold much creative significance.
Sampling and Polling
This method is like sampling or polling. Audits work this way too. It helps to experience the person in different contexts. The differences we see might just be because our life and cultural experiences differ.
Unexpected responses are not always indicators of creative problem solving potential. They are a start though. They are simple for us to spot. They can scare us though. We often fear what is different from us.