November 2001
Vol. 31, No. 11, pp 50–53.
Management Insights

Table of Contents

Nel M. Mostert
Lot H. Frijling

Creativity in organizations can be measured and acquired

Creativity plays an ever-increasing role in organizations as they strive for a continuous flow of innovations. After all, there is no innovation without creativity. A model consisting of five criteria for creativity in organizations was the foundation of the Creativity Awareness Programme (CAP), which is being applied successfully at Unilever Research Vlaardingen (URV, Vlaardingen, The Netherlands). Unilever ( is a global corporation that manufactures food, home, and personal care products. At URV, 1600 employees support the Unilever companies worldwide by providing them with the latest technologies and insights to improve and develop these consumer products. Like many other companies, URV wants to stimulate creativity in its workers to reach big and bold innovations (see box, “‘The making of . . .’ Creativity within URV”).

The Creativity Awareness Programme

figure: creativity awareness model flowchart

We developed CAP as a tool to place creativity in individual and organizational contexts. As such, the program can be used by individual staff members, teams, departments, or entire organizations.

The package comprises the Creativity Awareness Model, the Creativity Climate Questionnaire, and the Creativity Awareness Training Modules. Together, these form an all-in-one package suitable for individuals and organizations looking for ways to enhance the use of creativity. We foresee that the outcome of the program will be the implementation of Creative Problem Solving methods in the daily working environment and will result in new creative projects and patents, as well as new individual and organizational attitudes.

CAP aims to make creativity the subject of discussion within organizations. All too often, the concept of creativity is vague and hard to describe. This program focuses on making the concept tangible and concrete by measuring and learning to use creativity. Participants are offered a set of tools to tap and use their own creativity and that of the team, and to implement the results in the work and structures of the organization.

By following the program, participants are able to change their work processes and environment and to remove barriers to creativity once and for all. They do this by singling out the organizational aspects of creativity, such as required resources, time, rewards, idea management structures, and high-level support.

The Creativity Awareness Model
The Creativity Awareness Model, which supports the program objectives, defines five creativity criteria: attitude, behavior, skills, structures, and environment (see box, “Five creativity awareness criteria”). This model has a multilevel focus: personal attitude and creativity skills, team behavior, and organizational structures and environment. The first three criteria are used to find out what employees think of their own creativity (Am I creative?) or the way they handle creativity within the team (How do we react to each other’s ideas? Which creativity skills are used most often?). The last two criteria are aimed specifically at the implementation of creativity in the workplace. They help organizations focus on establishing creativity as part of daily routines: making time to work on creative ideas, providing rewards, implementing idea management structures, and ensuring high-level support.

The Creativity Climate Questionnaire
The Creativity Climate Questionnaire is a tool to measure the individual, team, or organizational creativity. It is based on the five creativity criteria, and each section consists of a number of questions relating to the specific criterion.

Creativity Climate QuestionnaireThe questionnaire can be used by individuals and within groups. When it is used as a self-assessment tool, the employee fills in the questionnaire, determines a score using the enclosed score sheet, and reads the provided “tips and hints” to improve on specific areas.

When the questionnaire is used as a tool for measuring creativity within a team or entire organization, each member completes the self-assessment. All of the score sheets are then sent to the facilitator, who works out the scores and analysis for the teams or organization. The anonymity of participants can be guaranteed. On the basis of the results, the facilitator recommends a training plan for the individual or the team by designing the Creativity Awareness Training Modules using all five modules, or just the ones needed.

If necessary, the Creativity Climate Questionnaire is repeated after a specific period of time to measure changes in the creative abilities of the employees and the creative climate of the organization.

The Creativity Awareness Training Modules
Creativity training helps to make individuals aware of their own creative abilities and the abilities of the team. The outcome of the Creativity Climate Questionnaire may lead to the conclusion that creativity training is needed. The training modules that have been developed especially for this purpose can be used in any sequence, and their contents and duration can be adjusted to each specific team or work environment. Each complete training consists of separate modules composing a training route.

Training ModulesSupported by established management science and psychological theories, the modules relate to the five creative criteria defined earlier. Through the use of assignments, participants put the theories into practice for themselves. After the training, participants will be aware of the meaning of creativity and its influencing factors. An assessment of creativity skills and techniques that are used in practical assignments are offered to them as well. After the training, participants will be able to eliminate barriers to creativity within the structure of the organization and promote progress in the efforts of the organization.

So far, 300 URV staff members have followed the Creativity Awareness Training modules, and their responses have been very positive. The program has also elicited positive reactions from persons outside the company, because CAP has influenced the organization as a whole, in addition to increasing individual creativity.

The creativity awareness route
A manager who wants to assess the creativity of his or her employees would initiate a discussion with a facilitator and potential participants to determine an individual’s or a group’s objectives and the best steps to take at that time. The individual or group completes the Creativity Climate Questionnaire (CCQ), and a facilitator reports back to the manager. A program is designed based on the report, in consultation with the manager and the group. Multilevel intervention may be an option. The facilitator adjusts the training modules on the basis of the CCQ results and the wishes of the manager and the group. Ongoing intermediate assessments take place with the manager. If necessary, the CCQ is repeated after a specified period of time.

What are the results?
Creative problem solving
After completing the program, we foresee that participants will have developed their creative problem-solving skills that allow them to begin new projects and have a changed outlook toward creativity. At URV, the number of Creative Problem Solving (CPS) sessions has increased considerably since they were first introduced. CPS has become a standard tool that project teams use whenever applicable. Sessions are organized to generate ideas for innovative food or detergent products or to solve technical problems. These sessions typically produce 120–160 ideas; some of them are worked out in detail, potentially leading to innovations.

Projects, patentsAt URV, several projects have started from the ideas that were generated in the sessions. Some of the ideas arising from a CPS session have even produced patented inventions. Some project teams that have used the CPS sessions to advance their project have been nominated for the annual Unilever Research Vlaardingen Award, where creativity is a criterion.

MentalityOf course, the results are not apparent overnight. The Creativity Climate Questionnaire reveals any bottlenecks in the organization on an individual level, team level, or senior management level. A team may have high scores for “own perception of creativity”, while falling short in “team behavior”. Analysis of the results may lead to the conclusion that individual creativity does not surface in the team. Apparently, team behavior does not provide members sufficient stimulation to show any creativity they may have. Conclusions such as this may demonstrate the need to reopen the discussion on organizational changes needed to break down obstacles to creativity.

The discussion may give rise to a new outlook on the subject of creativity in which employees share their problems and accept different opinions and ideas. “Funny” ideas are considered a potential source of innovation and are taken very seriously. Consequently, people appreciate each other more, which, naturally, has a positive effect on the work climate.

New developments
The Creativity Awareness Programme has been designed to be used in any company. The package is available in English and Dutch. URV is currently investigating the possibility of licensing the package to one or more training or consulting agencies to guarantee sufficient coaching as the program is implemented in other companies. Future plans involve introducing the questionnaire on intranets or the Internet so that interested people could conduct their own self-assessments.


  2. Gaspersz, J.B.R. Management van creativiteit (Management of creativity); Kluwer Bedrijfsinformatie: Deventer, The Netherlands, 1998.
  3. Kao, J. Jamsession op the werkvloer (Jam session on the work floor); Uitgeverij Contact: Amsterdam, 1996.
  4. De Bruyn, M.; De Bruyn, R. Creativiteit, alfa–omega, visie–vorm (Creativity, alpha–omega, vision–form); Creatief Atelier Windekind: Antwerp, 1999.
  5. Frijling, L. H.; Mostert, N. M. Creativity Climate Questionnaire; Unilever Research: Vlaardingen, The Netherlands, 2000.

Recommended reading

Basadur, M. The Power of Innovation; Pitman Professional Publishing: London, 1995.

Rickards, T. Creativity in Organisations; The Management Bibliotheek: Amsterdam, 1990.

Nel M. Mostert is an innovation process facilitator for the Facilitation Unit at Unilever Research Vlaardingen (PO Box 114 NL, 3130 AC Vlaardingen, The Netherlands; +31-0-10-4606393;

Lot H. Frijling was a creativity facilitator in Unilever Research Vlaardingen’s Facilitation Unit. Currently, she is studying business administration at the Erasmus University, Rotterdam.

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