The Brick Test: The Most Unusual Use EVER

One of the oldest tests for creativity is the “brick test.” It originated in the 1950s, and it’s pretty simple: Take five minutes, and write down as many uses as you can think of for a brick. It’s called a divergent thinking  test, which means it measures your ability to generate lots of ideas. And, you get extra points if your list has brick uses that most other people don’t think of. These are called unusual uses.

My wife and I had an interesting experience with bricks recently, and it confirms a central finding of creativity research: The more knowledgeable you are about something, the more likely you are to be creative with it. Even bricks.

Here’s how it happened. For some reason, the house we’re renting has a big stack of red bricks in the back.

WP_20160131_001After a few months, my wife and I started thinking of ways use the bricks. The first was when my wife volunteered to organize the annual Halloween dance at my 11-year-old son’s school. To decorate the school gymnasium, she bought some large inflatable witches and scary monsters. They were over ten feet high. But they’re light and unstable, and they fall over really easily (especially with kids dancing around). The solution? Bricks to weigh them down. But, young children could bump their toes on a brick and get hurt. So, wrap each brick in bubble wrap.






Here’s another use. We had an ice storm recently, so we got our generator ready just in case we lost power. To make sure all of the fuel would flow into the engine, we need to tilt the generator. A red brick is just what we needed: WP_20160131_003





A third use: At Christmas, my wife arranges a display of Christmas village buildings. She wanted the houses in the back of the display to be elevated. Bricks work great:






I saved for last the most unusual use EVER for a brick. Drum roll please! I recently started repairing accordions. One of the first tools you need is a test bellows. You find an old accordion bellows, put boards to seal up both ends, and drill a tiny hole in the middle. You use this to direct air at one selected note in a reed block. To make the bellows work, I needed something really heavy inside, to hold down the bottom board. Here’s mine, with a red brick inside. (It’s so unusual it probably doesn’t make sense unless you repair accordions). Here it is:






Here are a few more uses. I’m sure we’ll think of more soon. “Necessity is the mother of invention”–necessity, plus a pile of bricks.




Do schools squash creativity?

Back in the 1960s, when the pioneering creativity researcher Paul Torrance examined the scores of children on his creative thinking test, he noticed an intriguing trend: The scores declined in fourth grade. Torrance called it the fourth grade slump. He concluded that the rigid and regimented nature of school was reducing children’s natural creativity. Torrance’s “fourth-grade slump” is widely cited, but there’s very little empirical evidence for it. Other researchers have tried to replicate Torrance’s results, but without much success.

A new study,* in the latest issue of the Creativity Research Journal, also finds no evidence for the slump. The study assessed 2,476 Hong Kong Chinese students using a new electronic version of a creativity test (the Wallach-Kogan), and found an increase from grade 4 to 5; a decrease from grade 5 to 6; a decrease from grade 6 to 7; and an increase from grade 7 to 9. Overall, creativity increased; the largest drop, at grade 7, corresponded to a school transition in Hong Kong from primary to secondary school. This new study is consistent with the latest review of all of the studies to date, done in 2009 by Mullineaux and Dilalla, which concluded that children’s creativity continually increased, on average, although with occasional fits and starts.

It’s provocative, but misleading, to refer to these developmental changes as “slumps.” But the term persists because the belief that school squashes a child’s natural creativity aligns with Romantic-era notions of the pure essence of childhood, of childhood as a pure state of nature, opposed to civilization and convention. The fact, however, is that children’s creativity increases during development, just like every other cognitive capability. I’m one of the first people to argue that schools could be doing more to foster student creativity; but I’m relieved that there’s no evidence that schools are reducing creativity.

*Lau, S., & Cheung, P. C. (2010). Developmental trends of creativity: What twists of turn do boys and girls take at different grades? Creativity Research Journal, 22(3), 329-336.

Mullineaux, P. Y., & Dilalla, L. F. (2009). Preschool pretend play behaviors and early adolescent creativity. Journal of Creative Behavior, 43(1), 41-57.