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4 minute read

Most Creative People

This Startup Is Using Games To Measure Creativity—And Teach Us How To Unlock It

Lemonade.io wants to help prepare people for the future of the global economy, when creativity will be at a premium.

[Photo: Koraysa via Shutterstock]

Angad Singh thinks there’s a good chance that within 20 years, your job will no longer exist. And if it does, a bot will do it.

"It seems obvious," he says. "The nature of work will be completely different." By different, he means that anyone currently doing "non-creative" work will be made redundant in favor of software or robots. So long, assembly line workers. Good luck, white-collar paper pushers. Anything that can be automated will be. Even professions once thought to require actual human beings, like law and medicine, can be at least partly robotized.

Angad Singh

"It will be super different, but in a good way," Singh says. "It’s the way we want work to go."

For someone predicting the mass unemployment of millions, Singh is incredibly optimistic about the future. That’s because he believes everyone has the ability to be creative, and he thinks his company, Lemonade.io, can teach them how.

Lemonade was founded in 2014 and is backed by New Enterprise Associates, which also invested in Duolingo, Box, and Coursera. Its advisers include David Kelley, the founder of design firm IDEO and Stanford’s d.school, and Jerry Yang, the cofounder and former CEO of Yahoo! Inc. Singh envisions a future where Lemonade's creativity technology integrates with everything in the modern workflow, from Slack to Gmail, and gives employees real-time feedback on their work to help them think outside the box.

But before Lemonade can train people to be creative, it needs to train its own technology to be intelligent enough to know what creativity looks like. That may sound a bit freaky to anyone who thinks of imaginativeness as being some sort of divine gift, but actually, we’ve known for a long time that creativity can be quantified. In the '80s, a Harvard professor named Teresa Amabile created the Consensual Assessment Technique, which is still used today and operates on the assumption that when multiple people are asked to evaluate how creative something is, they all tend to be consistent in their answers.

"People have very similar opinions of creativity," says Singh. In other words, what we humans consider creative is pretty predictable. It usually boils down to novelty (is the idea somehow unique?) and value (does the idea solve a problem?). Computers can learn to assess both of those things through machine learning. But that takes data. Lots and lots of data. That’s where games come in.

Lemonade's first product is a gaming app called Funder that asks players to create parody pitches for companies. These pitches are then voted on by other users. The more votes a pitch gets, the more creative it’s considered to be. But where Funder really gets interesting is on the back end, where it records the process by which players create their pitches. Every keystroke, every backspace, every time a player writes a pitch then deletes it entirely, all of that is recorded, and any patterns are turned into data.

Singh explains: "We want to have a large enough data size to say things like, ‘All the people generating awesome ideas are also the people who are staring at a problem for a minute before they start typing anything.’ Or, ‘They’re submitting not their first idea, but their fourth.’"

IDEO’s David Kelley says one noted trend is that people who stick with a problem and keep building on others’ ideas generally come up with better solutions. "This is something that I believe Lemonade can do at scale," he says. "Allowing people to continuously innovate and persist with a much higher likelihood of coming up with breakthroughs."

Funder launched in December and has generated 3,000 pitches so far and 25,000 votes. Because it’s a game, people want to use it, and keep coming back to play. It just so happens they’re contributing to a massive database of creativity research in the process. "Creativity is playful in nature," says Kelley. "An exam-like setting is bound to hinder it. Even at the d.school we often play games to help people get over their fear of not being creative by lowering the stakes and celebrating failure."

Singh’s goal is to build tools that can apply in the enterprise space to help with things like assessing people for creativity during the hiring process or replacing consultants and augmenting training. "That’s the kind of stuff we’re talking about," he says. And that kind of stuff could be incredibly valuable. Many CEOs already consider creativity the most important skill in the workplace, and firms are doing whatever they can to encourage it. Adobe recently launched an artist-in-residence program; Infosys is running innovation workshops; IBM is investing in design thinking. "Many big companies think they are going to be irrelevant soon," Singh says. "They are paranoid and buying insurance policies against dying."

Singh says several companies are already knocking on his door, and Lemonade plans to release more apps in the coming months to increase its data collection. "People are born creative," he says. "If we can empower them to tap into that creativity, that is really powerful."

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