A new creative tool launches online today — one that assesses your creativity.

Berkeley, California-based SparcIt says its new platform is the first to offer research-based assessment of that mysterious force.

Knowledge-based skills are insufficient for the 21st century, CEO and cofounder Farzad Eskafi told me.

Sure, creativity can make beautiful and even transformative things. But research has also shown that “creativity correlates directly with corporate earnings,” he said. The problem is that creativity assessments have previously been a laborious process involving manual testing.

To make the process more efficient and cheaper, SparcIt developed a patent-pending algorithm with Buffalo State University’s International Center for Studies in Creativity, based on decades of research on human intelligence by Professor J.P. Guilford. The algorithm drives a custom semantic engine that makes the assessment.

You can try SparcIt here, in a special short version set up for VentureBeat. Three exercises are offered here out of four possible types, although the regular version — intended for use by trainers, psychologists, and other consultants — shows as many as five different exercises out of nine possibilities.

And here is a guide to what your scores mean. See further below for a discussion of Originality, Flexibility, and Fluency.

Originality–

High: >600
Mid: 200-600
Low: <200

Flexibility/Fluency–

High: >300
Mid: 100-300
Low: <100

The common, print-based Torrance Test of Creative Thinking employs the same exercise-based (as opposed to personality survey) approach, but SparcIt claims that it runs rings around Torrance.

For instance, Torrance has an object usage exercise. The participant is asked write down as many uses as possible for a brick, for example. The exercise is not timed, although most test-takers take five to ten minutes.

SparcIt can use more than a hundred thousand common objects in English as the starting word, providing flexibility for the trainer/consultant administering the test and allowing a company to choose a word more in line with its industry.

Instead of Torrance’s human graders, the platform’s custom IgniteIt engine uses natural language processing to parse the answers by drawing on such knowledge sources as Wikipedia in a semantic and conceptual process that Eskafi likened to IBM’s Watson supercomputer.

The engine assesses the answer based on three indices — Fluency, Flexibility, and Originality.

SparcIt's creativity scoring

Above: SparcIt’s creativity scoring

Image Credit: SparcIt

Fluency measures the number of different responses, Flexibility indicates the number of different categories the answer hits, and Originality shows how unique the answers were. Uniqueness, in this case, describes how infrequently that use of the object has been offered. For instance, using a brick to build a house is a frequent and less creative use, while using a brick as a brush to paint a picture is infrequent and more creative.

Some of the other exercises include PairIt, where the user links two words and writes why they are linked; MapIt, where you start with a word, write a related word, then a word related to that, and so on; and Improve It, where you are shown a picture of an object and you write ways to improve it.

Torrance can cost as much as $150 per session, often has only one exercise per session, requires multiple sessions, and is generally conducted only for upper management. SparcIt is priced at $20 to $35 a session, has as many as six exercises per session, and needs only one session to score an assessment.

As for accuracy, SparcIt ran a test in which more than 300 people used its assessment and also took the manual test that Dr. Mark Runco of the University of Georgia at Athens has been conducting for the past 30 years. Eskafi said Runco and his assistant took three days to grade their tests, while SparcIt’s assessment took all of ten seconds.

On a scale where 1 means the results of both tests were exactly alike and 0 completely different, SparcIt scored 0.8. The University of Georgia is now a SparcIt customer.

Whether an organization finds it is teeming with creative types or stocked with dullards, follow-up workshops can be designed by one of the consulting groups that SparcIt is partnering with.

SparcIt has already conducted more than 25,000 assessments for about 10 companies, including Buffalo State University and educational specialist Natural Math. Eskafi said that service companies like McDonald’s also need creativity, not just intellectual property companies like tech or entertainment, because of the importance of innovation in such areas as marketing, new product development, and resource management.

The for-profit SparcIt has been financed thus far by $300,000 in National Science Foundation small business funding, and is now shopping for investment.