When does a paper clip become a sundial? Exploring the progression of originality in the alternative uses test

Barry Kudrowitz, C. Dippo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The Alternative Uses Test is a measure of divergent thinking in which participants are asked to list non-obvious uses for a common object in a fixed amount of time. The goals of this study were to better understand this creativity test, explore how original ideas emerge, and provide suggestions for improvement to the test. Participants were asked to list alternative uses for a paperclip in three minutes. 293 participants, including engineers, designers and students, were tested and evaluated. Using infrequency of responses as a measure of originality, it was found that participants that produced more responses had more original responses. Later responses were significantly more original than early responses and originality of responses increased with quantity. On average, a participant would list 9 responses before arriving at highly original responses. Participants that did not reach 9 responses in the study were likely to have few if any highly original responses. Participants that were more elaborate in their responses had fewer responses in total and therefore fewer original responses. If this test maps to real world idea generation, it suggests that the first ideas we think of are likely to have been suggested already by others and thus not original. The results of this study can help restructure the format of the Alternative Uses Test and provide a database for a digital version of this test.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-18
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Integrated Design and Process Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2013


  • Creativity
  • alternative uses
  • divergent thinking
  • evaluation
  • originality


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