Here's a riddle for you: A man has married 20 women in a small town. All of the women are still alive, and none of them is divorced. The man has broken no laws. Who is the man?

Most likely if you solved this one, it came to you in a flash of insight. The correct answer? The man is a priest.

Keep that one handy to test a job candidate's creativity aptitude. Scientists call it divergent thinking, and if one possesses it, it could be a game changer for increasing ingenuity and productivity.

Why divergent thinking matters

The premise behind divergent thinking is this: Those who can seamlessly access the brain's right temporal lobe are able to generate multiple related ideas for a given topic or problem by exploring many possible solutions.

In other words, their spontaneity for coming up with solutions to problems is extremely valuable.

These creative wizards have the uncanny ability to come up with free-flowing ideas and problem-solving insights in a short amount of time, as opposed to their convergent-thinking counterparts who solve single problems in a systematic and linear fashion.

In fact, divergent thinking has become key in the creativity research field, as more creativity tests are being developed by psychologists to measure creative problem-solving potential.

How you can test people for divergent thinking

The creative experts at 99U have given us five commonly used creativity challenges--backed by science--that you can use if your business demands a high degree of creativity in current or future employees:

1. Alternative Uses Test: Give someone two minutes to think of as many uses as possible for an everyday object like a chair, paper clip, or brick. The number of different responses, or the number of responses given by no one else, has traditionally provided a measure of how creative a person is.

2. Incomplete Figure Test:  A drawing challenge where you give someone an incomplete shape and ask that person to complete the image.

3. Riddles: Much like the one at the beginning of this article. You can download a full list here.

4. The Remote Associates Test: Take three unrelated words, such as "Falling, Actor, Dust," and ask the person to come up with a fourth word that connects them.

5. The Candle Problem: Give your subjects a candle, a box of thumbtacks, and a book of matches, and ask them to affix the lit candle to the wall so that it will not drip wax onto the table below. It's meant to challenge "functional fixedness"--a cognitive bias that makes it difficult to use familiar objects in abnormal ways, reports 99U.

Science says you can boost your own creativity with these habits

Now it turns out that just about anybody can increase his or her own creative insight. Take note of what scientists are saying will activate your right brain, where creativity resides.

Get some sleep

Research by German scientist Ulrich Wagner indicates that sleep can drastically improve one's ability to gain creative insight into a problem.

In this study, the test group that slept for eight hours had close to a 60 percent success rate in gaining insight when they got back to their task, compared to 23 percent for both control groups--one awake for eight hours during the day and another that stayed awake for eight hours during the night.

Companies like Uber, Google, Zappos, Ben & Jerry's, Capital One Labs, and PwC have adapted sleep at work. They provide nap pods, sleeping nooks, or have napping policies for their employees to rest and recharge so their creativity remains high throughout the day.

Start laughing

Humor, it turns out, is likely to help you think more broadly and creatively.

Psychologist Mark Beeman and colleagues had college students solve puzzles after watching a clip of Robin Williams doing standup.

Twenty percent more puzzles were solved by sudden insight from students who had watched comedy compared to students who watched scary or boring videos beforehand.

Laughter releases endorphins into the body--a chemical 10 times more powerful than morphine--with the same exhilarating effect as an intense workout at the gym.

Evidently, comedians rule the interview process. A survey conducted by Hodge-Cronin & Associates found that 98 percent of 737 CEOs surveyed preferred job candidates with a sense of humor over those without.

Another survey indicated that the majority of executives believe employees with a sense of humor do a better job than those with little or none.

Have more fun

Psychologist David Abramis at Cal State Long Beach found that people who have fun on the job are more creative and productive, make better decisions, and get along better with colleagues.

They also are much less likely to call in sick or show up late to work than people who aren't having fun.

Another study, by Adam Anderson at the University of Toronto, says that to unlock your creative potential, "go out and play" to lift your mood, and then come back to the problem.

Studies say that a culture of fun can improve work quality and mental health five different ways:

  • Fun breaks up boredom and fatigue
  • Fun fulfills human social needs
  • Fun increases creativity and willingness to help
  • Fun improves communication
  • Fun breaks up conflict and tension


"People generally assume that when we are trying to solve problems, complete focus is required," says University of Illinois at Chicago professor Jennifer Wiley. "In reality, too much focus can hinder our access to creative thinking."

Sleep, relaxation, fun, the feeling one gets after taking a hot shower, a little vino, some brainless downtime, laughter, and positive vibes--all these things allow the brain's right hemisphere to relax enough to do its creative work and make those random associations that are often the source of the answer to our problems.