Mack R. Hicks Ph.D.

Digital Pandemic

Steve Jobs: Low I.Q.?

How creative was Steve Jobs?

Posted Dec 03, 2011

Walter Isaacson, author of the biography, Steve Jobs, reports in the New York Times (Sunday Review, October 30, 2011), that Jobs didn't do well when confronted with a brain teaser involving monkeys carrying a load of bananas across the desert—an applied math problem that contained the usual restrictions on how far one could walk, number of bananas carried, etc. The goal was to predict how long it would take to make the trip.

According to Isaacson, Mr. Jobs threw out a few guesses but showed no interest in trying to solve the problem in a logical manner. People of all ages relish this kind of challenge and learn to use analytic steps to arrive at solutions—if they are smart enough!

High school graduates with normal intelligence are capable of solving these types of problems. It doesn't sound like Jobs would have been a candidate for the Mensa society or any group that defines IQ by test scores based on the operation of complex, logical and sequential processes. So, was Jobs just an average Joe when it comes to I.Q?

Not likely.

I don't know if Steve Jobs ever submitted to a battery of psychological and/or intellectual tests, but formally measured IQ is certainly not as important as applied IQ. If we had the time to observe each person's learning, behavior and decisions-making skills, we wouldn't need formal intelligence tests to help us classify abilities. The norms for the first I.Q. test, the Binet, were based on teachers' observations of children's learning in the classroom.

First, we have the problem of defining intelligence. We know there's a difference between Einstein and an intellectually challenged person, but how about the rest of us, who fall between these two extremes?

IQ tests look at both analytic thinking and spatial thinking. These tests contain a Verbal Scale that includes information, vocabulary and general comprehension in order to tap into verbal reasoning, and a Performance Scale that includes the manipulation of blocks and puzzle parts in order to tap into spatial thinking.

It is important to look at Verbal and Performance Scales separately and not lump them together to get an overall IQ score. I've evaluated many individuals who showed a 20 to 30 point difference between these scales. Averaging them together to come up with an overall IQ score is a gross disservice to the test and the person taking the test, since it buries critical information.

Psychologists know better than to average these scores, but not all psychological assessments are administered by licensed psychologists, and group IQ tests—which rely on reading—are unable to identify spatial, nonverbal abilities.

In the Digital Pandemic (Reestablishing Face-to-Face Relationships in the Electronic Age), I discussed the division of the brain into the left hemisphere and right hemisphere and how some individuals differ in their thinking and communication skills.

In the book, I described the left-brain personality or Gatherer as having the following characteristics: auditory learner, literal, sequential, reductionistic, bottom-up thinking and logical progression. In the emotional realm they tend to be patient and controlled. These abilities are measured by the Verbal Scale.

The right-hemisphere personality or Hunter is described as a visual learner who is imaginative and thinks in a simultaneous manner. This person is an expansive, nonlinear, top-down thinker who is good at prioritizing. Terms like proportionality, epiphany and intuition are associated with this hemispheric personality. These folks are into movement and activity and use stories and metaphors. They are also impulsive and easily bored. Serendipitous behavior is more likely than patient, controlled behavior. These abilities are measured by the Performance Scale of the I.Q. test.

Keeping these right brain characteristics in mind, Isaacson states that Jobs was successful in his work because of imaginative leaps that were "instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. They were sparked by intuition, not analytic rigor." Clearly, these are the characteristics of a right-brain personality.

Isaacson goes on to compare Steve Jobs with Albert Einstein. According to Isaacson, Einstein described his own intuitive genius as "the ability to read the mind of God." Both Jobs and Einstein were highly visual learners.

Steve Jobs' intelligence helped him develop wondrous things. While his work showed creativity, it also showed empathy, another right-brain characteristic. Jobs was able to put himself in the consumer's shoes and set goals that satisfied consumer needs. This insight allowed him to push for designs that people wanted and needed.

Some might object to the description of Jobs as an empathetic person, especially when it came to his interactions with his employees. He was known to be somewhat critical and demanding. But empathy refers to understanding the feelings of others; not necessarily kindness towards others. This ability often leads to sympathetic understanding but it can be also be used to control and manipulate.

Right-brainers have more emotional awareness than left-brainers, but they are also impulsive and sometimes overlook what they consider to be minor details, even if those details include a person's feelings. This is especially true if one can see the big picture and feels internal pressure to succeed at all costs.

Even though Jobs' breakthroughs were intuitive and creative, they weren't completely "out of the box." Rather, they represented the continuation of an ongoing process. Computer science was already established when Jobs took existing platforms and made them available and affordable. But his work might not qualify as highly creative when compared to other advances, such as the invention of the airplane, television or the automobile.

Columnist David Brooks posed this question: if someone could magically travel forward in time from 1970 until today, would she be impressed with Steve Jobs' IPhone? The answer is yes. But she would be disappointed with the lack of technological change relative to earlier times.

This traveler would also want to know what other marvels had been invented the past 41 years such as space colonies on Mars, flying cars, nuclear powered airplanes, artificial organs and the curing of cancer or senility. A person born in 1900 grew up with the horse-drawn buggy and died with men walking on the moon. More recent technological advances have not measured up to that scale.

As a society, are we experiencing an innovation slowdown? Watching our children play single-shooter electronic games and engage in information snacking as opposed to in-depth learning isn't reassuring. Graduate schools seem to be welcoming left-brain students who are good test takers at the expense of creative right-brainers. Jobs may have been a right-brain innovator, but ironically his creations, such as the IPhone, may be ushering in a period of diminished creativity and increased superficial information gathering.

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