Steve Jobs Leveraged His Intelligence to More Effectively Create
Steve Jobs's life might inform the age old creativity and intelligence debate
Posted October 22, 2011
I am not a genius so I have no idea how geniuses think. However, some people think Steve Jobs was a genius, so perhaps we can learn from his life experience.
Shortly after the great Jobs passed away, Google news showed over 10,000 media sources covering the loss of the monumental tech icon. Although the tsunami of interest has now subsided to smaller waves, his life story and the products that bear his creative signature will continue to make ripples for many years to come.
The Importance of the Arts in Innovation
One widely discussed aspect of Jobs' life is that after dropping out of college, he started dropping in on creative classes, which likely influenced the eventual aesthetics of Apple products. Perhaps this shows the potential importance of the role of arts education in technological innovation.
John M. Eger, a distinguished professor at San Diego State University who was an advisor to two U.S. presidents, has written a timely book titled Arts Education and the Innovation Economy: Ensuring America's Success in the 21st Century. This work appears to be relevant to the idea that Jobs' coursework in the arts influenced his capacity to innovate.
Eger also recently wrote an interesting article on The Huffington Post titled Debate Over Intelligence and Creativity Holds Little Relevance writing that "an age old question has been raised anew in the last few weeks."
Eger notes that "What makes all this so important is simply that creativity is now widely recognized as one of the most important ingredients to success in the new economy."
I couldn't agree more. In their most recent book, That Used To Be Us, Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum highlight repeatedly that what matters is the ability to create and out innovate our nation's competition in the coming years. Eger thinks that the age old debate over intelligence and creativity holds little relevance. I think that this debate holds a great deal of relevance, and I'm going to explain why.
We Know How to Measure Intelligence Quite Well
For whatever reason, there is a widespread public belief that we don't know how to measure intelligence and creativity very well. The truth is that we have over a century of research demonstrating that we know how to measure intelligence quite well (see The g Factor by Arthur R. Jensen which illustrates a quantitative definition of intelligence that is widely-although not universally-accepted in the intelligence community). It's creativity that we don't have a reasonable consensus on how to assess. And it all comes down to psychological measurement, and specifically the concepts of reliability and validity.
A Short (and Simplified) Primer on Psychological Measurement
The tricky part of measurement in psychology (or psychometrics) is that we can only get indirect measures of what we call constructs (such as intelligence or creativity), which are theoretical entities. What we use to get at these constructs are (imperfect) instruments like an intelligence or standardized test or a test with items intending to measure creativity. In psychometrics, two key concepts are reliability and validity. In order to have "construct validity," which basically means the theoretical construct actually exists and is not just this concept floating around in our heads, at the very least we need to know that a measure of this construct is both reliable and valid. Reliability is basically the idea that if we take a test more than one time, our score will be about the same each time. If a test is not reliable, then the test cannot have validity. Validity is basically the idea that the test is valid for predicting certain outcomes. A test is valid in the sense that it can be used to predict some real world outcomes such as earning a Ph.D., patent, publication, or even tenure at a top U.S. university. What my colleagues and I have shown in our research is that the math portion of the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) can be used to validly predict these outcomes, which are clearly important innovation benchmarks for the economy.
Why this is relevant to the age old intelligence and creativity debate is that intelligence tests have been widely demonstrated to be both reliable and valid for predicting important real world outcomes. However, it is not as clear whether creativity researchers have reached reasonable consensus on 1. a definition of creativity (verbal or quantitative in nature) and 2. a reliable and valid measure of creativity that predicts important real world outcomes.
The Jangle Fallacy: What You Call Something Doesn't Make It So
"How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg." -attributed to Abraham Lincoln
In my article If You Are Creative, Are You Also Intelligent? I mentioned that using two different terms doesn't necessarily mean you're talking about two entirely different things. This comes from Truman Kelly's jangle fallacy, or "the use of two separate words or expressions covering in fact the same basic situation, but sounding different, as if they were in truth different." The key take home message of Kelly's insight is this: What we choose to name or label a construct is largely independent of what we are actually able to measure when we use a test to assess the construct.
For example, I can come up with the term creative intelligence and tell you how important creative intelligence is for the future of innovation. I personally think it sounds quite compelling (and I'm probably not the first person to use this term). But it really does not matter whether I have come up with this fancy term. What does matter is whether or not I can actually reliably and validly measure this psychological construct I've now invented. And perhaps even more importantly, what if the test I invent to measure creative intelligence just ends up measuring intelligence to a large degree? I certainly would not want, if I could help it, to reinvent the wheel.
Eger noted that "We may never figure out how to measure creativity—although some states are trying."
I think what is more critical than ever is to figure out how much overlap there is between intelligence and creativity (and correspondingly how much and where they do not overlap). That's why Emily Nusbaum and Paul Silvia's work is so critical because they are pursuing the question: Are intelligence and creativity really so different? The flipside of this question is: Are intelligence and creativity really so much the same? And perhaps even more important is the question: How critical is intelligence for the various domains of creativity? We know that intelligence is likely important for any field of creativity that requires a cognitive component or problem solving, but is it also important for areas in the arts? Howard Gardner once noted that he thought the individuals profiled in his excellent book Creating Minds (which included people from the arts) likely all had to have an IQ of at least 120 which indicates they were at least in the top 10% of ability.
Intelligence and creativity are both important for the future of our country as so many scholars and writers have pointed out. What we need to figure out is the extent to which creativity measures add something over and above intelligence measures because intelligence measures are what have already been well established. If we can find aspects of creativity that can be reliably and validly measured and predict real world outcomes that matter (over and above intelligence measures), then we might have something really powerful in our hands.
After all, Steve Jobs clearly had exceptional intelligence, but maybe it was his creative training in the arts that allowed him to leverage that intelligence in a way that was clearly unique and personal and gave him that special edge. Perhaps this is nicely captured in the popular writer Douglas Eby's recent book Developing Multiple Talents: The Personal Side of Creative Expression.
However, I think the primary reason we need to better understand the relationship between intelligence and creativity is so that we can see how the power of raw intelligence can be most effectively and creatively amplified.
In that sense, we can definitely learn from the life experience of Steve Jobs.
© 2011 by Jonathan Wai
Note: Steve Jobs likely had an IQ roughly 160 or above. In Walter Isaacson's biography, near the end of 4th grade Jobs was tested. Jobs said: "I scored at the high school sophomore level." This means he was a 4th grader performing at the 10th grade level. The average 4th grader is 9 or 10 years old and the average 10th grader is 15 or 16 years old. Using the standard mental age/chronological age x 100 = IQ formula, we can create rough boundaries. Lower bound: 15/10 x 100 = 150 IQ. Upper bound: 16/9 x 100 = 178 IQ. Average of the bounds is 164 IQ. Of course, if Jobs was a young 4th grader then his IQ would be even higher. Steve Jobs clearly had exceptional intelligence, regardless of what his exact IQ score was. This makes sense, considering that Bill Gates, the other wunderkind, said "Software is an IQ business."