The Transformational Creativity of Steve Jobs: Resolution

March 7, 2013


In our post on Steve Jobs’ use of Novelty we’ve shown how his introduction of Novel designs and new ideas in his products have contributed to their overall creativity.  Now we’ll move on to a less glamorous, but equally important aspect, the down-to-earth workability and functionality of his output.



            The four facets of the CPAM’s Resolution factor are Logical, Useful, Valuable, and Understandable. This facet considers how well a product works, functions, or does what it supposed to do. Steve Jobs held an almost Platonic view of products, believing that each product had its own unique essence: a function that was more important than anything else.
One of the first things that one notices about products designed on Jobs’ watch is that they are so intuitive and Logical.  Looking back at the development of the Mac, released in 1984, we see the use of icons for the user interface on computers that were intended for the average person.  This approach to calling up the different functionalities of the computer was infinitely more Logical than the earlier approach.  Few can remember a time that a “trash can” was not a universal symbol for deleting files, or when computers didn’t have “desktops.”  The very idea of the desktop as a place to put the files you are working on was a Logical, yet revolutionary, concept.  In Jobs’ quest to make his computers ubiquitous tools for every home, he knew he needed to make them thoroughly Logical.
A great example of Usefulness is found in the iPhone.  The cell phones before the iPhone had lots of features and functions.  But getting to the features was difficult and complicated.   Isaacson tells us that the designers of the iPhone were motivated to come up with something better not so much by consulting ISO Usability Standards as by channeling the frustration that they experienced in using their own mobile phones. This led to the development of a much more Logical and Useful device, the original iPhone.

Another facet in Resolution is Valuable.  In July 2012 two interviews in The Telegraph of Jonathan Ive by Shane Richmond show how Valuable the iPad and iPhone are to millions today.  These devices, too, have become ubiquitous.  iPads have been installed as order terminals for fast food restaurants, and as devices for games and other entertainment at the boarding gates of some airports, placed there by airlines in an attempt to improve the customer experience at the gate. People value products that help them work, relax, communicate and create.
Jobs’ career history is full of examples of his desire to make his products Understandable.  According to Leander Kahney, in his 2011 cover story article for Newsweek, when preparing for the launch of the Apple, Jobs studied Sony’s fonts, papers, and layout to produce the best and most understandable brochures to promote his computer.  Isaacson reported that in designing the Mac, Jobs visited department stores and examined the kitchen appliances, trying to emulate the immediate understandability of products like blenders and food processors. He wanted his computers to have an intuitive user-interface that allowed you operate your computer easily and directly, without the need to search and study the instruction manual.  Jobs’ products have always been known for their user-friendly Understandability, made especially more impressive by the profound complexities of the design engineering that lie just beneath the surface.

In our next blog post on Jobs’ creativity, The Transformational Creativity of Steve Jobs: Style, Philip Thompson and I discuss examples of the hallmark of Apple products, their excellent design aesthetics or Style.



The Transformational Creativity of Steve Jobs: Novelty

March 6, 2013

Steve Jobs was a transformational figure in design creativity and innovation.  His contributions were on a global scale, affecting whole industries, and creating irreversible worldwide changes.  I’ve been visiting with Philip Thompson, Vice President, Design and Planning Strategy at Newell Rubbermaid about the contributions Jobs made to the design world.  Although much has been said already about Jobs, interest in his work and his personality doesn’t seem to have ebbed.

In this series of three blog posts, we’ll show how his products illustrate every factor and facet of the Creative Product Analysis Model (CPAM).  The CPAM and the measurement instrument derived from it, called the Creative Product Semantic Scale or the CPSS, identify the three principle components of design creativity: Novelty, Resolution, and Style.  It turns out that Steve Jobs’ products map beautifully onto the CPAM.  This post shows how surprising and original Jobs’ products were.


Walter Isaacson, in his superb 2011 biography entitled Steve Jobs, states that Jobs was an interesting combination of contrasts—he liked to think of himself as philosophically located exactly between the humanities and technology.   From that vantage point, he could use the intuitive, humanistic insights and judgments from the “right brain,” then use the “left brain” with its rational, quantitative logic from technology and business strategy to make decisions and improvements. Regardless of whether new products are created using mostly “left-brain thinking” or ”right-brain” thinking, most people prefer those that look good and work well.

For those unfamiliar with the Creative Product Analysis Model, or the CPAM, it is a three-factor model that describes design creativity in products. The model was devised after an extensive literature search, looking for the characteristics of creative products. We were trying to answer the question, “What makes products creative?”

After two decades of empirical research, I published the final factor analysis studies confirming the model and the derived measuring instrument, the CPSS, with its three factors and nine facets or subscales.  The three factors of the CPAM and the CPSS are like the three legs of a stool, with each leg necessary for the stool to stand.  Each of the three factors of the CPAM and the CPSS are necessary for a thorough understanding of the product’s creativity.



Jobs’ products and achievements demonstrate the two facets of Novelty: Surprise and Originality. For example, the Pixar products from Toy Story to WALL-E and Ratatouille are full of the delightful Surprise of so many of his products. Jobs even designed the Pixar headquarters building to facilitate random encounters among employees as they passed through the central atrium because, according to Isaacson, he loved the idea of Surprise.

Early users of the iPod Shuffle were surprised and delighted by this device, with its random presentation of their music, creating interesting connections among the tunes on the iPod.

Near the conclusion of his book, Isaacson lists a series of industries which were literally transformed by Jobs and his colleagues. Many of these contributions were radical, paradigm-shifting transformations bringing about societal changes. For example, the Macintosh and the earlier Apple II established the notion of home computing. While Apple was not the first microcomputer, it was the first intended for a mass audience, not solely for “hardware hobbyists,” as Jobs called them in the video, Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview, which came out in 2012.

The Mac introduced icons, and the graphical user interface was accessed with a mouse, not by typing complex command codes. The iPod changed music storing and collecting forever, even affecting the fate of record stores and the recording business. The iPad has affected the publishing business, and may throw a lifeline to publications that are struggling to survive the loss of subscribers to their paper versions.  Although the iPad may well prove to be the most transformative of all of Jobs’ creations, all of these examples illustrate the outstanding level of Originality in Jobs’ creations. Having this much transformational impact on whole industries, not just on individual products, is a mark of Jobs’ performance at the highest levels of creativity.

The next post in this series, The Transformational Creativity of Steve Jobs: Resolution discusses how Jobs’ products excelled in the difficult business of creating products that really work well, another critical aspect of creativity in products.


A Caution to Neophiles

March 5, 2012

After reading John Tierney’s article in the New York Times last month about people who are lovers of novelty (termed, by some, “neophiles”)  I’ve been thinking more about novelty-seeking and creativity.

Novelty, of course, is a primary characteristic of creativity.  Without it, that creative spark is missing from anything we make.  In his article, Tierney links this passion for newness to human endeavors that benefit ourselves and society, such as human migration, coping with the changes that modern life imposes, and personality growth.  He also quotes scholars who advance the more traditional view that novelty-seeking can be a characteristic of those who may abuse drugs or alcohol and pursue antisocial behaviors.

The idea that differentiates a negative form of neophilia from its positive form is that of balance.  Novelty-seeking can be positive for an individual when it is balanced with two other aspects of personality: persistence and self-transcendence. Read more

Where to Find Information About Creativity Tests

July 2, 2010

Last week a reader asked “Where could one find information about reliable and updated creativity tests?”  What a great question!  Not an easy one to answer, but an important one.

The question brings up the basic issue of validity and reliability in testing, a topic about which many books have been written.  Both are important issues in creativity testing, as well as any other kind of testing.  In creativity testing, they are especially slippery.

First, the definitions of creativity seem to be as numerous as there are writers on the subject.  If researchers cannot agree on what creativity is, then when using a test of creativity, test users will have a problem being sure that what they find or don’t find is actually creativity, or creative ability. Maybe the test maker’s definition of creativity is different from the user’s definition.

This is the issue of validity.  Does the test measure what it purports to measure?  It may measure some elements of the characteristic or behavior, or ability, but does it “work” (by identifying creativity) for all types of people (those of different ages, races, or genders)?

The validity of any measure is never perfectly resolved.  It is a goal toward which test developers work.  When they start to test a psychometric measure, they can make claims of validity only to the degree that the test has been used and found satisfactory with a particular group of users. As the testing continues, they may expand the claim of validity as the test makers use different groups, different situations, and still find that the measure is identifying the desired quality. Read more

5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Judging Creativity: Going with an outdated or untested measure of creativity

June 25, 2010

5. Going with an outdated or untested measure of creativity.

There are many old, “tried and true” creativity tests out there.  Some of them are used even today to help select job applicants for the next step in their selection process. This can be a problem when you realize that these tests may have become familiar to prospective employees, giving them a “test-wise” bias.  Also, realize that the work skills that were sought by these tests may have changed over the decades since they were first introduced.

In an effort to avoid these “war horses,” some organizations have made up their own creativity tests.  These “quick and dirty” tests may be useful in identifying prospects, but their results may not prove valuable. They may fail to identify the qualities being sought, or they may be unreliable for general use in the company.  Look instead for a measure that has stood the test of time, yet has been updated with improvements.

5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Judging Creativity: Looking for potential, rather than performance

June 24, 2010

4. Looking for potential, rather than performance.

If there is anything that the “genius studies” of Lewis Terman clearly demonstrated, it is that potential for greatness is often mistaken as evidence that the future will bring achievement and success.  Terman spent decades at Stanford working the Stanford-Binet  IQ test and on testing that thought would identify “geniuses” and track their success over the years. Terman hoped to be able to follow, test, and cultivate a generation of geniuses to show how to nurture special talent in children.  His conception of giftedness was closely linked to academic talent, and he expected that the youngsters he identified would be successful in both school and life. His research was colored by his biased attitudes about the supposedly limited abilities of girls, many immigrants, and persons of any race but his own.

Over the decades of his studies, many of the students he followed did make impressive achievements.  But, it must be admitted that many others, identified as having great potential, often did not manifest this talent through their achievements.  What’s more, other children – not included in his studies — who didn’t appear to have that much going for them were able to achieve greatness, including for example, winning Nobel Prizes (which none of the “Termites” had achieved.) This gives hope to all of the rest of us “non-geniuses.”

If you want to find a creative person, look at what she has made, done, or built.  If one has been creatively productive in the past, he or she will be likely to do it again.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that creative potential will imply creative productivity in the future.

5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Judging Creativity: Timing the Test

June 23, 2010

3. Timing the test.

Creativity requires the kind of relaxed attention that allows one to be “in the flow.” Sometimes that comes quickly, but it often takes time to tease out new ideas from the many mundane ideas that pass through our awareness.

Consider the new TV reality show: Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, where aspiring artists are pitted against one another in timed competition to create works of art of a particular type in 12 to 14 hours. This brings the shocking juxtaposition of our on-demand lifestyle to the world of culture.

While some professional art fields (industrial and graphic design, for example) require production on a schedule, the constraints of the TV show’s production schedule make the artistic products more like art school test projects than actual works of art. It must be frustrating for the artists on the show to have to set their artistic goals to what can be achieved in the time available.

On creativity tests, as well, the fact that you’re being timed can be an inhibition to creative production. Certainly, one cannot wait forever for a creative idea, but putting pressure on test takers is not conducive to the most creative solutions. If you have to limit the time that is allowed to solve a problem, make the amount of time provided ample so that test-takers are not rushed.

5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Judging Creativity: Assessing creativity with a tool that looks for the one right answer.

June 21, 2010

This week, we’ll be exploring some problems with creativity tests.  Each day, I’ll post one of 5 pitfalls I find with many tests of creative ability.  Please offer your opinions to keep the conversation flowing.

Here’s a problem and pitfall to be aware of:

1. Assessing creativity with a tool that looks for the one right answer.

There are many tests for creativity on the Internet.  Some may make you feel good about your abilities, while others can be depressing.  Some common creativity tests, like the famous 9 dot problem, have discouraged test-takers for years.  This problem is a quick little parlor trick that used to be  seen in magazine articles, purporting to test your creativity, but now has made its way to the Internet.  These tests look for a clever answer to the problem through insight, the ability to quickly see a pathway to the answer.  Even some scientifically based tests of creativity use “insight problems.”

The problem with these tests is that, just like on a traditional arithmetic quiz, there is only one correct answer for the problem. This is the kind of convergent reasoning that we are taught in school.  But creativity, by its nature, looks for multiple opportunities and many ways to “skin a cat.”  In real world creativity, one is asked to broadly imagine divergent possibilities, try a few, and come up with one or more that will work.

These insight problems test convergent thinking, while claiming to help in locating divergent thinkers.  Think twice before using these for anything but the clever amusements that they are.

Hooray for the Olivator!

April 20, 2010

an olive stuffer extraordinaire

The Olivator

I recently received a terrific little gift.  It is the perfect thing for the person who has everything, or for somebody who likes to play with her food.  This product is a good example of the added value that you can achieve with excellent design.  The Style dimension of this product really sells it! Read more

Metrics for Design Creativity

March 6, 2010

Metrics are important to any company.  When used appropriately, business metrics enable organizations to take account of where they are and to plan strategically for the future.  Nowadays companies are also looking for design metrics, ways of measuring the contribution of the design of new products to their bottom line.

I recently read Deborah Mrazek’s essay in the March 2010 edition of the DMI News & Views. As Design Practice Manager, Corporate Marketing, HP, Ms. Mrazek is well aware of the need for appropriate metrics for communicating design effectiveness.  In her essay, she summarizes a paper written by John R. Hauser and Gerald M. Katz in 1998 that still holds good advice.

I found both this review and the earlier paper useful and interesting.  My own experience with design metrics leads me to stress some similar points.

It is important that metrics be used strategically — that the metrics reflect the strategy and values of the organization. If they do, the metrics will help the company move forward profitably. But because the metrics selected will affect actions and decisions, it is very important to look carefully at what is proposed to be measured, and at how that measurement affects the strategic direction of the organization.

Hauser and Katz stated that “The firm becomes what it measures.”  Because of the focus on the metric, managers and others begin to pay more attention to the thing being measured, and that aspect will become maximized.  Since the quality measured becomes important through the focused attention it received, selecting relevant and effective metrics is critical.

Again, this bears a circular relationship with an organization’s strategic position and goals.  The metrics must both reflect the strategic path of the organization, and point the way to actualizing the strategy.  If the metric can help move the company along that path, it is an effective metric;  if it does not, or becomes a goal in itself, if fails.

In selecting metrics for judging design effectiveness look for qualities that can be measured today, but that may also help to predict future outcomes.  There is a temptation to pick as a measure what is easy to measure, but that choice might not be a relevant marker of success in the product.  Also, look for metrics that are within the control of those whose performance is being measured by it.

This is especially important with designers and engineers, the impact of whose contribution to the bottom line may be clearly manifest only months or years farther down the line.  Because of this, it is important to measure what matters to the customer. There are often different kinds and levels of customers, from end users, to distributors and vendors, to stakeholders within the company.  It is also necessary to understand the needs of the product manager, and the design team members, in addition to the needs of upper level management.

Hauser and Katz also pointed out the problem of focusing on one easily measurable characteristic, out of proportion to its importance to the customer.  For example, focusing intently on metrics for high standards for durability, engineers and designers can be discouraged from attending to other aspects of the design that might be more important to the consumer.   I suggest looking at a broader range of criteria based on varied dimensions of product creativity.

Hauser and Katz recommend looking for new ideas outside the organization as well as inside.  A “not-invented-here” culture emerges from only rewarding ideas conceived internally, rather than from profitably adapting and applying ideas from inside and outside the organization.  This can limit the creative capacity of a design team.

In selecting metrics, precise measures seem intuitively to be desirable, but this can be difficult when measuring aesthetic qualities.  Don’t get too caught up in maximizing the precision of the metric.  A metric is important in measuring movement and direction, and too much focus on the specific number yielded by the metric can deflect focus from the direction. When measuring illusive qualities like aesthetics and taste, scientists need not be reluctant to use what may appear to be subjective measures.  If these metrics help move the organization along its strategic path, they are useful and valuable.

Finally, choose metrics that don’t take so much time and money to implement that they cost more to use than they yield in productivity. Remember that the metric is to be a tool or guidepost along the way, not an end in itself.

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