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I started this blog in April 2007, and you would never guess which of my blog posts gets the most hits: It’s a post from April, 2008, reporting on a study that seemed to show that people who glanced briefly at the Apple Computer logo were more creative than people who glanced briefly at the IBM computer logo.
Although it’s an intriguing study (and it got a lot of media attention), in my 2008 post I was skeptical…mostly because the measure of creativity was “think of as many unusual uses as possible for a brick.” The people who were shown the Apple logo came up with, on average, 7.68 uses; those who saw the IBM logo came up with an average of 6.10 uses. The headlines all said “Apple computers make you more creative.” But there are several interesting details that didn’t get reported: for example, a third group of subjects were not shown any logos at all, and they did just as well as the Apple logo subjects.
In my 2012 book Explaining Creativity, in a chapter on creativity assessment, I cited this study as evidence that this “Unusual Uses” test is not a reliable measure of a person’s creativity. When it was designed back in the 1950s, the goal was to develop a test that could measure a person’s creativity–much the same way that the IQ test was designed to measure a person’s intelligence. And think about it: if you could raise a person’s IQ test score just by showing them cute pictures, you would say that’s a horrible test of intelligence. A good measure should be reliable, meaning that a person should score the same no matter when they take the test. (I know there are IQ test haters out there, I don’t want to go there, but let me just say that today’s IQ tests have been shown to be extremely reliable.)
As I report in Explaining Creativity, there’s a long history of research showing that various creativity tests are not reliable–the “divergent thinking” tests that try to measure your creativity by counting up the number of ideas you come up with. For example, if you change the test instructions and tell people to “be creative” or to “come up with as many ideas as you can,” their scores go up way more than they do when they look at the Apple logo.
I thought of my old 2008 blog post this morning, when I was reading today’s Wall Street Journal. There’s a fascinating graphic feature about how corporate logos have changed over time. Take a look at these now-retired Apple Computer logos. Do either of these make you feel more creative?
*Wall Street Journal, Sep 29-30, 2012: “Corporate I.D.” Page C12.
Also see this story about the history of Apple’s logos.