Gates and Jobs: Walter Isaacson Reflects

Below is the first half of an opinion piece written by Walter Isaacson, author of the bestelling biography of Steve Jobs.  The piece was in the 30 October 2011 Sunday Review section of The New York Times:

One of the questions I wrestled with when writing about Steve Jobs was how smart he was.  On the surface, this should not have been much of an issue.  You’d assume the obvious answer was:  he was really, really smart.  Maybe even worth three or four reallys.  After all, he was the most innovative and successful business leader of our era and embodied the Silicon Valley dream write large:  he created a start-up in his parents’ garage and built it into the world’s most valuable company.

But I remember having dinner with him a few months ago around his kitchen table, as he did almost every evening with his wife and kids.  Someone brought up one of those brainteasers involving a monkey’s having to carry a load of bananas across a desert, with a set of restrictions about how far and how many he could carry at one time, and you were supposed to figure out how long it would take.  Mr. Jobs tossed out a few intuitive guesses but showed no interest in grappling with the problem rigorously.  I thought about how Bill Gates would have gone click-click-click and logically nailed the answer in 15 seconds, and also how Mr. Gates devoured science books as a vacation pleasure.  But then something else occurred to me:  Mr. Gates never made the iPod.  Instead, he made the Zune.

So was Mr. Jobs smart?  Not conventionally.  Instead, he was a genius.  That may seem like a silly word game, but in fact his success dramatizes an interesting distinction between intelligence and genius.  His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical.  They were sparked by intuition, not analytic rigor.  Trained in Zen Buddhism, Mr. Jobs came to value experiential wisdom over empirical analysis.

And that is just about all self can manage to type of the article, dear blog readers, as she has loads of errands to run today.  Stay tuned.

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