In some ways, Mr. Jobs’s ingenuity reminds me of that of Benjamin Franklin, one of my other biography subjects. Among the founders, Franklin was not the most profound thinker – that distinction goes to Jefferson or Madison or Hamilton. But he was ingenious.
This depended, in part, on his ability to intuit the relationships between different things. When he invented the battery, he experimented with it to produce sparks that he and his friends used to kill a turkey for their end of season feast. In his journal, he recorded all the similarities between such sparks and lightning during a thunderstorm, then declared “Let the experiment be made.” So he flew a kite in the rain, drew electricity from the heavens, and ended up inventing the lightning rod. Like Mr. Jobs, Franklin enjoyed the concept of applied creativity – taking clever ideas and smart designs and applying them to useful devices.
China and India are likely to produce many rigorous analytical thinkers and knowledgeable technologists. But smart and educated people don’t always spawn innovation. America’s advantage, if it continues to have one, will be that it can produce people who are also more creative and imaginative, those who know how to stand at the intersection of the humanities and the sciences. That is the formula for true innovation, as Steve Jobs’s career showed.
Walter Isaacson is the author of “Steve Jobs.”