As young men born in the same year (1955), they set out from the same starting point, but with radically different personalities. In the early days of personal computers, both dropped out of college and launched their own businesses. Of the two, the late Steve Jobs was always the quick, live-for-the-moment hare, while Bill Gates was the dispassionate, lawyerly, bide-your-time tortoise.
For two decades, the race between the two went according to script, with the hare jumping out to a huge early lead, before falling hopelessly behind. Apple Computer appeared to be headed for bankruptcy in 1997 when Gates and Microsoft came to the rescue with a $150 million investment. While appearing as the noble competitor, Gates could not hide his contempt for his longtime rival. In a Vanity Fair article in 1998, Gates said sneeringly -- "What I can't figure out is why he is even trying. He knows he can't win." But this is when the fable took an amazing twist.In the last 12 years of his life, Jobs reinvented himself and his business not once but several times, and finished far ahead of his rival. He built the most valuable business in the world--creating more than half again as much wealth for his shareholders as Microsoft. Microsoft reached its all-time peak in market capitalization in September of 2000, when the stock was worth $642 billion. Today it is worth only about a third as much--at $229 billion (as of Oct. 25). By contrast, Apple's market cap has climbed from a mere $6 billion at the end of 1998 to $364 billion today (again, Oct. 25)--a 60-fold increase. As Walter Isaacson writes in his just-released and highly readable biography, Jobs "revolutionized six industries"--personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing--and he "reimagined a seventh"--in creating the stores that became shrines to his memory in the days and weeks following his death from pancreatic cancer on October 5. As many have commented, Jobs saw himself as an artist no less than a businessman or technologist. His artistry is evident in what now seems his last will and testament: the now-famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford. In the speech, viewed by millions of people around the world in the days following his death, Jobs spoke publicly for the first time about his own possibly failing health--using that for his foil in telling students: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life…have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." Countless commencement addresses contain a similar message. It is indeed what the old blow-hard Polonius said in Hamlet--"To thine own self be true." But none that we have seen have said it so eloquently or so powerfully. It is interesting to compare this commencement address with the one that Gates gave two years later at Harvard. Jobs told his biographer that he composed his speech on his own, critiqued only by his wife. Whether that is entirely true or not, the speech shines with a sense of authenticity--a sense, that is, of the speaker being the true author of his thoughts, words, and actions. By contrast, as Gates told the Wall Street Journal in a story published shortly after he spoke, he labored on his address for more than six months--reading Nobel Prize acceptance speeches by Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Enrico Fermi, and others; soliciting the advice of humor-and-communications coach Warren Buffett at different stages of composition; and bouncing outlines and drafts back and forth with a Gates Foundation speechwriter who had written for Slate, the online magazine owned by Microsoft. His speech has both the carefulness and the clumsiness of a document drafted by a committee, and it makes Gates seem something of a poseur--pretending to a wisdom that he doesn't possess. Let us take a closer look at the style, structure and content of the two speeches....
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