As someone who writes a lot about great inventors and forgotten geeks I get endless questions asking to compare Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.
Recently I have been asked to answer questions comparing Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein to Nikola Tesla.
There is an obsession with "who was smarter" questions, and comparing one successful person to another. The problem with these compare person x to person y questions is that they often ask to compare two totally different people. Do we really need to keep score?
This material in this blog post has been rolling around in my brain for a few weeks. With a few additional questions added to my list, the time has come to address fascination with comparing people.
There is a fascination with comparing people with Einstein. As I amused myself reading some recent questions, I wondered how silly can it get, will people start comparing Albert Einstein to Wayne Gretzky or Babe Ruth?
To those of you who only vaguely know their names, let us take a brief look at the careers of sports legends Wayne Gretzky and Babe Ruth.
Wayne Gretzky played in the National Hockey League from 1978 through 1999. During his career as a hockey player he dominated the sport, he was the NHL's season points leader 10 times and named the NHL most valuable player award nine times.
George Herman "Babe" Ruth was an professional baseball player whose career in Major League Baseball (MLB) spanned 22 seasons from 1914 through 1935. Ruth lead the league in home runs in twelve seasons. At the time of his retirement Babe Ruth held dozens of MLB records.
In sports there are various statistics kept to evaluate the performance of a player. Statistically Babe Ruth was the greatest Major League Baseball player of his generation. Statistically Wayne Gretzky was the greatest National Hockey League player of his generation.
They were very successful in their professional lives, but the sports they played required very different skills. How can we compare Wayne Gretzky to Babe Ruth?
Now let us compare Wayne Gretzky and Babe Ruth to Albert Einstein. Albert Einstein was the most influential physicist of the 20th century, Babe Ruth was the most influential Major League Baseball player of the 20th century, so I should be able to compare them?
Have I gone crazy? This is all sounding absurd, but is it any more absurd than the endless questions of comparison?
I have no idea what the IQ was of any of the successful people I have studied over the years, nor do I care. Some of the most successful people have been looked at as being stupid when they were growing up. On a personal level, some of the "smartest" people I have known were not very successful. They might have been considered a genius on an IQ test, but they never achieved much in life.
The success of famous people has a lot to do with making the most of their opportunities and being a master of their time and circumstances How do you compare complex individuals living in different times working in similar but different professions. I have studied many successful people over the years, in business and technology. A common theme in all successful people is a strong passion for their area of interest. Many had an compulsion, perhaps you could call it an obsession, for success.
It is often said that there is a fine line between genius and insanity. Many successful people operated on that fine line.
Who is the greatest? Who was the smartest? Who was the funniest? Wayne Gretzky or Babe Ruth then again maybe it was Albert Einstein?
Why does it matter?