Gagne's model of giftedness

Was Steve Jobs gifted?

By Adina Kotler, Psychologist, Lewis & Lewis
Steve Jobs has been described as a “genius”[1]  and a “visionary”[2] who “overturned the way the world worked”[3].  This is high praise for the co-founder of Apple who passed away in October 2011 at the age of 56.  I won’t go into Steve Jobs’ life and achievement here; that has been covered prodigiously elsewhere.  The impact of Steve Jobs and Apple products on our day to day lives is indeed remarkable. Does Steve Jobs, however, fit into our current conception of giftedness?

Gagne’s model[4], which has been highly influential in Australian education and driven schools’ policies on giftedness, is shown below.

Gagne makes the distinction between innate or natural abilities (giftedness) and the superior mastery of systematically developed abilities in at least one field of human endeavour (talents).

According to Gagne’s model, people can be ‘naturally’ gifted (within the top 10% of the population) in the following areas: intellectual (for example, reasoning, and sense of observation and judgement), creative (for example, problem solving and originality), socio-affective (for example, perceptiveness, communication including empathy and tact, and influence including leadership and persuasion), and sensorimotor (for example, strength and coordination).

Students may be gifted in one or more of these domains, and these abilities may combine in different ways to produce one or more specific talents via a number of catalysts.  The talents include business, technology, sports and academics.

The catalysts include environmental and intrapersonal characteristics, which impact upon the developmental process (i.e.- informal and formal learning and practise) necessary to transform these abilities into talents. Intrapersonal characteristics include motivation, persistence, ability to self-manage, personality factors such as temperament and self-esteem, and physical factors such as health. Environmental influences include significant others such as parents and teachers, and provisions such as programs and activities.

Lastly, chance also plays a part, by influencing the catalysts (intrapersonal and environmental) and the natural abilities (gifts).

According to Gagne’s definition of giftedness, it would appear that Steve Jobs was indeed gifted in a number of areas identified.

Intellectual giftedness is identified using a standardised IQ test (such as the Wechsler Scales). A score of 130+ indicates that someone is functioning intellectually within the top 2% of the population and may be described as intellectually ‘gifted’ (incidentally, the criteria for membership to MENSA, a society for people with high IQ’s , is an IQ of 130+).  Although Steve Jobs’ IQ is not known, his achievements would lead one to believe that his sense of observation and judgement (see Gagne’s model) would have been exceptionally well developed, whether or not his IQ would have fallen within the ‘gifted’ range. Interestingly, I did find an article discussing Steve Jobs’ IQ in which the author certainly seems to believe that his IQ would have fallen within the intellectually gifted range[5] .

Steve Jobs certainly seems to fit the textbook definition of someone who is gifted within the “creative” domain.  A Google search under “Steve Jobs creative” yields more than 155 million results. His products have been described as “innovative” and “astonishing” (amongst countless other adjectives!) There are myriad examples of his creativity, from his ideas through to product design. The following quote exemplifies this:

“The fact is that for multiple businesses – computing, film, music, mobile telephony and most recently mobile computing – Jobs overturned the existing order. Again and again he refused to go along with the conventional wisdom, and introduced his own instead. He lived his life by the instruction he gave in a commencement address to Stanford graduates: “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice,” urging them to keep innocently seeking the new: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”[6]

Steve Jobs was also highly gifted within the area of socio-affective intelligence. By all accounts, he was a highly influential and brilliant leader with exceptional communication skills. He had a “notorious ability to talk people into things.”[7]

“He was often described as a tyrant able to throw a “reality distortion field” around his immediate area, to make people believe anything that he told them”.[8]

His products reflected a real understanding of people and what they wanted, as the following quotes illustrate.

“….what set him most apart from his peers was an exquisite sense of product design and the ability to intuit what people would want, and use. Combined with his leadership (and salesmanship) skills, he was the most formidable CEO of recent times.”[9]

“Jobs was a brilliant negotiator who had the rare ability to visualise exactly what other people – whether singly across a table or by the thousand in an auditorium or by the million in homes and businesses – wanted.”[10]

Steve Jobs is thus an example of someone who turned his innate abilities (or natural “giftedness”) into systematically developed skills or talents in the business and technology arena, becoming incredibly successful along the way.

[4] (Gagne, 1991, taken from )