August 15, 2014

Imagine a genius – Mozart or Einstein. Now, what do you see around that person? A piano or chalkboard, perhaps, but what about another person?

When most of us picture a genius, we imagine a solitary figure, but it turns out that vision could just be a myth. The best work may be done by those in creative partnerships, according to Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of “Powers of Two: Seeking the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs.

Shenk studied many famous pairs – Watson & Crick; Abernathy & MLK; Lennon & McCartney; Brin & Page – just to name a few, and he noticed some patterns.

“Creativity itself is about a relationship between polar opposites. It’s about an exchange, it’s about push and pull,” says Shenk.

He uses Google co-founders Sergey Brin & Larry Page as an example of a pair with healthy tension. Early in their relationship, they found each other obnoxious; as one writer said, they were like “two swords sharpening each other.”

“The path to true partnership often takes some time, as it did for them [Brin and Page].”

And here’s another unlikely Silicon Valley pair: Mark Zuckerberg & Sheryl Sandberg. Although very different people, they connected immediately at their first meeting.

The Zuckerberg/Sandberg match is a combination you see over and over again. “The kind of person who is actually good at running an operation, and the kind of person who is good at dreaming up new things,” says Shenk.

Of course, working closely with another person isn’t always about successful companies and hit songs. You also have to surrender some of your individuality. “There’s certainly a downside for well being and happiness, if you define those qualities as being unhindered or having absolute control over your environment.”

Additionally, both people in the pair have to not resent being grouped with the other person. Shenk holds up Trey Parker & Matt Stone, creators of “South Park,” as a good example of a pair that protects the privacy in their relationship. 

creativity, Culture, pairs, Joshua Wolf Shenk

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