It Takes Two to (Create the) Tango

By Shlomo  Maital


  Not only does it take two to tango —  it probably takes two to INVENT the tango. Tango probably comes from the Latin tangere, to touch,  and it is a wonderful dance that was invented along the Rio del Plate, on the border between Uruguay and Argentina – and spread from there to the world. 

   Writing in the Global New York Times today (July 21),  Joshua Wolf Shenk summarizes his forthcoming book Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs.  His main point:  The idea of a lone-wolf genius inventing breakthrough things is untrue.  Usually great breakthroughs take two people. 

  He brings many examples:  Lennon and McCartney; (I would add,  Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart, the wonderful song writing team);  Freud and his colleague Dr. Wilhelm Fliess;  Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy;  Picasso and Georges Braque;  Picasso and his fierce adversary Henri Matisse (sometimes, creativity emerges not from collaboration but from competition);   Einstein and his friend Michele Besso, with whom he walked through the Swiss mountains and discussed his ideas. 

   “Two people are the root of social experience – and of creative work,”  Shenk argues.  Why two?  “We’re likely set up to interact with a single person more openly and deeply than with any group.”

    I strongly believe this is true. When I embarked on writing a book on creativity (soon available as Cracking the Creativity Code),  I felt it would be unbalanced, if I wrote it solo, as I had mainly an academic background. So I sought out my former student and current friend, Arie Ruttenberg, whose legendary creativity built a powerful ad agency.  It was a wonderful collaboration, and our book was far better than if either of us had written it alone.  By the way,  we chose to preserve our individual ‘voices’ in the book, and hence identify the author of each chapter. 

   “The core experience of … one entity helping to inspire another is almost always true,” Shenk notes.  I agree.  So – if you seek ideas, if you have ideas, find a great partner.  Preferably, someone very different from you.  You’ll see – it will greatly enrich your creative productivity.