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Need Ideas?  Find a “John Lennon”

By Shlomo Maital

Lennon McCartney

    Joshua Wolf Shenk has written a wonderful book titled Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs.     An excerpt is available from the Atlantic Monthly, June 25, 2014 issue.  His point is simple:   Very often,  when two (different) people work together on an idea, the result is far better than when only one works on it.

    I personally experienced this in working with my co-author Arie Ruttenberg on our book Cracking the Creativity Code (SAGE India 2014).   I’m convinced the final product was many times better than if either of us had worked in isolation.

     Shenk goes into detail in discussing the collaboration of Lennon and McCartney These two Beatles created some 180 songs!   Most of them are wonderful, most were recorded by the Beatles.

    Here is what Shenk observes about creative pairs:

     For centuries, the myth of the lone genius has towered over us, its shadow obscuring the way creative work really gets done. The attempts to pick apart the Lennon-McCartney partnership reveal just how misleading that myth can be, because John and Paul were so obviously more creative as a pair than as individuals, even if at times they appeared to work in opposition to each other. The lone-genius myth prevents us from grappling with a series of paradoxes about creative pairs: that distance doesn’t impede intimacy, and is often a crucial ingredient of it; that competition and collaboration are often entwined. Only when we explore this terrain can we grasp how such pairs as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, and Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy all managed to do such creative work. The essence of their achievements, it turns out, was relational. If that seems far-fetched, it’s because our cultural obsession with the individual has obscured the power of the creative pair.

   My main ‘take home’ or ‘take away’ from this book?   Find someone to work with. If possible, don’t look for someone just like you.   Find someone DIFFERENT from you, like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, or Lennon and McCartney.


If You Can Subtract, You Can Innovate!

By Shlomo  Maital   


Innovation is breaking the rules.   But often, the rules most rewarding to break are unwritten ones, ones we assume are true in our heads, ones we never challenge.

 One such rule: “Innovation is about addition” – adding new features onto old things.   Nothing could be more wrong.

   Innovation is about subtraction.  Taking things away. Yet we use addition far more often than we use subtraction, in creative endeavours.

   Here are some examples, drawn from Ruth Blatt’s wonderful blog in Forbes magazine (Dec. 26/2013). 

  *  Led Zeppelin made an album, with no writing on the cover. Nothing, no band name, nothing.  It was their best-selling album (Led Zeppelin IV).  And they did it by subtracting.

* Composer John Cage wrote a piece called 4’ 33”,  a four-minute 33-second piece in which a full orchestra sits down..and remains in perfect silence for over four minutes.  A concert, minus the music.  Insulting? Ridiculous?  Usually, the orchestra gets strong applause when they stand up and take a bow.

* In 1966 the Beatles made a key decision.  They decided to be a rock ‘n roll band, that does not perform for live audiences.  By subtracting the ‘live performance’ from their art, they created new possibilities. They did not have to reproduce live what they did in the recording studio.  They climbed new artistic heights in this way. 

     Ruth Blatt advises, “Next time you feel blocked, try doing like the Beatles and take out something you used to think was essential.”   You’ll be amazed at the results. 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital