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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.


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. 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital