Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs Hardcover – Aug 5 2014
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Powers of Two is such a brilliant, compelling book, it's hard to imagine that Shenk left any part of himself behind in the writing of it. Or maybe, as he posits, his separateness suffered while his book gained from the merger with his adored editor: the sacrifice of self that's necessary to achieve successful creative coupledom."
- Chicago Tribune
"We sometimes think of creativity as coming from brilliant loners. In fact, it more often happens when bright people pair up and complement each other. Shenk's fascinating book shows how to spark the power of this phenomenon."
- Walter Isaacson "When I spoke with John Lennon in 1980-the final in-depth interview of his life-he described writing many songs 'eyeball to eyeball' with Paul McCartney. Powers of Two conveys the intimacy and complexity of their collaboration-and collaboration in general-with brilliant clarity."
-David Sheff, author of All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono
"In this surprising, compelling, deeply felt book, Joshua Wolf Shenk banishes the idea of solitary genius by demonstrating that our richest art and science come from collaboration: we need one another not only for love, but also for thinking and imagining and growing and being."
- Andrew Solomon
" All future accounts of artistry and innovation will be enriched by the treasures Joshua Wolf Shenk has uncovered in the creativity of pairs . "
- Lewis Hyde , author of The Gift
" Powers of Two is a dramatic, often delightful demonstration of a truth we usually ignore: great accomplishments are rarely the work of a single person. If you aspire to be creative, the most important step might be finding a trusted partner who can support your strengths and offset your weaknesses."
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi , author of Flow
"This is a book about magic; about the Beatles; about the chemistry between people; about neuroscience; and about the buddy system; it examines love and hate, harmony and dissonance, and everything in between. The result is wise, funny, surprising, and completely engrossing ."
- Susan Orlean
" Powers of Two is filled with keen insights into the human condition and terrific examples of creativity at work. This is an inspiring book that also happens to be a great read ."
- Daniel H. Pink , author of Drive
"Fascinating [a] provocative thesis on the genesis of creative innovation."
"Quick, find a buddy. Shenk, New School professor and author of Lincoln's Melancholy, looks at pairs-Marie and Paul Curie or Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak-to show that working in tandem can release the creative juices ."
- Library Journal
"Intriguing interesting , even eye-opening, illuminating a complicated subject."
- Publishers Weekly
From the Inside Flap
A lyrical, revelatory synthesis of cultural history and social psychology that shows how one-to-one collaboration drives creative success
Weaving together the lives of scores of creative duos from John Lennon and Paul McCartney to Marie and Pierre Curie to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak Joshua Wolf Shenk identifies the core qualities of that dizzying experience we call chemistry. Revealing the six essential stages through which creative intimacy unfolds, Shenk draws on academic research, original reportage, and historical evidence to show that creativity is not the work of an individual mind. In fact, it is a social activity, and the pair is its primary embodiment. Along the way, he describes how partners in pairs begin to talk, think, and even look like each other; how the most successful ones thrive on conflict; and why some pairs flame out while others endure.
In a book as formally inventive as it is intellectually compelling, Shenk shows that when it comes to the innovations that shape our culture, two is the magic number. Dyads are behind everything from "South Park" to the American civil rights movement to "Starry Night"; indeed, they are essential to creative thinking itself. Even when we re alone, we are, in a sense, collaborating with a voice inside our head.
At once intuitive and myth-shattering, "Powers of Two" changes how we think about how we think, and inspires us to reach out and think with each other.
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There are far too many topics raised in the book to be fully discussed here, but some of the findings include:
1. The importance of a "magnet place" in which individuals with the same interests are drawn to each other.
2. The process of the pair's bonding and how trust is developed. One finding is that after a certain period of time, a creative pair may form their own language, which is clear to them but opaque to outsiders.
3. The relationship between the "alpha" and beta." A power imbalance may actually work to produce better results than one of the pair could achieve individually. Also, many alphas may have their own boss, though it may not be apparent to the public.
4. How a creator develops his or her "voice," including the role of the unconscious.
5. The role of distance in the relationship and the need to maintain both tension and security.
6. What happens when a "wedge' comes between the pair. Public success may wind up acting as a wedge and driving the two apart, but it can also have positive effects.
7. The after-effects of a relationship and how the "break" between two closely connected creators may be messy and never reach a clear resolution.
The author concludes by giving the reader a look at the relationship between him and his editor, Eamon Dolan, and offers suggestions for making connections that may help our own creativity to blossom.
Overall, "Powers of Two" is a thought-provoking look at the creative process - as Shenk puts it, what happens when the dreamer meets the doer. The creative process itself is a big topic to take on, but Shenk does an admirable job.
I mention this little story because it relates back to something that has always confounded me...the myth of the isolated genius. While there are certainly those who have extraordinary abilities, they are often severely lacking in other areas yet we hear little to nothing of the supportive roles that make these people into who and what they become known as by society.
The book goes on to talk about that special electric bond between couples...I've been fortunate in life to be married to "that" person in my own life...we literally could talk all night long as soon as we met and now, 30 plus years later, we can still talk all night long. We challenge one another, frustrate one another and enjoy each others company more than anyone else on earth. Without a doubt, I know with certainty that any professional/other goals I managed to accomplish in my life were due to the support and encouragement as well as swift kick in the backside of this special someone.
It also makes sense why most of my professional growth happened once I stopped trying to fit a specific model and instead, opted to work with projects and people that felt like a 'fit'. That fit isn't always easy to find but once it happens, it just seems to take on a life of its own.
However pertinent I found this book on a personal and even professional level, what really set this book apart is the small and seemingly inconsequential details scattered all over the place. This is exceptionally well written, totally engaging, well researched and yet somehow comes across someone personal.
As one proceeds within each of the chapters of the book, one may see that Shenk focuses much upon the most successful pairs of history, science, politics, religion, and most of all popular culture and literature. A great portion of the book tends to discuss three major pairs in Shenk’s examination, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Amongst the many references of pairs that have held the most distinguished achievements, and there are many that Shenk includes in every chapter of the book, one may observe that Lennon and McCartney have the most coverage of discussion and central focus; possibly the book may need to be re-titled? Nevertheless, besides the continuous parallels and references, they may serve as a model to Shenk’s discussion of how pairs work together. The most enlightening aspect of the examples that Shenk writes in each chapter is how pairs are able to work together and not necessarily within perfect lines. It may take two to make a dream come true, but it is the process in which each member of the pair or team must survive for that dream to come to fruition. How may it be done? Six major elements: first, the meeting, familiarize with each individual and how to form the pair that consists of differences and similarities, second, confluence, that involves commonalities and proceeding to work as a joint venture, third, archetypes, the creative center, fourth, distance, focus on the long term, fifth, infinite game, where competition and rivalry emerge but it is this particular element that may be a defining moment between pairs because there is the adrenaline and the need to be challenged and to strive to be better than the rest, and sixth, interruption, the end of the pair but the influence does not completely go away nor does the pair. But in essence, as one reads each example, the bottom line is that be it with two or more people, a team must have at least three main components to succeed towards their goal, the team, the ideas and the willingness to work together through cracks and holes that happen to occur in the process, and the fulfillment to achieve the goal; Shenk specifically shows this when he spoke of how Lewis and Tolkien and Lennon and McCartney worked separately, but when they came together to present their contributions, each individual shared with the other their parts and allowed productive criticism; another interesting point that is made in the book is how pairs somewhat represent the yin and yang, two parts of the brain of left and right, the creative side to the technical side, or introvert and extravert. But when looked upon as a whole, pairs mirror and are dependent on the other half.
After reading the Powers of Two, one may find it helpful to pair or team up with individuals that may not be as similar as one’s self in order to achieve the results that one may be expecting. Shenk provides great insight and after thoughts that may be further discussed.
The theory of networks is unraveling the imagine of the lone genius. Like Rodin's The Thinker, our mental picture of creativity is that of the solitary creator, hunched over in thought. It's an alluring imagine, but it's a myth.
Yet each perspective--the creative network and the lone genius--miss a primary component of creativity: the dyad.
"Powers of Two" is an compelling investigation into the nature of one-on-one collaboration. Through personal interviews and research, Shenk surveys famous creative pairs in art (Vincent and Theo van Gogh), technology (Jobs and Wozniak, Page and Brin), media (Matt Stone and Trey Parker, Dave Chappelle and Neal Brennan) finance (Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger) academia (Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky) and music (Lennon and McCartney).
The anecdotes are fascinating (Apple fans, Beatle fans, South Park fans, etc., will enjoy) but the strength of "Powers of Two" is the analysis. Shenk outlines six stages each pair moves through--meeting, confluence, dialectics, distance, the infinite game, interruption--and backs each section with insights from psychology and sociology. My favorite section--dialectics--discusses how pairs take on distinct roles. Wozniak was the tinkerer and Jobs was the visionary; Stone was the doer while Parker was the dreamer. The apt imagine here is not a Venn diagram but the taijitu, where yin and yang embody distinct qualities--black and white--but also contains small aspect of each other: a white dot is in the black space and a black dot is in the white space. In other words, it's the moments of friction--when the dreamer challenges the doer or vice versa--that ignites the creative sparks. "Both role clarity and rule fluidity are important phenomena," Shenk clarifies.
The section on dialectics is compelling because the relationship between order and disorder is an old one. Since the ancient Greeks, who separated the rational (Apollo) from the emotional (Dionysus), writers and intellectuals have been fascinated with internal tension, our spontaneous impulses bumping up against our will power. Shenk makes this contrast real. We see how Stone and Parker write South Park episodes and how McCartney and Lennon wrote music. We learn about what it means to be an individual through the harmony and contrast of the creative pair.
In "Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs," by Joshua Wolf Shenk, I think the author has expanded upon the idea of working with others in order to produce work that is greater than what we would be able to do on our own. What would Lennon or McCartney have been without that alliance?
There's a lot of information covered in this book but the overall essence of the book is how creative dynamics change when an alliance is formed. One major point is the building of trust and bonding with a partner, which will result in a personal form of communication that is pair specific. Each person will find his/her voice as it develops in the liaison. Also, he discusses an alpha/beta combo that could be considered an imbalance of power (tension) but in my mind, it's the thing that really creates balance between a pair. He later discusses the effects of success or fame and how that can become the dividing wedge in the pair. Also that the creative bond can be severed but never completely. It can remain unresolved forever (look at Lennon and McCartney again - do you think there was ever a complete severing of that dynamic or were they forever bound together is some way, even after Lennon's passing?).
At the end of the book, the author discusses his alliance with his editor (makes sense) and provides suggestions of avenues one can go down to create alliances.
Having come from a place of studying Napoleon Hill, I found this book an adjunct to or expansion of Napoleon Hill's Mastermind Principle. I think it's an excellent text on the subject that will give people an opportunity to explore the possibilities of working with other people.
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