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Powers of Two

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Powers of Two

Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Pairs often produce the greatest creative work.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


Historians and the media usually give credit for humankind’s greatest achievements to lone geniuses working in isolation. These solitary giants are supposedly the ones who produce the most important art, music and inventions. Essayist Joshua Wolf Shenk challenges that notion. He cites many examples of successful pairings, including frequent mentions of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, that show the complexities that even supportive pairs can face. Lopsided relationships such as Emily Dickinson and her muses demonstrate that to some degree, everyone relies on someone else. Shenk’s insights can help you choose the right business or personal partner and improve your relationships. getAbstract recommends Shenk’s treatment to those who wish to dive into the dynamics of two-person partnerships. Hard-core Beatles fans will also enjoy his analysis.


The Lone Genius

Since the Enlightenment, the dominant narrative surrounding creativity has championed the lone genius. In reality, little of value comes from solo efforts. Most creativity occurs when people work in pairs. Even when a creator appears to produce a masterpiece alone, his or her work builds on a web of influences. Pairs stand at the core of this “network theory of human achievement.”

Teams of two tend to come together and develop relationships that span decades. Most follow a life cycle of six stages:

1. “Meeting”

Dynamic pairs rarely come together by chance. Most meet through mutual friends or acquaintances, as did investors Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. Some come from the same family – like Wilbur and Orville Wright.

Even those who meet randomly put themselves in the right path to meet compatible people. For example, clothing designer Valentino Garavani met his lifelong partner Giancarlo Giammetti on Rome’s Via Veneto, then a hub of fashion and design – a place for like-minded people to meet.

Creative pairs share interests, whether in art, fashion, science or music. Ideally, pairs combine complementary skills. Giammetti...

About the Author

Essayist Joshua Wolf Shenk is writer-in-residence at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

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