Powers of Two
Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs
By Joshua Wolf Shenk
Weaving 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 new scientific research and builds an argument for the social foundations of creativity—and the pair as its primary embodiment. Along the way, he reveals how 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.
When it comes to shaping the culture, Shenk argues, two is the magic number, not just because of the dyads behind everything from South Park to the American Civil Rights movement to Starry Night, but because of the nature of creative thinking. Even when we're alone, we are in a sense "collaborating" with a voice inside our head. At once intuitive and surprising, Powers of Two will change the way we think about innovation.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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
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