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Powers of Two

Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs

By Joshua Wolf Shenk
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Powers of Two by Joshua Wolf Shenk

Despite the myth of the “lone genius,” behind every creative type there is often a creative partner. Powers of Two explores the idea of the creative pair, examining the relationship of creativity and the brain, while drawing heavily on examples of celebrated creative duos such as The Beatles’ John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Key idea 1 of 10

Creativity emerges from a balance of self-reflection and dialogue with others.

How do great composers and artists come up with their masterpieces? The common idea is that the most celebrated geniuses of our time work as loners, locking themselves away in their studios until their masterwork is complete.

This is the myth of the lone genius.

It derives from the Enlightenment era of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a time when human nature was generally understood to be solitary and self-contained.

At that time, the belief that an individual’s mind is the seat of creativity was a product of the political, economic, cultural and religious beliefs of everyday life. For instance, the notion that the world itself was created by a single, divine being led artists to consider their individuality as the fundamental driver of their creative force.

This idea continued into modern times – that is, until the advent of the internet.

To the same degree that the internet has changed our social and professional lives, it has also transformed our ideas about creativity, and overturned the myth of the lone genius.

The countless musical mash-ups, film parodies, collections of art or photography we view online every day have opened our eyes to the abundance of creativity that can result when two or more people collaborate or merely take inspiration from one another.

We now know that, in most cases, creativity comes not only from indulging in a long stretch of “alone time” but rather from a balance of self-reflection and social interaction.

To stimulate your creativity, you have to enter into some kind of creative exchange with another entity – whether another artist, a muse or even with your inner voice. The most important factor is that this “dialogue” is a balance of self-reflection (talking with your inner self) and interaction with others.

The Dalai Lama is an example of someone who excels at both being alone and engaging deeply with others. Every morning, he wakes up at 3:30 a.m. and meditates. Then, at sunrise, he begins receiving visitors and spends the remainder of his day captivated by the company of others.

This combination of solitude and social interaction enables him to lead a creative and engaged life.

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