Powers of Two
Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs
By Joshua Wolf Shenk
Sometimes, one plus one adds up to more than two, or ten. It adds up to infinity.
All of us have experienced creative connection, and glimpsed its power. Yet, for centuries, the myth of the lone genius has obscured the critical story of the power of collaboration.
In Powers of Two, Joshua Wolf Shenk argues that creative pairs are the exemplars for innovation. Drawing on years of research on great partnerships in history - from Lennon and McCartney to Marie and Pierre Curie, plus hundreds more in fields including literature, popular culture, art and business - Shenk identifies the common journey pairs take from the spark of initial connection, through the passage to a cognitive 'joint identity' to competition and the struggle for power.
Using scientific and psychological insights, he uncovers new truths about epic duos - and sheds new light on the genesis of some of the greatest creative work in history. He reveals hidden partnerships among people known only for their individual work (like C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien), and even 'adversarial collaborations' among those who are out to beat each other. This revelatory and lyrical book will make us see creative exchange as the central terrain of our psyches.
Joshua Wolf Shenk is an essayist, author and curator based in Los Angeles. He is a contributor to The Atlantic, Slate, Harper's and other magazines. His first book, Lincoln's Melancholy, was a New York Times notable book and won prizes from the Lincoln Institute and Mental Health America. Shenk directs the Arts in Mind series on creativity and serves on the general council of The Moth.
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- Publication date:
29 Jan 2015
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Fascinating . . . highly readable. We may like to think that we live in a world of creative individualism, but this insightful books should convince even the sceptical that when it comes to creating something new and exciting, it really does take two — Sunday Business Post
An interesting thesis — The Economist
If - as Harry Nilsson sang - one is the loneliest number, then two might very well be the awesomest. This book proves that if you're interested in doing anything creative - whether that's writing a book, making a film or even starting your own business - you're better off doing it in a pair. So if you and your mate are a fledgling Lennon and McCartney, Shenk says two is better than one — FHM
Fascinating — Irish Daily Mail
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, author of Steve Jobs
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
Descriptions of creative life too often focus on individual genius or the wisdom of crowds. The great wit of this book is to reveal a seam hidden between those poles. 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
Fascinating . . . [a] provocative thesis on the genesis of creative innovation — Kirkus Reviews
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