In science and culture, innovation so often is the product of two people working together. Today on Think, Krys Boyd talked to the author of a new book on creative pairs about arguably the most famous twosome of them all.
John Lennon did the heavy lifting writing “Help!” But Paul McCartney applied the polish.
And look at the Lennon-McCartney team illustrates how these creative partnerships work.
First, of course, the two individuals have to meet. In this case, McCartney went to see Lennon’s band play. Joshua Wolf Shenk says these formative moments are important for pairs.
“Very often it’s this dance around each other," he said. "You have to get to know each other. You have to learn things that you can only learn by spending a lot of time with someone. And there comes this critical moment when you really have to merge in some fundamental way. You have to become a ‘we’.”
Lennon and McCartney bonded over their shared love of the Everly Brothers and Elvis. But common interests only took them so far.
“Then they get activated by difference. By this kind of tension between them," he said. "And that sets the stage for what happens all the way through.”
And these songwriters were fueled as much by competition as collaboration. Which Shenk says extended well beyond the breakup of the Beatles.
“John, in the late ‘70s, is going to write a solo album," he said. "But what gets him off his butt … is hearing a McCartney song on the radio. And just being like, ‘Oh my god – this guy. I gotta do something – I gotta get back in this game!’”
And that gets to the nature of many partnerships. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird played on opposite coasts, but each say they were driven to beat the other guy. And they ended up with eight NBA titles between them.
“The question is not whether you’re physically in a room with another person," Shenk says. "The question is: is the other guy in your head?”
The new book by Joshua Wolf Shenk is called Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs. Think re-airs tonight at 9.