Review of Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs
By Joshua Wolf Shenk
Houghton Mifflin. 368 pages.
Conventional wisdom favors what might be called the Lone Ranger theory of genius: a model of creativity that values individuals working in solitude, with no credit given to collaborators or helpers. This theory’s main flaw is obvious: without his ready-to-the-rescue partner, Tonto, watching over him behind the scenes, the Lone Ranger would never have made it through a single episode.
Images of this fictional duo kept coming to mind as I read Joshua Wolf Shenk’s provocative and engaging study of creative partnerships, Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs. Although Shenk never specifically mentions the Lone Ranger–Tonto team, it exemplifies the kind of intuitive interplay present in many of the real-life examples Shenk does discuss.
Perhaps paradoxically, Shenk’s decision to investigate the psychological factors that enable two distinctly different people to click as a successful, creative team derived from his own sense of loneliness as a writer. But was he himself just a team of one? By the end of his book, he comes to the conclusion that for all the time he spent alone writing in a room, he’d come to depend on his editor for guidance and inspiration. For Shenk, no creative artist is an island. Rather, creative duos…