Powers of Two

Seeking the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs

Eamon Dolan Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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

“A brilliant, compelling book … fascinating, well-researched, addictive.” Meredith Maran, The Chicago Tribune

“Sterling … a rare glimpse into the private realms of duos … Shenk is a natural storyteller," Sarah Lewis, The New York Times

Excerpts & Press

The Atlantic's excerpt (on "Lennon vs. McCartney") ran on the cover of the July/August 2014 issue with this sidebar, and drew notice from David Brooks in The New York Times and Ilan Mochari in Inc. This New York Times op-ed also drew wide notice. More excerpts & interviews & features: The Los Angeles Times, NPR's All Things Considered, Vox.com, and Salon. (The full list is here.) Also, Joshua Wolf Shenk is the Creative Counselor at FastCompany.com.

From the book jacket:

A revelatory synthesis of cultural history and social psychology that shows how one-to-one collaboration drives creative success.

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.

Praise for Powers of Two

"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

"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

 “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

"Powers of Two is a dramatic, often delightful demonstration of a truth we usually ignore: great accomplishment are rarely the work of a single person. If you aspire to be creative, the most important step might be finding a trusted partner who can support your strengths and offset your weaknesses.  — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

"Powers of Two is filled with keen insights into the human condition and terrific examples of creativity at work. This is an insightful and inspiring book that also happens to be a great read." — Daniel H. Pink

Powers of Two not only refashions how we see the act of creation, but it is written in elegant, compelling and personal prose. This is a relevant and emotionally engaging book. — Sheila Heti

A luminous exploration of the effect we have on each other—both positive and negative. Shenk illuminates the nuances of creative intimacy in a way that allows us to see ourselves more clearly and try harder."

From a Q&A with Joshua Wolf Shenk:

Q. What's the one thing you want readers to take away from this book?

A. Creativity depends on connection. Always. But there are immense varieties in the way this manifests. So I hope people are inspired to nourish their creative relationships—or spark new ones. But I also hope people see how much work it takes—how much we need to learn and practice and grow.