How to Find the Paul McCartney to Your John Lennon

You Can’t Engineer Great Collaboration, Says Joshua Wolf Shenk. But Brilliant Creative Pairs Have a Few Things in Common.

Most of us have been buoyed by synergy or thrived off the energy of another person. We know that chemistry is something that exists between certain individuals—like, say, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. But we don’t know exactly what it is. In front of a standing-room-only audience at The Actors’ Gang, writer Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of Powers of Two, talked with Jonathan Ames, creator of the TV show Bored to Death, about the mysterious act of collaboration, which Shenk believes is a recurring quality in just about every instance of great creative work.

For most of his life, Shenk understood creativity as being a kind of “immaculate conception”—“rising,” he said, “unbidden from within.” Traditionally, we contrast between the individual and the community, the lone genius and the culture. But it’s all of a piece, said Shenk. If you study …

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