Thoughts on Powers of Two

I’ve slowly wormed my way through Joshua Shenk’s Powers of Two. It peek into the lives of powerhouse pairs of people who made historic contributions to their fields. Sifting through the lives and work Lennon and McCartney, the Curies, the obvious Jobs and Wozniak and many more, Shenk attempts to explicate the intangibles of these bonds. The result reads not wholly unlike a series of love stories, or perhaps more accurately, a series of (gender agnostic) man-crushes. A key concept of creative pairings is how the pair achieves creative confluence through proximity, confidence and finally, trust.

I find myself reaching into my own memories, seeking out the moments I’ve grasped at one of these creative connections. I’m reminded of Dark Horses, a pitch that Jeff and I crafted in a series of florescent nights at the office. I think of Lisa and meeting room Cassiopeia. We’d been part of the same team (proximity), for months, but hadn’t tapped into each other in any meaningful ways. Last Summer we hopped into a seemingly random conference room to noodle on an idea and the energy bouncing between us and onto the whiteboard proved more important and longer lasting than the idea it generated. We got a little drunk on the energy and achieved confidence, the second step of creative confluence.

Shortly after crafting the pitch, a truncated timeline crushed the idea and we took it pretty hard. Looking back, I don’t think it was the snuffed idea that left us sullen. It was the production reality abruptly crashing into the creative high. The emotional swing proved a bit much.

I remember talking with her the following week — trying to emphasize how good the energy felt in Cassiopeia. How we needed to return to it one day, even if it meant putting ourselves out on a limb again. The initial hardship and our following earnestness about it, engendered trust, which according to Shenk, unlocks confluence.

By this time, we could speak volumes with smirks and eyerolls, echo each other in meetings and comfortably represent each other in absentia. When a second creative challenge came down, Lisa and I near-instinctively returned to Cassiopeia and crushed it on what otherwise would’ve been a cruel timeline.

A team switch pulled us apart a few months later, but we meet often, comparing notes and exchanging advice on now separate projects. I leave each conversation aflutter with ideas, but return to a new team where I’ve needed to start over again in terms of building confidence and trust.

The hunt for confluence begins anew, but what does the organization risk when it yanks people apart? Short-term adaptability remains crucial, but we should never underestimate the potential of medium-and-long-term team cohesion and affinity. Those are thoughts for another day, but I hope Lisa and I find ourselves in Cassiopeia again next Thunderdome.

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