Two is the magic number: a new science of creativity.

Why two is the magic number. 
Sept. 14 2010 7:00 AM

Two Is the Magic Number

A new science of creativity.

(Continued from Page 3)

Second, collaborators exist across fields, and in many forms. I'll look for cases in the sciences, arts, business, and philosophy: Watson and Crick belong here alongside Gilbert and Sullivan, Engels and Marx. Hidden partners need scrutiny, as do the frontman and his sidekick, mentors and mentees, masters and muses. Let's define collaboration broadly, as a mutuality that shapes a body of work.

Third, this project won't come from a single mind. Of course, as with everything I've ever written, I'm dependent on my colleagues. But for a subject so vast, I need to invite new relationships—with each of you. If I'm right, your questions, observations, ideas, and criticisms will not only add to my work—it will change its character fundamentally.

Here are some questions I have for you:

Which relationships do you find most compelling? Which bonds suggest some kind of electrical charge? Where does 1 + 1 add up to infinity? Your cases may be historical or contemporary, high culture or lowbrow, famous or obscure. Please give some detail along with your nominees. What do you think accounts for their success? What do you know about their dynamic?

Second, can you suggest a form of relationship that probably eludes mass attention? For example, it was news to me, when I heard from the food writer Amanda Hesser that every star chef has a crucial partner behind the scenes. (She gave the example of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich.) The music writer Richard Gehr told about the role that the arranger played in making jazz compositions sing. (He mentioned Gil Evans and Miles Davis.) The Jewish scholar—and surfer—Tony Michaels told me about the role of the "board shaper," who observes and intuits just what a particular surfer needs, and custom-crafts a board that best rides the waves. Al Merrick, Tony said, is a legend in the profession.

As you can see, I've had enough of these conversations to know how much I don't know. What relationships matter most in your field or one you know well?

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The suggestions and ideas I hear from you will form the bedrock of this project moving forward. For now, let's consider two stellar pairs from a variety of angles. First up, a new telling of the Lennon/McCartney relationship—considering the space between them, their dynamic, their mutuality.

Then, next week, I'll also be following a single pair, Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson of Idiots' Books, subjecting them like guinea pigs to a variety of tests, experiments, and oddball exercises to get the core of their bond.

Let me hear from you in the comments below, and stay tuned.

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Joshua Wolf Shenk is a curator, essayist, and the author of Lincoln's Melancholy. Follow him on Twitter.

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