From The Beatles’ music to the Wright Brothers’ first flight around the world, genius often emerges from the collision of two or more brilliant creative minds. Ask any creative—collaboration helps us see new angles, build upon our ideas, and counterbalance our weaknesses.
But some pairs are more powerful than others.
In his book, Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs, Joshua Wolf Shenk explains that the strongest partnerships evolve from the following five dynamics:
- They ‘get’ each other.
- They embrace rivalry and enjoy the occasional sparring match.
- They ‘own’ their respective roles in the limelight and behind the scenes.
- They share powerful bonds.
- They find a balance between connection and autonomy.
With these ideas as our guide, we’ve rounded up some of the greatest creative partnerships in recent history. Here are the timeless lessons in creative genius that we can take away.
1 – Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel
Lesson Learned: Partnerships push a discipline’s limits
Salvador Dali is known for his haunting-meets-breathtaking surrealist art—and he was no stranger to venturing into new mediums. With filmmaker Luis Bunel, Dali took his art to a silent short film, Un Chien Andalou, in 1929. The film breathes light into the concepts present in Dali’s work: disjointed chronologies, nonsensical storylines, and pieces of reality.
Through Un Chien Andalou, the two artists became the first filmmakers to join the Surrealist movement. In fact, Dali and Bunel were then commissioned to create a sequel.
What Un Chien Andalou reveals is the power of converging mediums—something that the two artists would have never created alone. Thanks to this film, surrealism found its way to a new form of life.
2 – Marina Abramović and Ulay
Lesson Learned: Beauty comes from veering off course
Abramovich is one of the defining artists of the last few decades, moving from niche performance art into mainstream with her Moma installation “The Artist is Present”. Not only did this installation inspire Jay-Z’s concept for the music video for Picasso Baby, but Abramovich also appeared in it—further cementing her position in pop culture.
For 12 years in the 70’s and 80’s, through art, Marina and her partner Ulay, merged their identities through various performance art pieces. After the romance ran its course, the two decided to part ways.
In 1988, in a piece called “The Lovers” the pair each walked 2500 km of the great wall of china, met in the middle and said good-bye. That was in 1988.
Five years ago, Serbian artist Marina Abramovic performed “The Artist Is Present” at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The piece traces Abramovic’s career across four decades of interventions, sound pieces, installations, photographs, solo performances, and collaborative performances.
As part of her piece, she sat in the museum’s atrium and invited crowds to sit across from her—in silence. During the opening of the exhibit, Abramovic experienced a surprise: a visit from her lover and former artistic partner Ulay.
It was during “The Artist is Present” that the two unexpectedly reunited for the first time in over 22 years and shared a powerful, unexpected, unspoken dialogue. The end result is a beautiful moment that left the Internet buzzing.
The performance is a testament to the power of the unexpected in creative work.
3 – Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog
Lesson Learned: Rivalry can produce extraordinary creative work
Art-house film in the 90’s was marked by one iconic partnership—the director Werner Herzog and the actor Klaus Kinski. Their productive love/hate relationship was highly prolific. The pair worked together on a number of projects, including Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, and Cobra Verde, and a documentary about their volatile relationship, called “My Best Fiend”. Their partnership ended in 1991 after Kinski’s death, just two years after the release of “My Best Fiend”.
Their creative partnership spawned many violent altercations, including an incident when Herzog threatened to shoot Kinski should he walk out on the Aguirre set during production. But while their personalities may have been incompatible, Herzog greatly admired Kinski’s acting abilities.
Their partnership was unusual in that their rivalry led to them simultaneously resenting and respecting each other’s contributions to the dynamic. Against all the odds it was highly productive and unquestionably creative.
4 – Steve Jobs and Lee Clow
Lesson Learned: Simplicity comes from collaboration
Let’s bring this discussion back to the advertising and marketing world with one of the 20th Century’s most iconic partnerships—Steve Jobs and Lee Clow. For more than 30 years, the duo created what Business Insider describes to be “some of the most iconic commercials in advertising history.”
From iPod shadow silhouettes to the ‘Think Different’ slogan, the duo wowed customers with its simple, elegant, and memorable approach to branding. As Clow explains in the following video:
“I think, even though I’m sure [Jobs] didn’t think it through, that his intuition told him that he’s introduce the world to technology that was going to change everyone’s life and do special things, but at the same time, it was going to be new, it was going to be scary, and people weren’t going to know what to do with a computer, or if they even needed one.”
Clow was the adman who brought Jobs’ vision for simplicity to life. His company even helped with writing the manuals for the original Mac to avoid confusing customers with technical jargon. In joining forces, the duo created a new class of brand marketing—one that set the bar for companies in almost every industry.
Above all, these four examples should inspire us to step outside of our comfort zones. Even when we’re not creating, we’re artists at heart. Collaboration will push us to achieve results that we may not have ever imagined.
A version of this post was originally written for our friend’s over at Invision.
Did you know that you can now collaborate on briefs with members of your team? Click here to see how.