Creative Pairs, in Their Own Words

Members of creative pairs on their partners
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Clockwise: Clemons and Springsteen (Brooks Kraft/Corbis), Farrell and Balanchine (Fred Fehl/AP), Brin and Page (Wolfram Steinberg/AP), Sartre and de Beauvoir (STR/Michol/AP), Stanton and Anthony (Corbis)

For centuries, the myth of the lone genius has towered over us like a colossus. We canonize stories of rare geniuses—the ones who made the Sistine Chapel or Hamlet, the lightbulb or the iPod. On closer inspection, however, the primary creative unit is actually the pair. Whether it’s Marie and Pierre Curie, or Tiger Woods and his caddy, a dyad is the most fluid and flexible of relationships—and it naturally arouses engagement, even intensity.

The following quotes, drawn from my forthcoming book Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs, reveal how members of famous creative pairs viewed their partners.


“Charlie does the talking. I just move my lips.”

— Warren Buffett on his business partner, Charlie Munger

“Tiger’s distance control was a problem. So I would adjust yardages and not tell him.”

— Steve Williams on Tiger Woods, for whom he caddied from 1999 to 2011

“When we were together we bent our wills so firmly to the requirements of this common task that even at the moment of parting we still thought as one.”

— Simone de Beauvoir on Jean-Paul Sartre

“We often hate each other, but it’s the kind of hatred that’s like flint and steel—the sparks that come out make it worth the while.”

— Penn Jillette on his longtime partner in magic, Teller

“My pictures are not yet good enough to compensate for the advantages I have enjoyed through you. But believe me, if one day they should be good enough, you will have been as much their creator as I, because the two of us are making them together.”

— Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo

“You know, Larry’s kind of obnoxious.”

— Sergey Brin on his Google co-founder, Larry Page

“I’d say Sergey is the obnoxious one.”

— Larry Page

“He said frankly that he used me as a butcher uses his steel.”

— Stanislaus Joyce on his brother James, for whom he served as a patron, researcher, gofer, and babysitter

“I forged the thunderbolts. She fired them.”

— Elizabeth Cady Stanton on Susan B. Anthony

“He was for long my only audience ... But for his interest and unceasing eagerness for more I should never have brought [The Lord of the Rings] to a conclusion.”

— J. R. R. Tolkien

on C. S. Lewis

“We’ve got it. Everyone just stay the fuck away.”

— Neal Brennan on working with his Chappelle’s Show co-creator, Dave Chappelle

“Hawthorne has dropped germinous seeds into my soul. He expands and deepens down, the more I contemplate him; and further and further, shoots his strong New England roots in the hot soil of my Southern soul.”

— Herman Melville on his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne

“I would try my hardest to do what he wanted and dance well, and he would be the only judge, relieving me of having to criticize myself.”

— The dancer Suzanne Farrell on the choreographer George Balanchine

“A miserable, spiteful, envious, stingy, stinking, money-hungry, malicious, sadistic, insidious, backstabbing, blackmailing, cowardly person, and a liar through and through.”

— Klaus Kinski on the film director Werner Herzog

My Best Fiend

— The title of the documentary Herzog made about his relationship with Kinski

“Living all his life next to me, he accepted a role that was reducing. But there’s a saying: ‘When two men ride the same horse, one has to be in the back.’ ”

— Valentino Garavani on Giancarlo Giammetti, who built Valentinos high-fashion empire

“I should detest the idea of setting myself up as an author. Give Wm. the pleasure of it.”

— Dorothy Wordsworth on her brother William, who borrowed liberally from her journals for his poems

“Bruce and I looked at each other and didn’t say anything. We just knew. We knew we were the missing links in each other’s lives.”

— Clarence Clemons on first meeting Bruce Springsteen

“All things considered, there is only Matisse.”

— Pablo Picasso

“Only one person has the right to criticize me. That is Picasso.”

— Henri Matisse

“I love to scrap with Orv. Orv is such a good scrapper.”

— Wilbur Wright on his brother Orville

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Joshua Wolf Shenk is the author of Powers of Two: Seeking the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairsforthcoming from Eamon Dolan Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 

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