Does Creativity Need Tension?


I read an interesting book I found in an airport bookstore titled, Powers Of Two. The author was talking about the advantages of what he called ‘competitive collaboration,’ and the primary example to prove his point was the Beatles.

Specifically, the relationship of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and how each needed the personal competition with the other to produce their best work.

When John wrote ‘Strawberry Fields,’ Paul countered with ‘Penny Lane.’

Long afterwards, Paul commented on this complex relationship: “Despite the tension — because of the tension — the work was magnificent. Though the White Album recording sessions were often tense and unpleasant, they yielded an album that is among the best in music history.”

George Martin, the Beatles producer described the relationship as “…two people pulling on a rope, smiling at each other and pulling all the time with all their might.”

The competition between them was not the only thing that produced tension between them. Their personalities were completely different, so the way each looked at the world and dealt with their life in it was also a source of tension.

Yet it made them better together than they ever were creating music apart.

I’ve worked with a lot of ‘team’ shows in my career and the premise of this book has been borne out in my own experience. Some of the best, the most successful team shows featured talent with personalities so dissimilar that it frequently causes dysfunction.

Your job, as their manager and coach, is to intervene occasionally to remind each of John and Paul. It requires the skill, the patience, and the knowledge of a professional psycholgical therapist. Or at least it feels that way.

But it’s worth the investment, because the only thing that counts is what comes out of the speakers every day.

If you’d like to delve deeper, buy the book or check out THIS ARTICLE in The Atlantic.