Innovation Hub: Your Brilliant Other Half

8/15/14Follow @IHubRadio

We spend a lot of time celebrating one-in-a-million entrepreneurs: the Mark Zuckerbergs, the Steve Jobs, the Elon Musks. But what if most entrepreneurs are more like two in a million? People who couldn’t realize their vision without a brilliant partner.

Joshua Wolf Shenk writes about this phenomenon in Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs. I talked to him about how it plays out in the tech world.

[This interview has been edited an condensed. For audio of the full conversation, visit innovationhub.org]

Kara Miller: How much of a role does healthy tension play in productive partnerships?

Joshua Wolf Shenk: Some kind of tension or irritation is just fundamental, because when you look at how people come together and the kinds of people who come together, there is both vast similarity and profound differences. The co-founders of Google famously referred to each other as “obnoxious” on an early “Charlie Rose” interview. And a journalist who described that meeting said that they were like “two swords sharpening each other.”

KM: Can you think of other business partners who had some kind of initial chemistry but they were also an unlikely pair?

JWS: Well, we don’t have to go far. We can stay in Silicon Valley. The story of Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg was a classic example of chemistry. They met in the vestibule of a Christmas party, and they became so absorbed in talking with one another that they ended up being kind of annoyed because they were in the vestibule and people kept coming in and wanting to say hello. They had really fallen into this profound conversation about how you scale a young company. People apparently now talk about for a young founder, like Zuckerberg, how do you find his Sheryl Sandberg?

KM: Really?

JWS: Before—and this is what happened to Steve Jobs a generation ago—the idea was that you needed to bring in the grownups, bring in a CEO who was used to running a company. They now see that you want to have the guy with the original passion and fire. But a lot of times people who are really smart at coming up with a new idea are not the perfect people to actually operate it. And this is one of the partnerships that shows up over and over again—the kind of person who is good at running an operation and the kind of person who is good at dreaming up new things.

Kara Miller is the host of “Innovation Hub,” a national radio program that features the thinkers, researchers, and visionaries who are crafting the future. She is based at WGBH Radio in Boston. Follow @IHubRadio