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'Powers of Two' author Joshua Wolf Shenk dishes on the strength of duos

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 30: Larry David and

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 30: Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld attend HBO's screening of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" at Time Warner Screening Room on September 30, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images) Photo Credit: Getty Images / Stephen Lovekin

For centuries, the idea of the lone genius -- Einstein, Dickinson, Shakespeare -- has dominated the way we think about how creativity works.

In his new book, "Powers of Two," Joshua Wolf Shenk -- who will be at powerHouse Arena tomorrow -- seeks to change that

It features examples of hundreds of "creative pairs" for whom innovation is far from an individual pursuit, including many who are working and thriving in New York, an ideal "magnet place" where people with similar interests often find one another.

"My initial interest was in chemistry or electricity or synergy, this quality between two people we all have felt to some degree that allows us to do things greater than we could on our own," Shenk said. "It's this feeling of being sharper or funnier or smarter in another person's presence."

While some creative partnerships, like those of Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Joel and Ethan Coen, are clear to observers, others are discreet. Take Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, who conceived "Seinfeld" together while wandering the streets of New York.

"The credit for Larry David as executive producer was always flashed at the end of the show. But Jerry was the star and that partnership is not one that as an ordinary viewer of the show you would see," he said.

But their partnership was powerful nonetheless, fueled by another common feature of creative pairs: the interaction of profound differences and profound similarities.

"They're as different as two different species in the animal kingdom. David was frenetic and neurotic and self-destructive. Seinfeld was extremely winsome and sweet," he said. "The similarity is they were both totally preoccupied by this question of the unwritten rules of society."

For many pairs, the roles each play are blurred, as in the partnership of Laurent de Brunhoff and his wife, Phyllis Rose, who together continue the series of "Babar" books created by Laurent's father from their apartment on the Upper East Side.

"An overly simple description would be to say that Laurent does the illustrations and Phyllis writes the text, but it's more like two people going around in a dryer: They tumble over each other," Shenk said.

Though there are many types of successful partnerships, Shenk said, a quality found in many is mutual respect and admiration.

"One partner once said to me, referring to his own partnership, 'You know it's a good partnership when both people in it think they're the lucky one,' " he said.

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