Apollo and Dionysus – Creative Pairs

A while back I wrote about The Lego Movie and its assertion that creativity required both structure and imagination. I’ve written about how my best Halloween costumes were made when I had the structure of a theme to work with. And now comes an article in the July/August 2014 issue of The Atlantic about creative pairs, especially John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles.

Apparently, John Lennon was rude, unorganized, impatient, and defiant. Paul McCartney was polite, neat, organized, and conventional. And it was exactly the fact that they were so opposite that made them such a brilliant pair of songwriters. They needed each other – Paul needed someone to break open his control, and John needed someone to reign in his lack of control. In fact, John could be rude because Paul was so polite – he knew there was someone to take the edge off and make the reporters comfortable.

“Paul and John seemed to be almost archetypal embodiments of order and disorder. The ancient Greeks gave form to these two sides of human nature in Apollo, who stood for the rational and the self-disciplined, and Dionysus, who represented the spontaneous and the emotional. Friedrich Nietzsche proposed that the interaction of the Apollonian and the Dionysian was the foundation of creative work, and modern creativity research has confirmed this insight, revealing the key relationship between breaking and making, challenging and refining, disrupting and organizing.” p79

I find this fascinating. There is a big value placed on individual creativity. In fact, a lot of artists do work in isolation, writing or painting or practicing alone for hours. And yet, finding one’s opposite can spark more creativity.

I think it’s not just the blending of structure and chaos that’s so important to creativity. I think that having other people to bounce ideas off is vitally important. I often find myself explaining something I didn’t realize I knew or thought or felt when I talk to someone else. This comes out in LEGO® Serious Play® too – people build information they didn’t realize they had in their heads. But it’s hard to do this in isolation. It takes being in a group to make the insights flow. It takes other people, and their ideas, and their listening to our ideas, and the new ideas that sprout from the intersection. The ideas become more robust when they’re torn apart and rebuilt, iterated until they fit, redrawn until they resonate with everyone. When models are put together with everyone’s viewpoints incorporated and not done until everyone feels it’s right.

For some things, fewer people are better. Songwriting by committee tends to be uninspired. Having just two people with such tension between them can make immensely better songs. Some things need more people, especially projects that will affect a large number of people. There is so much knowledge and ability locked away inside people’s heads, just waiting for the creative spark to let it out! And people who experience this creative connection find it immensely satisfying.

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