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How The Union of Opposites Optimizes Creativity

In the June 25, 2014 issue of The Atlantic, journalist Joshua Wolf Shenk explores the union of opposites that was John Lennon and Paul McCartney, arguably one of the most creative pairs of the last 50 years. He describes Paul as meticulous, organized, tenacious, a natural diplomat but protective of his ideas, while John was more impulsive, impatient, sometimes rude but flexible and open to others' ideas. “John needed Paul’s attention to detail and persistence,” Shenk cites Cynthia Lennon, John’s first
by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP
wife as saying. “Paul needed John’s anarchic, lateral thinking."
   The union of opposites is one of the central dynamics to the creative process - the union of thought and emotion, or of structure and order that must combine with freedom and experimentation to produce novelty that is useful and meaningful. And partnerships in every area of life seem to benefit from this kind of balance between visionary thinking and the plodding perseverance of bringing it into form, between acceptance of conventional limits and boundary-breaking. 

  "Creativity is a stepwise process in which idea A spurs a new but closely related thought, which promotes another incremental step, and the chain of little mental advances sometimes eventually ends with an innovative idea in a group setting," according to a research study of engineers' creative process that was published in the journal Cognitve Science.  Researcher Christian Schunn concludes that "inspiration creates
some perspiration. The lesson seems to be that if you're not making creative progress,

don't wait for a bolt from the blue, keep talking to your peers, and keep sweating." 

     "'Paul and John seemed to be almost archetypal embodiments of order and disorder," Shenk writes. "The ancient Greeks gave form to these two sides of human nature in Apollo, who stood for the rational and the self-disciplined, and Dionysys, who represented the spontaneous and the emotional. Frienrich 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."


Jude Treder-Wolff is a consultant/trainer and writer/performer. She is host and creator of (mostly) TRUE THINGS storytelling slam. 


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