The “lone wolf” theory of creativity (usually an artist struggling alone) has always been the romantic ideal, but is it true? We look to artistic geniuses throughout history and naturally think that real creativity happens in isolation. But as more and more research and historical information comes to light, the lone wolf theory just isn’t holding up. As Peter Bart from Variety Magazine recently pointed out: “Most creative breakthroughs, recent studies point out, are the products of teams of artists.”
For instance, we know that great painters throughout history often worked with teams. Elizabethan Theater – even Shakespeare – reflected the greater efforts of teams of writers and re-writers. Records from the era record payments to multiple writers for the same play. The history of Hollywood is the story of teams of writers, producers, and other creatives working as teams. If you look at musical theater, you see legends like Rogers and Hammerstein or Lerner and Loewe.
Steve Jobs had a co-founder, and although he had a powerful and compelling vision, he always surrounded himself with an incredibly talented team. In fact, it’s fascinating to track all the other innovations former Apple employees have launched.
The list goes on and on. Tiny Fey and Amy Poehler, Lennon and McCartney, Richard Zanuck and David Brown….
It’s also worth noting the idea that other people in the room being a motivator dates back to a breakthrough study in 1898 by Norman Triplett. An early leader in social psychology, Triplett discovered that cyclists raced faster when other cyclists were present. I can confirm that I workout much harder when I’m in an exercise class versus working out alone.
So what does it mean? Forget the romantic ideal. If you’re blessed with uncommon genius and enjoy working alone, then by all means go for it. But as history and recent research points out, even the best ideas could benefit from having other opinions. Iron sharpens iron. Start looking for someone that has the right chemistry, is creative, and you have enormous respect. Personal friendship isn’t necessary, but respect is. Try it out and see what happens….
What’s been your experience? Are you a creative loner or do you benefit from interaction with other gifted and creative people?