Well readhead: relationships, conflict and creativity
Is conflict an essential ingredient in a successful creative partnership?
Two memoirs released during the past fortnight beggar the question.
Life, by the seemingly indestructible Rolling Stone Keith Richards, reveals greater animosity in his relationship with Mick Jagger than anyone imagined.
And the tensions between another pair of aging sex symbols, John Howard and Peter Costello, have been the most newsworthy part of Lazarus Rising, Howard’s new autobiography.
Despite the personal clashes, in both cases the partnerships were – and in the case of the Stones are - enduring and highly successful.
It’s no secret that Richards and Mick Jagger have had a difficult relationship for at least a couple of decades. But Richards’ book takes it to a new level. He accuses Jagger of turning into a different person, of developing an uncontrollable ego and control freak tendencies.
Richards says he’s not visited the dressing room of his band mate for at least twenty years.
Similarly, John Howard never invited Peter Costello and his wife to dinner at the official residences during their years together in office.
Costello’s memoir was mostly diplomatic about the difficulties in their personal relationship. But Howard’s autobiography certainly doesn’t miss.
He accuses Costello of waging an “amateur hour” effort to take over the leadership before the 2007 election and says the former Treasurer’s colleagues found him “elitist”.
How is it that in both of these cases, the relationships have delivered such successful public outcomes despite the “irreconcilable differences” in private?
One answer is that a shared vision and powerful ambition can supersede personality clashes.
Another theory, espoused by some management theorists, is that creative dissension can be a vital ingredient in successful professional relationships. In his book The Effective Executive, author Peter Drucker writes that “the best decisions are made based on the clash of conflicting views, the dialogue between different points of view and the choice between different judgments.”
He cites the example of Alfred P. Sloan, the Chief Executive of General Motors in its golden years in the mid- twentieth century. Sloan is reported to have asked a meeting of one of his top committees if it were true that everyone were in complete agreement.
When those at the table nodded, Sloan said “Then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.”
According to Drucker’s theory, the Jagger/Richards and Howard/Costello partnerships succeeded not in spite of their personal conflict, but because of it. Professional chemistry is a mysterious thing. Clearly, it relies on a degree of mutual respect.
But apparently it doesn’t have to extend to actually liking each other.
The reviews aren’t in yet for John Howard’s autobiography but Keith Richards’ memoir is receiving stellar notices, one of which is the first item on this fortnight’s ten list of things to read, watch or listen to:
1. Rolling Stone has an excellent and intriguing review of Keith Richards’ memoir Life.
2. A brilliant lecture by my colleague Annabel Crabb entitled “The End of Journalism as We Know It (And Other Good News)”
3. If you liked “The Social Network”, you may be interested in this New Yorker profile of the real Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.
4. They used to have us at hello but do they still? The New York Times thinks films are no longer producing memorable lines.
5. Why do we love cats doing funny things online so much more than dogs?
6. I’ve been listening to Colin Hay lately, the former lead singer of Men at Work. This song is beautiful and moving.
7. A wonderful piece in The New Yorker about what procrastination tells us about ourselves.
8. In 2009, Diane Schuler crashed the car she was driving, killing herself, her two year old daughter, her three young nieces and two people in another car. Was she a devoted mother who had some strange psychotic snap? Or was she a raging alcoholic hiding a secret? Legal action is still pending in the case and this is the most recent update.
9. The Scientific American on what it feels like to genuinely want to kill yourself (from Chas Licciardello, @chaslicc on twitter)
10. The wonderful Paris Review has redesigned its website and opened up its archive, covering more than fifty years of reporting. You could lose yourself in here for days.
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