Two bros, hot tub, miles apart.
Sigh, creative control. There are certain kinds of people that can’t deal with each other, but have chemistry to make other people drool. The most succinct way for me to describe this would be a quote from Almost Famous:
“From the very beginning, we said I’m the front man, and you’re the guitarist with mystique. That’s the dynamic we agreed on! Page, Plant. Mick, Keith. Blackmore, Gillan!”
[Jason Lee forgot Simon and Garfunkel, who, according to Frances McDormand’s character in the movie, were high in the album cover for Bookends. But you get the gist. Hey, Harvard Business School, can we make a case study out of two pot-smoking figurative ends of a book?]
The story of tension among duos, especially male duos, has bridged eras and genres of music. We all know by now that Paul Simon fostered a grudge against Art Garfunkel for singing Bridge Over Troubled Water. The two of them took potshots at each other’s insecurities. There were James Hetfield and Dave Mustaine, where the latter formed Megadeth to rival Metallica at the height of thrash metal. Of course, some were more intense than mere collaboration: The White Stripes quite literally broke up. Jack White went on to create an envious body of solo work, while no one knows where Meg White is.
But the story of the dynamic in duos isn’t restricted to just music. It’s not just arguments over creativity. There seems to be an improper division of who’s supposed to lead what aspect of a project. I’m tempted to look at it as a management problem, because one could always tie founders with the luminaries I’ve mentioned above. Jobs, Wozniak. Jack, Biz. Page (they better not be even remotely related), Brin. There’s obviously an undercurrent of male ego somewhere, that warrants a sociological perspective.
Then again, there is also sport. Kobe, Shaq. LeBron, Kyrie. I’m writing this piece primarily because I’ve been watching a lot of basketball lately. Of course, there’s some 2021 context to this too, in terms of Kyrie Irving being conspicuously absent from matches (and apparently partying with Drake). But that’s enough evidence for us to break this dynamic down. It may require some specific context, but I have little doubt we will find common elements, which we might as well attribute to the various ways in which ego manifests itself.
It’s obvious at this point that there could be a difference in perception as to leadership. But more than anything, at least in the non-business sphere of things, it is usually jealousy. Again, it’s really easy for me to refer to the Almost Famous quote, because in the same vein, Billy Crudup’s guitarist character knows he’s the crowd connect, not Jason Lee. It’s envy of skill. Look at LeBron. You can say for sure that neither LeBron nor Anthony Davis are envious of each other. They play in beautiful tandem with each other, with mutual respect for each other. They won a championship in their first year together in 2020. They don’t look like stopping either. But the legend he might already be, LeBron didn’t always gel with all his teammates that were not named Dwyane Wade. Kyrie Irving always had some amount of distaste for the man, while LeBron maintained that he believed that Irving was MVP material. Of course, men’s basketball is a space where men trash-talking each other is seen as motivation. Michael Jordan did that all the time, and it became justified because, well, he was/is the greatest player to ever exist. It’s that justification I’m not sure I always find comfortable. It could be fair for people to feel uneasy in such environments. Kevin Love felt this way with LeBron for quite a while, until they became fast friends (and executed immaculate touchdown passes). It’s really hard to pinpoint to a certain one-fits-all leadership style. Jimmy Butler jumped ship from the Bulls, the Timberwolves, and the 76ers, before truly finding a place in Miami Heat. He follows the same principles of direction that Jordan did. Somehow, Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic, all of them are not only okay with it, but they also revel in it. I highly recommend this piece, because few people in the world had a more fulfilling 2020 than Butler. What’s more, no one can dispute that he truly deserved it.
On the truly terrible end of the leadership spectrum, it’s very difficult to find a place for Steve Jobs’ philosophy in entrepreneurship today. The view of him that many, including I, have developed over the years is that Jobs was toxic, thankless, and abusive (probably even low-key pretentious). If you drill down to what his core value addition was, you’d either say “minimalism”, “charisma”, “turtlenecks” or “some mystic stuff”. They’re all more or less synonymous with each other. Steve Wozniak, on the other hand, brought the know-how to the table. He actually knew how to assemble a computer by himself, only to be dismissed by Jobs as some geek with no vision. Until Jobs’ post-NeXT Apple phase, the one product that kept them alive was the one Woz helped design. It’s a theory many like that since Jobs didn’t have a hand in what, till then, was Apple’s most successful product — the Apple II, he wanted to prove his own worth. But calling the LISA, or the NeXTCube a failure, is polite. Much of the dialogue here was fictionalized, but if they really faced off at the Mac launch, this was probably how it would go down. If anything, one reason I wholeheartedly love the Sorkin treatment of Steve Jobs is because it doesn’t gloss over the flaws in Jobs’ legacy. Envy possibly drove him until his second stint (totally not thinking of my iPad right now). This is not even a management problem where you have two CEOs. It’s purely being blinded in your goal-oriented vision that everybody else thinks is revolutionary. Heads up, it’s also distortionary. Or, in this particular case, reality-distorting. I wish I could just attribute that to Jobs’ acid trips, but nope, it sadly just boils down to being an inherently problematic personality.
(I’m aware that The Social Network sounds similar, but Saverin’s firing had a number of reasons not related to envy.)
A lot of that definitely comes down to how ineffectively men handle insecurities. It leads to a God complex, that more often than not, is not totally justified. You wouldn’t say “Steve Jobs is the Michael Jordan-equivalent of the tech world”, because at least Jordan had raw talent. And I’m not even defending either person’s leadership style. It’s not like Jordan had the authority to decide that Scottie Pippen was a lesser man. It’s great they had a mutual understanding of their capabilities, because it’s obvious that across history that’s generally not been true.
I’m not sure if this problem is best solved with management lessons, because there was no defined hierarchy between the people in these duos. There shouldn’t have been one, either. Garfunkel was jealous of Simon’s writing, and Simon of Garfunkel’s singing. And it’s a pretty wide problem, because that animosity doesn’t always get culled with the passing of years. Even the smallest trigger can prove fatal. Ask the Rolling Stones.
Maybe I should study more sociology and management to truly take this line of thinking forward. But it’s definitely a macro problem that you can’t take a jab at clinically or detachedly. If a duo is expected to lead a team, and the two people involved are at loggerheads, that brings the entire team’s morale down.
We’d just rather have them build a bridge over troubled water.
(Started an article by referring to a legendary Vine, check!)