This blog entry is posted in conjunction with our Podcast # 122 – Business Partnerships.
It is often said that whether a partnership works or not depends on whether there is the right chemistry between the partners.
Yet partnership has more in common with physics than chemistry.
In human relationships, as in physics, opposites tend to attract. There are, of course, situations in both where this does not happen, but it is easy to demonstrate how a positive charge will repel a positive charge and a negative a negative – just as people who are too much alike will each want the same thing and will fall out over which of them gets it.
The most successful partnerships succeed because the partners have different characters and different objectives, so that each has his own role in the partnership and is content with it.
There is simply no point in going into partnership with a clone of yourself. The clone brings nothing new to the partnership. He has all of your weaknesses and his only strengths are those you have already. Instead of covering your weaknesses, he will reinforce them. He may extend your work capacity, but at the price of desiring the same rewards as you. This might boost the efficiency of the partnership in the short term, but must ultimately tear it apart.
Dr Evil and Mini-Me were always destined to betray and destroy each other: such was their nature and the nature of their relationship.
We are forced to rely on the Austin Powers reference, rather than something more serious and business-related, because it is often hard for outsiders to see how real partnerships operate in practice. It is wisely said that no one knows what goes on behind closed doors in a marriage, and the same is true of a business partnership.
In any case, the most celebrated, as well as some of the most successful, partnerships are known throughout the world because they were up there on the big screen: Laurel and Hardy, Crosby and Hope, Tom and Jerry...
Of these, the first is the most famous and the best example of how different characters filling different roles compliment each other to produce the elusive “synergy” – where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and two plus two equals five.
On screen, the Ollie character is convinced of his own cleverness. The Stan character, while not altogether convinced by his friend, accepts that he is even less intelligent and so he goes along with Ollie. The characters need each other: Ollie needs someone even stupider than himself to impress and Stan needs someone slightly less unintelligent than himself to tell him what to do. So the partnership serves the needs of both and both serve the partnership. There would be no comedy, and so partnership, if both were trying to be clever or both were passive.
Off-screen, the roles were reversed. Stan Laurel was a very intelligent man and a consummate professional, always thinking up new ideas for scripts and routines. Oliver Hardy, while by no means as foolish as his screen persona, was an amiable, easy-going sort, who would rather play golf than think about work.
It is pleasant to be able to record that the two men were great friends in real life, not least because Hardy never meddled with Laurel’s script ideas and Laurel ever interfered with Hardy’s golf.