How opposites attract, or, what makes a successful partnership

12 Jan

Two interesting things happened to/ around me this year-end: a) My husband turned 50 (we had a lovely celebration with family and friends). b) I completed two years of retired life.

Got me thinking even more about something that has been occupying my mind lately – which is, what makes good partnerships work.

A few facts:
1. My husband and I are the quintessential Venus and Mars couple.
– He wakes up early, I sleep late.
– He likes to always have the last word in an argument, even is it is pointless; I abandon an argument after a point – either because I believe everyone is entitled to one’s opinion, and it’s better to agree to disagree; or, because while I dont agree, I think this is a never ending exercise and keep my smug self satisfied feeling inside me…
– I like to sing, he is stone deaf; and therefore ….
– He likes the lyrics in songs, I like the drumming, the guitaring and the melody
– He is an amazing cook, my kids eat food cooked by me under duress
– He drinks whisky, I adore beer; he doesn’t touch sweets, I could make a meal out of them
– He reads financial thrillers and political satires, my favourite stuff is trashy romance; he likes blood and gore in movies, I am a hard core romcom addict
– He loves to network physically, I pride myself on maintaining steady email with …some people….some of the time…okay, steady-ish……..
– He is the financial wizkid and therefore manages all household finances – yes, even files my taxes; I plan all household schedules etc, ….we cd go on and on.
(This ofcourse may just be called efficient division of labour…but still…the fact is…chalk and cheese)

2. In a partnership of four in our startup, we had
– One alpha female, the driver of the enterprise, the one who always had the highest ambitions, who was most ruthless at delegation, the best seller, the face to the market
– Then there was the manager par excellence, the process person, the task oriented champion chaser-up who excelled at any job thrown at her at the right time and with precision perfection, the creative personna;
– There was the maverick trouble shooter brain of the enterprise, Mr. Client Man, always bending over backwards to please the client – and actually anyone who browbeat him,
– And then there was me – maybe exact fourth quadrant locus to all 3 above.
(Read here for an earlier view on the magic of co-founders for a start-up.
(this ofcourse may just be called efficient core competency matching, but still…the fact is…chalk and cheese)

So, what emerges? The sheer contrast of the elements of the partnership.

And that is what today’s blog is about!

One look all around you, and you see contrast everywhere!

Nature abounds with contrast –
– Everyone with atleast 2 children will tell you they are 180 degrees different always! One is the athlete, the other is the dreamer; one the carnivore, the other the vegetarian; one the sledge hammer the other the sensitive introvert (ofcourse in this matter opposites do NOT always attract)…for that matter what is the generation gap between parent and child but a study in contrasts?

symbiosis Credit
– Symbiosis is the phenomenon of persistent biological interactions (most often mutualism) between different species, that is seen in clownfish with anemones, lichens with tress and many other organisms

magnetism1 Credit
– It is common knowledge that opposite poles in a magnet attract, and like repel. This fact actually gives rise to many natural and anthropogenic phenomena – including, as an example, digital music that revolutionized consumption! of music

– Good story telling always means a good side and a bad side – if there is a Ram, there is a Ravan; a Harry has a Voldemort; Dorothy has Elfaba, Mufasa has Scar….and on and on….This article from Huff Post about storytelling using opposites is a good read on this

– And ofcourse, every good (or at least worthwhile) partnership has elements of “venus and mars”. Whether it is sparky temperamental brilliance vs. plodding dilligence (Sherlock and Watson/ Poirot and Hastings); or master strategist vs. executor (Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya); or a typical good cop- bad cop routine followed everywhere and all the time in the world when negotiating/ interviewing/ dealing!

This feature becomes especially important when one is running something together – that partnership – one of co-founders at a start-up I sometimes feel is better/ worse/ deeper/ stronger whatever – than most marriages or sibling-hood!
This Article on some successful entrepreneurs and why their partnerships work makes for a good read on this…

The video below shows the different types of partners one chooses and why:

Dr. Helen Fisher talks about 4 personality types in men, and how figuring out which type you are informs the partner best suited for you. She talked about four brain systems that are linked to personality (not intelligence, but temperament):

1. Estrogen (pro-social/empathetic), “The Negotiator” – sees big picture, great verbal skills, imaginative and great people skills. These men often choose Testosterone types to be attracted to.

2. Testosterone (analytical/tough minded) “The Director” – analytical, logical, direct, decisive, tough-minded, good at math, computers, mechanics. These men go for their opposite — such as the high-estrogen type who is more big picture.

3. Serotonin (cautious/social norm compliant) “The Builders” – orderly, respect authority, traditional, conventional, conscientious, cautious and social. These men go for women like themselves who are also traditional.

4. Dopamine (curious/energetic) “The Explorers” – risk-taking, novelty seeking, optimistic, restless, spontaneously generous, creative, quite liberal and flexible. These men gravitate to women who are just like them, they want women who are also Explorers.

So the questions that arise are:
– Is it true? If “opposites attract”, then how do “birds of a feather flock together?”
– Does it need complete opposites to make a relationship work?
– What does it take to build success when partners are alike? Is it more work? Less?
– In case therefore one is in a partnership with “similar” people, does one of them have to change? Should the ego centric dominate the other?
– Why is it that there is only one “alpha male” in a pride of lions amongst many mates, and why don’t those mates kill each other?

Of course, as with any theory, there are many ‘counter theories” to this one too, and ofcourse anecdotally you and me could enumerate many instances to disprove the one above. One such article on opposites not really attracting is worth reading. And this article apparently gives advice about similarity being good for longevity in marriage.

I guess the answer really lies in – where do similarities lie, and where the differences. In basics/ broad moral/ ethical/ philosophical/ business values, it is probably good to have general agreement – and then if operational/ executional values and styles differs, it actually works better. (At least saves one from getting bored – so, differences makes for interest, but similarity for the glue in the relationship)

Having said that, I would think one has to WORK at every relationship – establish dos and don’ts, strengths and weaknesses, and embrace the difference while being secure in the similarities.

Which really means, if I were to shift the lens around on Manoj and me,

– (He wakes up early, I sleep late) – He can get the kids to school while I can help them revise for their exams
– (He likes to always have the last word in an argument…..) – While there aren’t continuous arguments in our house, atleast there are no fights!
– (I like to sing, he is stone deaf) – I get an audience when I do sing
– (He likes the lyrics in songs, i like the melody) – We both like music
– (He is an amazing cook….) – We are all foodies, and Thank Gawwwd, we get fed gourmet food often!
– (He drinks whisky, I adore beer) – We both like our drinks!
– (He reads financial thrillers and political satires…) – We both like books and movies, just different genres
– (He loves to network physically, ……..) – We are both ‘people” people!
– (He is the financial wizkid) …Our household runs smoothly, with no interference from non core folks 🙂

What say? I think I’ll end by showing you this lovely story of opposites staying together

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4 Responses to “How opposites attract, or, what makes a successful partnership”

  1. tushima January 13, 2015 at 3:49 pm #

    Loved reading this…sounds so much like me and Sam:)

    • joshsang January 13, 2015 at 6:31 pm #

      🙂 I think the story of every household

  2. anupama January 16, 2015 at 7:59 am #

    As always, so well written! I can just “copy and paste” the family partnership

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