All you need is love – Creativity with the Beatles

The Beatles transformed the pop song from simple three chord tales of love lost and found into an artform that has defined and redefined much popular music for the latter part of the 20th Century.   Take a listen to ‘I am the Walrus’ to hear one of The Beatles’ more complex orchestrated pieces of psychedelic pop from 1967:

This is the first post in a long and winding road which explores what we can learn from The Beatles about business.  More on the Beatles and Business in the book ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll.  We’ll focus on what business leaders can learn about creativity from The Beatles in this post:

Beatles Business Insight # 1.  Creativity rests on difference

The Beatles pulled off a clever trick of making diversity work, when it is much more common to resist working with people who are different in business.  Lennon and Mc Cartney were quite different characters and this is audible in the songs that they instigated.  Some of Lennon’s early songs  are considered to have been influenced by the loss of his mother at an early age, for example “Help” and “Nowhere Man”.   A kind of beautiful melancholy.  It is considered that McCartney coped with his loss rather better and tended to write more optimistic songs such as “All My Loving” and “We can Work it Out”.  Of course, both had their moments of doing the opposites of these – witness “Hey Jude” and “Another Day” by Mc Cartney much later in his career, the former was intended to be a message to Lennon’s son after the breakup of his marriage.

Business lesson:  Requisite diversity is essential if you are to have an innovative business.  Find ways to resolve tensions that build up by putting different people together, but resist attempts to sidestep conflict.  The creative leader utilises the tension between opposites whilst maintaining a focus on the goal.

Beatles Business Insight # 2.  Creativity rests on dissonance

The Beatles were pioneers at combining textures and influences from Indian music, creating a sound which was at that time dissonant to western ears.  Musical note:  Indian music tends to use different scales to those traditionally used in Western music e.g. major or minor scales.  Take a listen to “Within You Without You” to hear what I mean:


Whilst it is possible to profit from dissonance in music, dissonance in business is the silence in the meeting when someone suggests something that is ‘outside the box’ of traditional thinking patterns.  Sometimes it can be heard through people talking about other people as mad, bad or evil outside the meeting in the locker rooms and so on.  Dissonance in business costs millions through wasted time, missed opportunities, inadequate follow through of ideas and so on.  We spend a lot of time helping people use dissonance in business in order to create strategies that set businesses apart from the crowd. It is a strategy that has helped companies such as Unilever continue to succeed.  For example – Their ‘All you need is Dove’ campaign – in their use of full figured women to promote beauty products.

The Doves from above

Business lesson:  Find ways to listen to ideas that seem dissonant to currently accepted views of your business strategy.  Practice curiosity on a daily basis.

Beatles Business Insight # 3.  Creativity rests on discipline

Contrary to conventional wisdom, creativity is not the enemy of structure and discipline.  Quite the reverse.  If you are going to write a song that is different, it’s important to mark out the territory in ways that leads the listener towards certain familiar aspects, i.e. a refrain, verse and so on in music.  Even in some of The Beatles strangest compositions, we find such devices e.g. “Strawberry Fields Forever”:

Creativity without structure and discipline in business does not lead to innovation.  Witness Pfizer’s breakthrough inhalable insulin product Exubera.  The product was a brilliant idea (no more needles), but failed at the detailed execution stage due to the development of a medical device that was cumbersome and difficult to use.  It seemed that nobody dared tell the CEO that the device was a turkey, since he had staked his reputation and that of his employees on it.  See my point about dissonance above.  Failure to package the product in a way that ‘felt familiar and comfortable’ cost Pfizer a cool $2.8 billion.

Some considered the inhaler for Exubera to be as large as a domestic fire extinguisher … a major social embarrassment

Business lesson:  If innovation is your business, make sure that there is enough of ‘the familiar’ about the new to make the innovation attractive to your customers.

If you like this mini blog do check out our seminar offerings which include sessions on The Beatles, innovation and creativity.  Our next stop is at an international conference on the subject in Athens next month.   Our new book ‘The Music of Business” has an expanded article on The Beatles – acclaimed by Harvey Goldsmith.  Sample it here:

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About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk

7 responses to “All you need is love – Creativity with the Beatles

  1. Some comments from Linkedin:

    Sarmistha Tarafder • The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life. ~William Faulkner

    Beatles were the contrarians of their times.They opposed the reformer, the conformist, the idealist. They created their own understanding of life out of their own experiences. Hence they are timeless!

    Thank you for sharing.

    http://info.skybay.com/blog/?Tag=Sarmistha%20Tarafder

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    Baden Eunson • The really interesting thing about the Beatles and creativity is that they were forced into it. In an interview with the British TV interviewer Michael Parkinson several years back, Paul McCartney explained why they started writing their own material. In the early sixties, before they broke big and went on to become a byword for innovation, they would show up at gigs, ready to do covers of mainly US material (Tamla Motown, Phillies, etc). But it got to the stage that they would show up, being second or third on the bill, and hear cover tunes they had rehearsed being played by prior acts. In despair, Lennon and McCartney decided they had to act defensively, and started out writing their own material so that they wouldn’t be pre-empted. Cliche takeaway: necessity is the mother of invention.

    Like

  2. More Linkedin comments:

    Julie Anixter • Sometimes people just make you HAPPY when they write. This is one of those posts. Have a listen…

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    Christof Zürn • Dear Peter,

    thanks for the post I will check out your book asap. There are so many good examples of inspiration from arts and music for business. I If you like or don’t like the Beatles maybe you like Miles Davis?

    Here is a blogpost I did on branding and jazz: http://creativecompanion.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/some-music-thinking-on-branding-and-miles-davis/

    have fun!
    Christof

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    Peter Cook • Christof – someone else asked me to write on Miles Davis and although I like his work I am no expert in this area. No need now, because you have done it! ;-) I am linking up with you on Twitter and would love to talk about the value of metaphors in business development. Thank you for the comment and link. There is an article on orchestras, jazz and rock music, co-written with my colleague who performs with Celine Dion, Anastasia and Shirley Bassey to name a few http://www.academy-of-rock.co.uk/downloads/MUSIC%20AND%20BUSINESS.pdf

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    Pedro Gioya • Hi Peter. Fantastic. All my professional life dedicated to leadership and your blog is a real source of inspiration. Rock, jazz, and leadership lessons and learning. Congratulations

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    Christof Zürn • Thanks Peter. I will read it, sounds interesting! Dou you know this one: ‘What Jazz Taught Marketing (or Should Have)’ by Keith Jennings http://goo.gl/22C7f
    Nice to share some music thinking!

    Like

  3. Still more from Linkedin:

    Sarmistha Tarafder • The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life. ~William Faulkner

    Beatles were the contrarians of their times.They opposed the reformer, the conformist, the idealist. They created their own understanding of life out of their own experiences. Hence they are timeless!

    Thank you for sharing.

    http://info.skybay.com/blog/?Tag=Sarmistha%20Tarafder

    **************************************************

    Baden Eunson • The really interesting thing about the Beatles and creativity is that they were forced into it. In an interview with the British TV interviewer Michael Parkinson several years back, Paul McCartney explained why they started writing their own material. In the early sixties, before they broke big and went on to become a byword for innovation, they would show up at gigs, ready to do covers of mainly US material (Tamla Motown, Phillies, etc). But it got to the stage that they would show up, being second or third on the bill, and hear cover tunes they had rehearsed being played by prior acts. In despair, Lennon and McCartney decided they had to act defensively, and started out writing their own material so that they wouldn’t be pre-empted. Cliche takeaway: necessity is the mother of invention.

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    Luke Ferreira CA(SA) • John Lennon a prophet, cleverer than the Marx Brothers, including Karl? Julian Yoko…Mary…, looked like JC?
    Ringo a Star (fading, red dwarf white giant) , St George slayed the dragon. St Paul started the new church …first pope…More popular than church, who will laugh last…Imagine there’s no heaven…

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    Peter Cook • Karl Marx was over-rated as a comedian Luke – I fear you are correct that when pop stars are considered more important than religious or political leaders, we may have got the balance wrong somewhere! :-

    Like

  4. The Beatles are indeed a rich vein to tap for lessons. Talking about innovation and creativity not being stifled, there has to be a balancing act between not stifling, but still having structure and discipline. Lennon seems to have been somewhat of a nutter, and in many ways it’s surprising the band lasted in the ‘Beatles’ bubble as long as it did!
    Gordon

    Like

  5. This from Linkedin:

    Rob Hendy • I loved this. Always fascinating to take the business world into a more artistic environment and see how things fit (or don’t). As a fan, always looking for new and ever more fascinating insights into the most influential band of all time. From a ‘being creative in business perspective’ it’s interesting though to note that the Beatles didn’t always lead the way in innovation. They often simply took aspects of what was already out there (American blues, the avant garde, mysticsm etc etc) and skillfully seem to make these concepts their own and sell them to a mass audiance so that they were seen as the market leaders. Pure genius. If anyone is interested in the break up, business deaings and endless law suits that followed in the wake of the music then ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ by Peter Doggett is an outstanding read.

    Like

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