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.
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.
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org