The Beatles transformed the pop song from simple three chord tales of love lost and found into an art form that has defined and redefined much popular music over the last 50 years. They also redefined the music business, retiring from touring in 1966 to spend all their time in the studio working on their art, rather than releasing albums just to increase the price of their concert tickets. Listen to “I am the Walrus“ to hear one of The Beatles’ more complex orchestrated pieces of psychedelic pop. Here we focus on what leaders can learn from the 3 D’s of creativity in business or anywhere else: Difference, Dissonance and Discipline.
Creativity in business rests on difference
The Beatles pulled off the unusually difficult 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 can be heard in the songs that they wrote alone. Some of Lennon’s early songs are thought to have been influenced by the loss of his mother at an early age, for example “Help” and “Nowhere Man”. These songs have a kind of beautiful melancholy about them. It is thought 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”.
Making diversity work in business is much harder to achieve with the tendency to group similar characters together in departments or professions. However, some simple strategies such as effective job rotation, an understanding of the importance of differences and good selection methods can work wonders.
Beatles’ business lesson # 1. 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.
Creativity in business rests on dissonance
The Beatles were pioneers at combining textures and influences from Indian music, creating a sound that was at that time dissonant to western ears.
Musical note: In music, notes are dissonant when they produce an unstable tone combination. Simply stated, they appear to grate on the ear. In the West we are mostly used to music that adopts the major, minor or blues scales. Indian music tends to use different scales to those traditionally used in Western music. Take a listen to George Harrison’s song “Within You Without You” to hear what I mean.
Beatles’ business lesson # 2. Find ways to listen to ideas that seem dissonant to currently accepted views of your business strategy.
Beatles’ business lesson # 3. Practice curiosity on a daily basis.
Beatles’ business lesson # 4. Delay evaluation of ideas for as long as possible, so that you can put distance between the novelty and a sober evaluation of the potential feasibility and impact of the idea.
Creativity in business 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” and “A Day In The Life”.
Beatles’ business lesson # 5. 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.
Beatles’ business lesson # 6. Avoid hubris in business. It can stop you seeing what is staring you in the face.
Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock, providing Business Consulting, high-level facilitation and keynote speaking. Peter is a scientist, business academic and consultant. Author of five books on business and creativity including “The Music of Business”, “Punk Rock People Management” and “Sex, Leadership and Rock‘n’Roll”, acclaimed by Professor Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham, Tom Peters and Harvey Goldsmith CBE.