5 lessons on teamwork as inspired by The Beatles
by José Valentino Ruiz, Chris Shelton and Savanna Downing
In the newly released documentary, “The Beatles: Get Back,” famed director Peter Jackson highlights the band’s professional relationships, business approach and, most interestingly, their creative process during a recording session in January 1969. While The Beatles are globally regarded as one of the most successful and influential bands of all time, five business lessons can be learned from observing their creative and innovative process unfold during rehearsals — lessons that can be applied to all work settings, regardless of the discipline.
- Collective compromise builds strong teams. While Paul and George were discussing how to finish a song, their views clashed, with neither musician willing to compromise. This ultimately led George to quit the project and the band. Several days and some discussions later, a compromise was reached, and George re-joined the band. The takeaway: In the workplace, creative ideas often collide. If compromises are not reached, one or more team members may feel less valued and unable to share innovative ideas that could advance an initiative; some may, as George did, be compelled to quit. A range of entrepreneurial strategies and ideas should be embraced to optimize group dynamics and the potential success of a product or service.
- A democratic environment ensures all voices are heard: When George left the band, Paul and John met and John aired his grievances regarding Paul’s work ethic and why it made him so difficult to work with. John agreed with George that Paul was dominating the project to such a degree that suggestions and contributions from other band members were being dismissed. The takeaway: In the workplace if only one voice is heard, there is no teamwork and innovation and progress can be dealt a significant blow. The morale of employees may sink to such a low level that complacency may set in, and a project may stall or fail to reach its full potential. To remedy this, all team members’ voices must be valued, and their contributions considered.
- Embrace newfangled ideas: While Paul and George were collaborating, Paul explicitly stated that George’s ideas were complicating the creative process. Paul was disregarding the value of exploration and experimentation when trying to create something new. Had George’s ideas been deferred to a later time, it might have thwarted the more advanced and complicated concepts of George’s vision; his ideas might have been forgotten or ‘watered down.’ In many of the Beatles more popular tunes, the intricacies and complexities add richness to their basic structures — which might have been lost. As the documentary showed, there were instances in which individual band members were messing around, not really focused on writing, and a melody would emerge that, accepted by the other members, became the basis of their next tune. The takeaway: The more radical ideas that surface during the creative process should never be disregarded. Write down all ideas, however crazy. These ideas may be the cornerstone of a final product that pushes the boundaries of creativity and innovation and opens the way to territories not yet explored.
- Exploration is how you achieve innovation: Paul's songwriting approach might be considered more structured and traditional, as he only took the most basic elements of song construction into consideration to create an initial form before adding complexities. George, on the other hand, was more open to taking the time to simply explore musical ideas without the goal of completing a song. George was eager to experiment with new technologies, sounds, harmonic progressions, rhythms, song structures and other musical expressions with the intent of deconstructing a systematic approach to songwriting — ultimately coming up with musical innovations with potential to advance the music industry. Evidence of successful songs created through exploratory processes include “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Strawberry Fields Forever,” but within this documentary, it happens in “Don’t Let Me Down.” While it may have been uncomfortable for Paul to subdue his traditionalism for the sake of encouraging exploratory processes during songwriting sessions, he certainly learned that uninhibited creativity resulted in growth among his ensemble members and often to songs with greater musical depth. The takeaway: This translates to other fields easily. Facilitating explorational 'think tank' sessions with colleagues should be encouraged in the workplace because it often leads to big hits.
- Vulnerability can lead to valiant ideas: As The Beatles worked, it became clear the band lacked expertise in the style of keyboard playing needed for songs such as “Don’t Let Me Down” and others. This weakness, or vulnerability, led the band to enlist help from the extraordinarily talented jazz keyboardist Billy Preston. With the addition of Preston, a new layer was added to their music and this led to different — one could say ‘valiant’ — ideas that otherwise would not have been explored and incorporated into their music. The takeaway: Another way to think about this vulnerability is being open to other ideas, especially when those ideas are forward-thinking and outside your realm of expertise. Many companies experience vulnerabilities that greatly impact projects. Let that vulnerability lead your team to embrace new ideas and approaches that culminate in a fresh, forward-thinking final product.
“The Beatles: Get Back” reveals creative processes that from afar may appear to have been unorganized, tense, clashing and convoluted, but in reality, demonstrate the power in compromise, collaboration, democracy, exploration and vulnerability. So, the next time you go to work, consider implementing these takeaways within your tasks — and you may just lead your team to “Get Back” to the fun of it all.
José Valentino Ruiz is a Latin Grammy and Emmy Award-winning composer/producer and is the head of Music Business and Entrepreneurship at the University of Florida. Chris Shelton is an instructor of record for Introduction to Music Technology at the University of Florida and is pursuing a doctorate in music composition with a cognate in music production and entrepreneurship. Savanna Downing is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in music and a master of science in management at the University of Florida.