What The Beatles Can Teach Us About Business
Guest Author Blog by George Cassidy and Richard Courtney, Authors of "COME TOGETHER: The Business Wisdom of the Beatles" (Turner Publishing, 2011)
When Richard Courtney and I set out to write Come Together: The Business Wisdom of the Beatles, it had a slightly different working title: Be Bigger Than the Beatles.
Saying something was going to be “bigger than the Beatles” used to be like saying something was the “greatest thing since sliced bread,” a little bit of commonly understood hyperbole to underline a person or thing’s popularity or standing.
Times change. A little road testing on Facebook revealed that our fellow Beatle fans – and we are, first and foremost, fans – would not countenance the notion that anyone or anything could be bigger than the Beatles. In our own way, we were experiencing a faint echo of John Lennon’s famous difficulties after telling writer Maureen Cleave that the Beatles just might be “bigger than Jesus.”
Chastened, in our now much more suitably named book, Richard and I continued to ponder some of the factors that went into making the Beatles such a worldwide, multigenerational phenomenon.
We were pretty sure it wasn’t just talent. Yes, the Beatles were a unique and unrepeatable perfect storm of songwriting genius, performing chops, and enormous personal charm. But talent and charm are just the beginning; by themselves, they are no guarantor or even predictor of success. As the man once said, “unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.”
The Beatles, by contrast, according to Billboard, sold more than 450,000 albums and 2 million individual songs in just one week following the release of their catalog on iTunes in November of 2010 – some 40 years after the band broke up.
Clearly, these guys have been doing something right. So, what made the Beatles the Beatles, and what can we learn from them?
Here’s a quick mystery tour:
- Articulate your vision. The Beatles had an explicit vision and mission from the beginning. Their oft-stated aim was to be the “toppermost of the poppermost” – a phrase they used as a rallying cry during early days of struggle and rejection. The business moral: dream big, and don’t be afraid to say it out loud.
- Hire the right people and let them shine. John Lennon reportedly grappled for a time with the decision to bring Paul McCartney on board. He knew that McCartney was good, but worried that he might be too good and outshine Lennon himself. Ultimately, of course, he invited McCartney to join, with spectacular results. The business moral: make staffing choices that serve the interests of the enterprise, not those that preserve your own personal comfort zone.
- Seek out challenges. Well before they might have been considered ready, the Beatles sought out grueling professional engagements, like those in Hamburg, that tested both their abilities and their endurance. The young Beatles were baptized by fire early on, and it served them in good stead throughout their career. The business moral: don’t be afraid of challenges and hard work; rather, seek them out.
- Location, location, location. When the Beatles returned from Hamburg, unlike many other, better-connected groups, they did not get booked into round after round of lucrative regional ballroom work. Instead, they took a lunchtime gig at the Cavern Club in the Liverpool city center. On its face, this development may have seemed unpromising. However, at one stroke they became one of about a dozen bands (out of hundreds in Liverpool) that were working regularly downtown. Their residency also put them a short, fateful walk from the office of their soon-to-be manager, Brian Epstein. The business moral: set up shop – and make sure opportunity knows where to knock.
- Have a plan. When Epstein offered to manage “the boys,” they wisely realized that he brought crucial abilities and acumen to the table. While they focused on their music, he began a tireless effort to secure them a recording contract in London, even while many of their peers were still playing ballrooms out in the sticks. The inexperienced Epstein came up with a simple, bold plan and executed it flawlessly. With his guidance, the toppermost of the poppermost finally came within reach. The business moral: prize strategic results over mere effort, or as the old adage goes, “Work smarter, not harder…”
- Learn from your mistakes. The Beatles made many mistakes along the way, but almost always learned from their mistakes. For example, in the early 60s, they signed away a controlling interest in their music publishing rights (and the resultant income) to a man named Dick James, who later sold them without consulting the Beatles. Over the years, recovering those rights has proved an elusive goal for the Beatles and their heirs. But Paul McCartney, for one, has quietly set about purchasing other popular music catalogs in the meantime, including that of Buddy Holly. He has effectively replaced, at least in part, the lost revenue stream from the Beatles’ publishing. This is one of the many reasons his net worth is often pegged north of 1 billion USD. The business moral: Don’t cry over spilt milk. Use what you’ve learned to do better next time.
These are just a few of the lessons we learned in the course of writing the book – there are 100 in all. While these tips may never make you “bigger than the Beatles,” we’ve found that close study of the Beatles definitely helps you in your business - or life - journey.
See you at the toppermost of the poppermost…
George Cassidy and Richard Courtney are the authors of "COME TOGETHER: The Business Wisdom of the Beatles" (Turner Publishing, 2011)