“Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one”
- John Lennon
Around fifty years ago, four men came together in a film studio in Twickenham, just outside London, to begin working on what would be their last major collaboration together. John, Paul, George and Ringo, otherwise known as The Beatles, were almost at the end of their ten year journey together. In that short time, they had transformed the landscape of popular music, and left an indelible mark on western culture that continues to reverberate to this day.
While they had, during that ten year period, embarked on many ambitious projects, this was perhaps the most ambitious yet: Write, record and perform a new album of original material in just two weeks. And do it all in front of a documentary film crew that would capture every moment, every word and note, every high and low, of that creative process – resulting in a total of more than sixty hours of audio and video footage that has taken half a century, and the directorial genius of Peter ‘Lord of the Rings’ Jackson, to see the light of day. Albeit as the nine-hour documentary, Get Back!
Whether you’re a fan of their music or not however, those nine hours are still fascinating for many reasons, not least of all the fact that they reveal the inner workings of a creative team and process that led to an album that has gone on to sell tens of millions of copies worldwide, included some of the most recognizable songs in history, including “The Long and Winding Road”, “Get Back” and “Let it Be”, and culminated in one of the most iconic live performances of all time: the ‘Rooftop concert’ above Apple Corps. Studios, Savile Row, in the heart of London. In just two weeks!
If you don’t happen to have a Disney+ subscription, or indeed the nine hours to spare that it would take to watch all three parts of the documentary, here are just a few of the lessons we can all take from the process:
- Finding the magic in mundane: The documentary can sometimes feel like we’re simply watching a group of ordinary people, going to work 9-5, Monday to Friday. There is something quite mundane and routine about it, until the magical moments occur, like when you hear Paul stumbling onto the chords to ‘…Winding Road’ for the first time while the camera remains focused on someone else drinking tea and eating toast. There are no fanfares, no one shouting “We’re witnessing a moment of history here, people!!” Finding these moments is a key part of the creative process, and it is only with hindsight that we discover their significance. The hidden gems, the magic in the mundane, is where true innovation lies.
- Going beyond the ordinary: As the songs slowly begin to take shape, Paul can often be heard saying “It’s still a bit ordinary.” Their collective willingness to keep going a bit further than anyone might reasonably expect seems to be a key part of their process. This isn’t self indulgent perfectionism, however. Remember, this is all happening in a regular 9-5 schedule. No, this is a willingness to fully develop each idea until it reaches its full potential.
- Drawing on outside influences: The band seem to spend at least as much time playing other people’s songs as they do their own. They also have a diverse team of people and perspectives around them, and are open to input from wherever it may come. “I Me Mine”, for example, by George Harrison, was inspired by a TV show he watched the night before! They are clearly not afraid to let other influences into the process.
- Playing together: While the routine looks like work, the music never does – they always appear to be having a great deal of fun while they’re writing and rehearsing, and will often be doing so with silly voices and a great deal of humor. Despite the pressure they’re under, they never stop enjoying the process.
- Working to a deadline: One of the things that sets this album apart from some of their earlier works is that it has a clear deadline – the performance. While the idea of that performance evolves from the ruins of an amphitheater in Libya to the eventual Rooftop gig (where the whole of London is the audience!), they continue to enforce the need for a deadline, recognizing that it will galvanize them. As we watch, with increasing concern that they’re never going to pull it off, they *spoiler alert* suddenly and most certainly do. And several of the songs performed on that roof were the versions that made it onto the album, showing that it really can all come together in the end.
Innovation, or indeed any creative process, is as much about the mundane as it is the magic. Get Back shows us that, even if you’re The Beatles, you still have to show up, every day, and commit to the process.
And, drink lots of tea.
This week’s inquiry…
Where can you find magic in your mundane?
In just two weeks The Beatles wrote, recorded,
and performed a new original album and simultaneously gave us a Master Course in innovation! Watch the culmination of their efforts,
as The Beatles perform the namesake song of
the documentary on that legendary rooftop in
the heart of London.
This book changed the business landscape forever, describing the forces of innovation that drive progress and disrupt industries. As Charles Darwin was to evolution, so Clay Christensen was to innovation. You will see the world differently after reading this book.