The Beatles Principles: Lessons in Innovation and Client Loyalty from the Most Successful Band in History

The Beatles sold over one billion records and forever changed the face of pop music. As a team, they were able to create a whole that was greater than the sum of the parts. Together, they composed better music than they ever could have or did as solo artists. What did they do to accomplish this, in addition to simply being natural-born songwriting geniuses?

For many years I’ve taught a workshop based on how the Beatles worked together, wrote their chart-topping songs, and built the biggest global fan base of any musical act in history (read: built their “client base.”). This was articulated in a popular article I wrote in strategy+business called the Beatles Principles, which apparently was one of their two most popular articles that year.

Who doesn’t love the Beatles? A friend of mine, the CEO of his own company, once interviewed an executive candidate for a senior role. During the interview, he learned—don’t ask me how—that the man disliked Beatles songs. My friend categorically rejected him for the job, telling me, “There’s just something wrong with someone who doesn’t like Beatles’ music!”

February was the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in the USA. On February 9th, 1964, the largest TV audience in history at the time—and still the second largest as a percentage of the US population—watched their performance on the Ed Sullivan Show.  72 million Americans. My whole family was watching—I was 9 years old at the time.

Here are five of my Beatles principles that will help you grow your own business and client base:

Principle 1: Create Face Time. When the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in early 1964, they seemed like an overnight success. But in fact three or the four Beatles had met in 1957, and by the time of their historic appearance they had spent thousands of hours playing together in clubs in the UK and Germany, honing their act. Over 1000 hours on stage together in Hamburg’s clubs. 293 shows at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. And so on. Face time builds likeability, rapport, and trust.

  • If you want to do a great “live” performance in front of a client, you need to invest in prior face time with your colleagues. Correspondingly, you need face time with clients themselves—just as the Beatles spent years doing live performances before retreating to the recording studio in 1966.

Principle 2: Evolve Your Songs. Every new record the Beatles released represented a dramatic evolution of their music, and as a result their fan base grew ever larger. They explored new themes, musical styles, unorthodox instruments (e.g., the Sitar), and new arrangements, producing an extraordinary variety of songs. The band also managed to embrace and integrate each member’s unique musical interests into their recordings. Just look at the leap from “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (1963) to “Eleanor Rigby” (1965). The range and variety of Beatles’ songs is astonishing. Most groups pump out the same stuff, year after year. Not the Fab Four.

  • If you want to keep your clients for life, you can’t sing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to them year after year. You have to evolve your songs and bring them new ideas, perspectives, and points of view.

Principle 3: Build brands within a Brand. The Beatles were never a lead singer with a backing band but rather an ensemble of four equal (at least publicly) musicians. As a group they were a world-renowned brand, but each individual Beatle also had a public persona and reputation. They worked at this: On almost every Beatles record, for example, John and Paul wrote a song for Ringo to perform, so that he could have his own platform with the public.

If you doubt me, here’s a quiz: How many members of the Rolling Stones can you name? How many Beatles can you name? Do you see my point? Generally, I have found that only 5% of a large audience can name all the Rolling Stones, whereas 95% can name each of the Beatles.

  • You can’t sit back and coast on your company’s brand. You must build your OWN brand in the marketplace—your own renown as a leading expert in your field. The two—company brand and individual brand—work together. The company brand gets you into the RFPs. The individual brand gets you sole source work.

Principle 4: Put Opposites Together to Spur Creativity. John Lennon and Paul McCartney together wrote most of the Beatles songs, and you could not have found two individuals who had a more different temperament and character. Paul was optimistic, a perfectionist, and loved the Beatles’ fame; John was equally creative but also cynical and angry, and he grew to hate their notoriety. Their strengths and weaknesses were complementary, often creating sparks, but the result is the most valuable song catalog in the world. Paul’s lightness tempered John’s darkness, and John’s more cynical, dark view of the world complemented Paul’s upbeat love songs. Listen to “Getting Better” on Sgt. Peppers: As Paul sings “It’s getting better all the time” you can hear John in the background singing, in a kind of depressed voice, “Can’t get much worse”!

  • When you put teams together, intentionally create diversity in terms of people with different experiences, backgrounds, temperaments, and so on. The most creative teams are the most diverse ones. Yet, studies show we tend to ask people just like ourselves to be on our teams!

Principle 5: All-for-one, one-for-all compensation is an important driver of creativity and collaboration. Early on, John Lennon suggested to Paul that they credit all the songs they wrote—together or even separately—as “Lennon/McCartney.” This meant they would share the royalties 50-50 as well. So, no matter how much or how little one of them contributed to the other’s songs, the compensation was the same. While Paul has since complained about that arrangement with regard to certain songs—notably “Yesterday,” which is one of the most popular songs in history—I believe it cemented their intense, personal collaboration. No one had to worry about how much compensation they would get for chipping in a few lyrics or a bridge to a song the other had written. The 50-50 agreement took away any financial barriers to creative collaboration.

  • Don’t overcomplicate compensation. People don’t collaborate because they are paid to—they collaborate because they share common goals, like and trust each other, and are not being pushed into highly individualist behavior by overly-engineered monetary incentives. Measurements and rewards can easily divide people. Focus on creating a rising tide that lifts all boats.

So go forth, listen to a few of your favorite Beatles songs, and then implement these principles. If you want to read a copy of my original article from strategy+businessclick here. There’s a special Beatles Q&A at the end.

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