Come Together: Collaborative Creativity Advice from The Beatles

When people talk about the most successful creative collaborations of all time, The Beatles almost always make the list. With 10 Grammys, 11 number one albums, and innovations that revolutionized rock music, it’s no wonder musicians, historians, and fans alike have been seeking insights from Peter Jackson’s multi-part documentary series, Get Back. In The New York Times, The City editor Jere Hester wrote about creativity lessons gleaned from the Fab Four. But, I couldn’t help but take away a master class in collaborative creativity – featuring these essential takeaways:

Say You Want a Revolution

At the start of a creative project, it’s easy to limit your ideas with constraints surrounding budget, biases, and worst of all, “the way it’s always been done.” When Paul McCartney cheerfully insisted that the group could write 14 new songs in two weeks to record them for a television show, George Harrison found the idea so impossible that he (temporarily) quit. Don’t be like George. With creative work, it’s always easier to start big and pare back than to start small and build up. And when you come up with the ideas that tickle your brain and make you think, “Oh… we can’t get away with THAT, can we?” pay attention.

All Together Now

When creative people work together, conflicts can happen. Even when you agree on great ideas, it’s easy to clash over how to bring them to life. And, when you’ve got multiple creative minds at odds with each other, frustrations can run high. At one point, the Beatles could hardly speak to one another, let alone be in the same room together. But in the documentary, we see them realize that they can still riff off each other’s ideas, playing and singing together. Remember that you’re a team of individuals with the same overall objectives. Even when you get frustrated with each other’s style, personality, or other quirks, you can – and should – rely on each other’s talents to make the work better.

Picture Yourself in a Boat on a River…

Of course, the real world doesn’t have marmalade skies or girls with kaleidoscope eyes. But John Lennon and Paul McCartney made the dreamlike world of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” easy for the band to bring to life – and easy for any listener to envision. If you can sell fresh ideas to each other, you can bring them to life for external audiences, too.

Help! (I need somebody)

It’s happened to all of us: You work together for so long that your ideas start to feel similar or stale. Don’t be afraid to mix things up with a new voice or two. When keyboardist Billy Preston joined The Beatles to record the rooftop sessions that ultimately became hits on the album, Let It Be, he revitalized the fraying dynamic between the bandmates. Yoko Ono added impromptu vocals. Ringo Starr stepped away from his drum set to write “Octopus’ Garden.” Maybe, it’s a new hire who isn’t even part of the official creative team. Or, you could bring in a “guest creative participant” for initial brainstorming. Either way, sometimes, a fresh perspective may be all you need to invigorate a tired process.

We Can Work it Out

In both times of joyful play and, later, frustrating conflict, The Beatles were always disciplined about the work. In Get Back, we see them honing lyrics and rethinking arrangements until they get them right. And this was intentional. Paul McCartney had two words for a lack of focus and work ethic: “Un-swinging. Unhip.” He’s right. When success feels distant, persistence and a shared commitment to your creative process can pull a struggling collaborative process forward.

The Long and Winding Road

Even as a group remains committed to the business at hand, conversations and attention spans can wander and brainstorms can take unexpected turns. Let them. Sometimes, the most exciting ideas come when the pressure of a specific task is broken by an offhand comment, an unusual connection, or even just something that makes everyone laugh. Other times, you can return to thoughts that didn’t resonate the first time but whose merits you can’t ignore. It’s great when a brilliant bolt of inspiration emerges, fully formed. But when it doesn’t, you have to be willing to find brilliance in unexpected places.

Who’s Your Favorite Beatle?

A quick poll of our Relish team revealed a complete diversity of opinion. Pam Willoughby said that in her teen years, she liked John, but now she’s more interested in the underplayed but talented George, who is also the favorite of Michael Palermo and Leigh Flemister. Paul Marquardt recalls that as a kid, he gravitated toward Paul because their names were similar (“I thought of myself as Paul Marquardtney – maybe we were related somewhere!”). Noah Chen admitted to being a “Post-Beatles” listener but says he admires the solo work of John Lennon. Mia Johnson told us she didn’t have a favorite – that the band’s value was in what its members accomplished together. And me? As a serious kid, I was fascinated by George. But I’ve increasingly embraced the lighter side of things, which brought me back to Paul, and lately, the fun-loving Ringo.

In short, we’re as diverse as the Fab Four, which works with the lessons above to fuel our success together. How about you? We’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences, concerns, and questions about collaborative creativity – or even just your favorite Beatle or song. I’ve Got a Feeling we can Come Together with you to create Something spectacular.