7 observations from a holiday spent with corona… and the Beatles

A positive corona-test isolated me and my family during the Christmas break. The digital company of Paul, John, George and Ringo got us through it, and while watching 9 hours of “The Fab Four” at work, I reflected upon the nature of creative work processes. I might be the very last person to understand the genius work of The Beatles. Admitted! But when I look into the new year ahead of me, full of exciting professional collaborations, within and beyond the much talented IS IT A BIRD-team, a source of inspiration will be The Beatles. Here’s why:

#1: Be flexible! And let the purpose form a dynamic anchor of the conversation.

Throughout the 21 days of songwriting, jamming, developing material and recording, George, Ringo, Paul and John have an ongoing debate about the purpose and the desired output of the process they are in the middle of. Money is obviously not an issue but defining why they are gathered to start with is not easy.

It is very apparent in the film, that defining the why is key to spark creativity. When there is no defined project, or shared understanding of a problem to solve, even a group of highly talented individuals can be very fragile. Being flexible to change the path is also a part of defining a why key. A purpose cannot be stubborn. It must be flexible and resonate with its surroundings, and act as a dynamic anchor in the conversation.

#2: No constraints, no ‘mojo’

Creativity strives under constraints - all the monetary resources in the world cannot force creativity. In fact, the lack of boundaries seems to threaten creativity among the four band members, rather than liberate it. At one point, the goal of the session is a big ambitious production, including an album recording and the making a documentary film. But the plans collapse, the fab four find themselves artistically lost for a few days. Production resumes when the group shift location and go into their own basement studio in central London. When the output goal of the session is decided to be a small-scale rooftop concert, with all the limitations which follows, the atmosphere lightens up and new creative paths opens up before for the group.

#3: Listen carefully! When the leader is gone, everyone has to listen

Shortly prior to the recording sessions, the manager of the Beatles, Brian Epstein, passed away, at age 33. With this loss, the band lost a father figure, who disciplined the work in the group and helped them to move forward, together. What I found interesting in the documentary is to observe how the four band members handle the vacuum and fill out the gap left by Epstein. Without his guidance, a need for the four equal team members to listen carefully to each other arises. When one key person all of sudden is absent in an organization, everyone else has to step up and look around. See and hear what is going on among team members and how to create synergies. It starts with the ability to listen carefully.

#4: Be humble, acknowledge others and be inspired!

“Did you hear what Eric Clapton just did? He is so good!” I was happy to see how the Beatles were able to share excitement about the achievements of others, as sources of inspiration from an infinite pool of creativity, rather than a competitive landscape. In between developing their own songs, they spent surprisingly much time jamming evergreens and old rock songs and having a good time doing so. Even the “best band in the world” can take the humble position of acknowledging the value others bring. Celebrating it and use it as a source of inspiration, exploring and experimenting with it, rather than agonizing competitors.

#5: Stay in the pain! Explore friction rather than avoiding it.

The Beatles spent 21 days in the studio, and at several times they seem frustrated about not making any proper progress. What came out of these 21 days, is the legendary album Let It Be. In my line of work, I like to think of the analytical process as quite a creative one. I like to invest time in exploring what’s difficult to grasp. Enduring complexity and staying in the ‘pain’ of a wicked problem to be solved, can seem hard in the moment, but dwelling on it, exploring the nuances is often worthwhile in the bigger picture.

#6: Trust is key to be playful. Playfulness is serious business!

What is clear from the footage is the great mutual respect between the quite different individuals being the Mop Tops. The trust enables them to stretch their skills and experiment! The process is not exactly planned to perfection. The songs are developed and matured through numerous rehearsals, takes and a lot of fooling around, as ways to explore the potential of the musical material. After what seems like hours of jamming, chatting and smoking cigarettes, all of a sudden, all the creative energies in the room projects into one Beatle-powerhouse, and the album version of “Let it Be” is recorded, live. Seemingly like it emerged out of clear air. A playful approach in a group of people with shared good intentions is an enabler for magic to happen.

#7: Innovation is a mess!

After watching the full 8,5 hours of creative struggles and playful song writing what I am left with is a sense of delight and relief. I am reliefed to experience, that the creative process is inevitable a mess. Even for the best song writers in the world. Once a project is done, it always seems easy to rationalise how it was done, why it was a success and which deliberate actions and decisions made it happen. But in the process of developing something new, something which the world has not yet seen, the mess cannot be avoided. The path of the creative process is anything but linear. It’s “The long and winding road” to paraphrase The Beatles themselves. Rather than being frustrated about this, for my New Years Resolution, I will embrace it. And when doing so, send a kind thought to Fab Four, who somehow got this right before any of them turned 30. They dared to explore and experiment throughout their collaboration - to the benefit of all of us listening.

“Get Back” is an 8,5 hour documentary based on 1500 hours of footage shot during 21 days in 1969. The setting of the film is limited to three locations: A big, empty film production site, the basement studio and the rooftop of the Apple Corps building (yes, the original Apple!) It can be streamed on Disney+. For instance if you find yourself isolated due to you know what…