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 / Spring 2006 / Issue 42(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Beatles Principles

“With a Little Help from My Friends”
The Beatles’ early success was driven mostly by Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting prowess, but the pair quickly had to accommodate what turned out to be four star personalities in their own right. The band used a number of strategies to manage these tensions. For example, drummers always feel underappreciated in rock groups, and Ringo Starr was no exception. So Lennon and McCartney would write a song for him to sing on almost every album (e.g., “With a Little Help from My Friends” on Sgt. Pepper), giving him a special platform with the public. As George Harrison’s compositional talents developed, the other members of the group began ceding song tracks to him. Famous Harrison songs include “Here Comes the Sun” and “Something” on the Abbey Road album.

As the Beatles matured as a team, they worked even harder to recognize and embrace each player. It worked: The individual Beatles became brands within the brand.

Keeping stars together is not easy, and younger professionals, especially, often feel underappreciated on teams. It’s great to feel part of a whole, but in the end everyone needs a sense of personal importance as well. Why not give team members a project that makes them look good in their own right?  

Beatles Principle Number 3: Help team members become brands-within-a-brand by giving them a song — an idea or proposal — that will help them to shine.

“I Need You”
Research shows that most managers hire individuals who are like themselves, in effect assembling homogeneous teams in their own image. The most successful songwriting duo in history, in contrast, was composed of two individuals — John Lennon and Paul McCartney — who were dissimilar in almost every respect. When they first met, in July 1957, Lennon was a cynical, angry, sarcastic young man of 16 who was constantly getting into trouble. Ultimately, he came to loathe the Beatles’ fame. McCartney, on the other hand, was optimistic and hardworking. He liked to please, and would later adore celebrity. Despite their differences, they were drawn together by a shared love of American rock and roll and their powerful musical ambitions.

As McCartney would sing, “I’ve got to admit it’s getting better,” Lennon would chime in with a dour counterpoint, “Can’t get much worse.” They complemented each other’s musical ideas, and pushed each other to come up with better songs. They balanced each other’s temperaments, and each curtailed the other’s excesses. Lennon’s lyrics made you think, while McCartney’s haunting melodies could send a tingle up your spine.

The Beatles showed that differences and friendly competition fuel team creativity. So does a blend of specialist and generalist abilities. McCartney and Lennon were the deep generalists of the band. Each had broad musical and artistic talents — both could play a range of instruments, compose music, and write varied lyrics — and this breadth fueled many of the Beatles’ innovations. George Harrison and Ringo Starr, in contrast, were the branded experts. Harrison played lead guitar and Starr played drums, and they stuck to their knitting. As a result, the lead guitar solos grew ever more inventive, melodic, and moving. Starr developed a highly idiosyncratic and recognizable drumming style.

The art of creating effective teams lies in how you blend together branded experts and deep generalists. Unfortunately, many corporate teams are overloaded with specialists who fail to put their products and services into the broader business context of their customer’s or client’s needs — they save the leg but let the patient die. The harder person to develop is the deep generalist. That takes a mix of careful hiring, creative career management, and broad-based skill development. Sprinkle your teams of branded experts with a few deep generalists, and the result will be powerful. 

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