Three weeks ago I caught Tom Peter's talk at Quinnipiac U in Connecticut, then attended a weekend Beatles fan fest in New Jersey (to interview Beatles' colleagues for my book). I soon realized it was the same message at both events.
Tom: "Be different." "Hang out with freaks." "The Peters Principles include… creativity, imagination, vitality, joy, surprise, independence, spirit."
Norman Smith (original Beatles recording engineer): "I'd seen a few long-haired groups, a few weirdos, but nothing like the Beatles. They were unique. Their hair. Their sense of humor."
Terry Sylvester (fellow musician at the Cavern Club and later member of the Hollies): "We were all wearing gold lame suits while the Beatles were wearing leather jackets."
Larry Kane (author of Ticket to Ride and Lennon Revealed): "The band's music was liberating, along with their dress and style. [It had an] ageless vitality."
When I pressed Norman—author of the just-released John Lennon Called Me Normal—to tell me what the Beatles' secret sauce was, he shot back:
They were different!
When they first auditioned for us I wasn't that impressed with their sound—they had cheap, noisy equipment—but they had such personality, such originality, such wit.
They were really something special. I told [producer] George Martin they should be signed.
As other musicians, writers, and photographers kept reminding me over the weekend (and as critics have been saying for decades) the Beatles became the most boldly imaginative force in the history of pop culture.
If the choice is—as Tom Peters likes to say—"innovate or die," the Beatles made that choice forty-five years ago. The moment of truth came when George Martin asked them to record a sugar-coated formulaic pop song, "How Do You Do It" (later recorded by Gerry & the Pacemakers) because he knew it was a sure hit.
The Beatles' response: "We can do better with one of ours." And they delivered.
Once they recorded "Please Please Me"—an adrenalin-fueled raw-but-melodic rock & roll tune written by John, which became their first #1 hit in England—the lads were on their way.
Judging by the thousands of fans of every demographic who converged on the Beatles' fest, the band's popularity does not appear to be waning. And this is thirty-seven years after they decided to break up—while still at their peak—to pursue new careers individually! That's "creative destruction" at its best—something that applies well to the Creative Economy of today.