It was forty years years ago today.

On September 26, 1969 The Beatles released their much-heralded Abbey Road album, which captured their final recording session together (though earlier recordings were later released on Let It Be).

Whoda' thunk The Beatles would still dominate the music news four decades later?

Two weeks ago their video game "The Beatles: Rock Band" was released to much hoopla and frenzied demand the same day that their digitally re-mastered catalog hit the street, propelling them onto the record charts (yawn) again.

The following week five of the ten best-selling albums in the US were Beatles albums. (I thought I was having an acid flashback to April 1964 when they had the top five singles in the Billboard Hot 100.)

How is it possible that every product release by The Beatles—even the Love soundtrack from Cirque du Soleil a few years back—can crash the party, gobble market share, and grab headlines? Is it because The Beatles were that good or because the contemporary competition is that weak? (Try both.)

Of course the Beatles' breakthrough success was catalyzed by larger, synchronous forces of culture and commerce (a topic for another day)—along with the serendipity of finding the nearly perfect manager and record producer to suit their needs.

But as previously argued on these cyber-pages, this small business team in 1962 had much going for it even before the adults took over management of the operation.

In their pre-Brian Epstein days they were outlandishly innovative in look and sound when no one talked about innovation. They were passionate, if not ebullient, in their self-expression, bringing an infectious fun to their performance.

They had personality, individuality, and identity well before they sported the bangs, boots, and suits. And they had a preposterous dream (to be "bigger than Elvis") which they were fanatically driven to achieve.

So why in 2009 are small business teams not studying this commercial phenomenon and copying what works?

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  1. Muscians surely study and try to replicate the Beatles. But the business world, at least until recently, apparently didn't see the connection.

    One company that does get the power of music is BLIZZARD (WOW). Their "Blizzcon - Con for the Community" is a massive SELL OUT event. Gamers and music are intertwined. Blizzard makes new product announcements at these events and the crowd has the type of energy we once saw at a Beatles concert.

    Now that is going to be a more difficult task for an insurance agency, but ... there's always the duck.

  2. Actually, I don't think enough musicians and songwriters DO study or try to replicate the Beatles. If they did we wouldn't be listening to such unimaginative schlock on the radio.

    But my complaint is that teams and organizations of ALL stripes could learn something from them - regarding innovation, passion, etc.

    I must admit I'm not too tapped into the gamer world. I know a little more about the insurance industry where the duck is doing well the last time I checked. 10 years of VERY innovative branding has certainly paid off. BusinessWeek recently chose Aflac as one of the best companies to join to launch your career.

  3. John – I always love your posts about The Beatles and the 60’s rock scene. Every time I read your words about this era I get a lovely warm feeling.

    As you know I was born in 1952 here in England and was 11 years old as The Beatles first hit the headlines from nowhere in 1963. Even at those tender years I recall feeling that something really special was happening despite the fact we didn’t have the many communication methods we have today.

    I vividly recall sitting at home with Mom and Dad watching our black and white TV showing newsreel pictures of The Beatles leaving Heathrow with thousands of screaming fans waving them off and arriving back to equally large crowds after US tours. I recall my late beloved Dad saying they were a bunch of ‘no talent long haired scruffs.’

    Despite Dad’s criticisms it all felt very special to an 11 year old. Of course I had no comprehension (did anyone?) that over 40 years later I would still have those brilliant feelings as here in 2009 I see people all over the world still referring to the Fab Four as ground breaking pop icons and legends. As an example my daughter who is 29 and not born until 1980 adores The Beatles music.

    As regards applying the learning in business about having a big glorious dream and pursuing it – that is indeed great advice John. I am as mystified as you are why more people in business don’t learn from The Beatles story and indeed their peers in the rock business.

    Maybe everyone is just waiting for that O’Leary best seller to hit the streets …..

    John – Thanks my friend for forcing me to reflect on this wonderful Sunday …my favourite day of the week.

  4. Thanks, Trevor! That "lovely warm feeling" you get when I mention the 60s probably has more to do with your habits at the time than my writing, but I'll accept the compliment. (I just don't want my clients to expect lovely warm feelings.)

    I forget - did you ever catch the 4 lads live? My never seeing the band in person rates high on my regretometer. Not surprisingly when the Beatles broke through I didn't personally know ANYONE over the age of 30 who didn't initially treat them with contempt. It's hard to explain to folks NOW how culturally threatening they were.

    You should turn your daughter onto my blog. (Is she single?) I need a younger demographic. :-)

    Congratulations on your 1000th post on I predict, given my blogging productivity, that you'll hit 2000 before I hit 100.

  5. Sadly John I never saw the boys live. I did see The Swinging Blue Jeans (remember Hippy Hippy Shake?) live and I remember the notes in the programme that said "The SBJ are regarded as a better live band than The Beatles!" - Certainly my memories are they were absolutely fabulous!

    My daughter is married with 2 fabulous sons - my grandchildren Sebastian and Reece. She is not into Blogging John but definitely into 60's music!

    At 11 I was definitely not into strange substances ... maybe at 16 ... But nothing too strange ... mainly Engish beer!

  6. I met one of the Swinging Blue Jeans, Terry Sylvester (who later joined the Hollies), who played at the Cavern Club in the Beatle days. He was struck by their distinct look even before they got cleaned up by Brian Epstein. He said that when most bands were wearing gold lame suits the Beatles were wearing leather jackets.

  7. No surprise the Beatles are still kicking ass. Who can compete with that level of creativity?

    So why aren't teams in business studying the Beatles? Maybe because they think that what works for musical entertainment doesn't translate to the shop floor or the call center. - mm

  8. mm, I think you're right that people don't make the connection. But of course being (1) innovative, (2) passionate (or at least engaged), (3) identity/brand focused, and (4) result driven are as critical for a product development team or customer service team as for a rock & roll band.

  9. Agree in general with your points - including the fact that larger forces played a role in their success (like the Kennedy assassination which left Americans dispirited at the end of 1963 - which the Beatles music was the perfect antidote for).

    But were the Beatles that innovative in their Hamburg days? I read that they just played cover tunes all night - the same songs every other band played.

  10. Mike, the Beatles had a combined look & sound that stood out from the pack even in December, 1960 when they returned to Liverpool after their first Hamburg trip. They were doing many of the same 1950s rock songs as other bands but the Beatles sounded edgier, louder, and harder - with Paul's bass cranked up and Pete Best hitting all 4's on the bass drum. (Pete's contribution has always been undervalued.) Their menacing look - with the long hair (not "Beatle bangs" yet) and leather jackets - was a fright to the older folks but an attractor to the teens who of course when nuts for them. As biographer Bob Spitz said, "Their shows took on an excitement that bordered on anarchy." And this was one year BEFORE Brian Epstein entered the picture and almost 2 years before their first single. They understood the importance of brand identity right away, even though that identity certainly evolved into something more palatable to the masses over the next two years. Ironically, by the times the Beatles hit the world stage in 1964 they had already peaked as a live show, which John Lennon always regretted. He used to say the best days of the band were over by the time they hit the US. (Of course he was talking about live performance because their songwriting and recordings only got better over time.)

  11. One more thing, Mike...Your mention of the JFK assassination reminded me that a news story on the Beatles on November 22, 1963 was preempted by the assassination. There's quite a hot debate about which TV network aired the first news coverage on the Beatles. Of course Ed Sullivan got them live in February 1964, but apparently Edwin Newman on NBC's Huntley-Brinkley Report on November 18, 1963 ran the first film of them. I think that was the one I saw - watching from my crib of course.

  12. Yeah, it was a great album. I was a little disappointed with it at the time, given the ridiculously high standards I held the Beatles to, but in retrospect the medley of Lennon-McCartney song fragments was a nice innovative touch and George Harrison contributed two good songs. I loved "Here Comes the Sun" because the melody was a lift from Buddy Holly's "Maybe Baby" - one of my favorite songs as a kid.

  13. "So why in 2009 are small business teams NOT studying this commercial phenomenon and copying what works?"

    Many of us just simply don't make the connection between artistic ventures and business ones. They seem like completely opposite tracks. But, of course, someone like you, having been involved with both can see the obvious similarities. This is when a "guru" arrives. :-)

    One other thing, I think that which you have been outlining here in relation to business and rock are for much more than small business teams. Perhaps within a larger company sets of small teams can affect the whole over time.

    Looking forward to the book, John, and I love the video you posted here.

  14. Thanks, as usual, Judith. Inasmuch as large companies are made up of mostly small teams, transforming those teams can in theory transform the company, which is what I will outline in my book. Of course the size of these "small teams" can very. For instance, Google likes teams the size of two or three! Most companies seem comfortable with work teams of up to a dozen.

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