Begin with the end in mind

Fifty years ago this week The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” hit #1 in America. It marked the beginning of the end of the Old Order.

To some (including my Latin teacher at the time) it foretold the fall of Western Civilization. To others (including me) it foretold the resurrection of rock & roll—and the obliteration of the pop pablum and banal blandness that AM radio (and what else?) had been serving up to us. Suffice it to say, popular music—and culture—would never be the same.

Hyperbole? Check out here how The Beatles bulldozed the musical landscape, including the traditional Hit Parade, curtailing the careers of many middle-of-the-road crooners, surfers, and novelty songsters.

In Britain The Beatles had already scored four #1 rock & roll hits in 1963, but it was January ‘64 when the Fabs broke through on the US charts and became a global phenomenon. By April they occupied the top five slots on the Billboard Hot 100—an unprecedented accomplishment—displacing far fluffier fare!

I often use The Beatles to illustrate many of the “success traits” that top-tier rock bands share with the best business teams, but let me focus on one here. The Beatles were driven, with a monomaniacal focus on the end goal: being the biggest band in the world. They were going to make an impact. Their motto was “to the toppermost of the poppermost”—or "being bigger than Elvis.” (In business-speak we’d say they had an “action orientation” and a “results bias”!) They obviously enjoyed the ride as it unfolded, but their focus was always on the final prize. And they were in perpetual motion to achieve it.

I was reminded of this when I came across a schedule of gigs they did in their early years. Before they arrived in America in 1964 they often did 30 performances a month. (When they played Hamburg, Germany, in 1960-61, those nightly gigs often consisted of six or more sets per night.) They were workaholic before there was a word for it. And Brian Epstein, once he took over management of the band at the start of 1962, pushed them even harder.

Example: On January 16, 1964, when The Beatles received news that they had their first #1 in America, it occurred after the first night of an eighteen-day run at the Olympia Theatre in Paris, in which they performed two to three sets per day—including a matinee and evening show.

When Brian Epstein read the boys a telegram from Capitol Records announcing the achievement (in advance of the Beatles trip to the US in February), the boys were uncharacteristically quiet. Nobody said a word. Perhaps they were stunned by the realization that their goal, for the first time, was within reach?

Ironically, after they had their first US hit, although they maintained a grueling touring schedule, they rarely performed more than one set per night, so by their standards they had started to coast. John Lennon would later say that at the time The Beatles arrived in America their act was so polished they were no longer the killer live rock band they had been for years. But by then these four moptops were already on their way to writing and producing the best records in the history of popular music. Their results obsession would serve them well in the recording studio (where producer George Martin marveled at their drive and tenacity), finally making them "bigger than Elvis"—and any other pop music act before or since.

Stephen R. Covey once said, “Begin with the end in mind.” Know your objective from the start. That's something every business team should practice.

But that line may also mean something that Covey did not intend. Begin with the end of WHAT in mind? The Beatles (and many rock bands that followed) understood what they wanted to end—as in destroy. Any business team with a game-changing product or service should know what it wants to terminate. That’s what disruptive innovation does. And the bigger the innovation, the bigger the destruction.

In the next month I’ll be interviewing biographer Jude Southerland Kessler who is about to release her third volume on John Lennon’s life, She Loves You, which will be covering this period, fifty years ago, when the Fabs took the States (and the world) by storm. An apt metaphor.

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  1. Love love love that twist (and shout) on "the end of what?"

    My "end" is to prove that with persistent hard work (among other things) a writer can make a living writing, without getting permission from anybody (except, of course, their readers.)

    If I can play a role in the end of traditional publishing as we know it, the "art" industry which measures only money, leaving room for something new and better, h'ray for me.

    But if all I do is get these 20+ books out of my head and into the hands of readers over the next 5 year, h'ray for that, too.

    I really need to get Jude's books.

  2. Fine article John Speaking of the Beatles, Last night I watched PBS's American Experience about 1964. One of the most interesting segments was live footage from when the Beatles visited Cassius Clay(Mohammed Ali) at his training camp before the Sonny Liston fight. Mohammed Ali was also a gifted artist/athlete who know how to keep his eyes on the prize
    still photos here
    and video here

  3. Joel, Jude's new book should be out within a month.

    Melody, I loved the pix and clip of CC/MA, one of my favorites. You can tell he loved Little Richard. That's where he got some of that bravado rap. Btw, the Beatles were going to do a photo session with Sonny Liston, but Liston said, "I'm not posing with those sissies." In early 1964 no one thought that 50 years later Muhammad Ali would be considered one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time. And few thought the Beatles would make a lasting dent in pop music.

    1. John, I also watched American Experience: 1964. They talked about the Sonny Liston incident and how the Beatles were then taken to meet with CC instead. CC was agreeable and clowned around with them for the cameras. But after the photo op was finished and the Beatles left, CC reportedly said "Who were those sissies?".

  4. Destruction as collateral damage of a goal. Makes ya think. Graham is always deleting man hours of work as he streamlines and automates processes. For so many people who are overworked the return of a few hrs. is wonderful. On the flip side there are the lost jobs ... a damage that grows as the pool of folk without a viable skill increases and the easy jobs are automated.

    Great teams are surely motivated, but I wouldn't want everyone to feel the need to be a workaholic. (Parents need time to read to their kids.) I'm sure there needed to be quiet time even in the work life of the Beatles for the creative process to flow ----> for Norwegian Wood to be written. Nice article John.

    1. Thoughtful comments per usual, Gerri. I see destruction as frequently the goal, not just collateral damage. If you want to see the total elimination of something, that to me is destruction (with a little emotion added to it). For instance, Joel (above) wants to see the destruction of the mainstream publishing industry as it’s currently configured. If I may put words in his mouth, he also wants to see something constructed in its place—a flourishing self-publishing industry. That would displace many folks in the old industry but those folks could create new jobs in the new industry, by contracting themselves out to self-publishing authors. (It’s already happening.)

      Regarding the larger subject of technology eliminating jobs, that’s a topic we’ll all have to wrap our brains around in the coming decade. Most of the jobs that tech destroys are not creative, meaningful ones. Of course the economic insecurity of those displaced workers is a serious concern, which is why we need a far more robust safety net than the one that is currently under attack in the US. But I’d hate to see us protecting jobs that just aren’t needed. The ongoing challenge will be to find new work that is creative and meaningful and provides value for others.

      Successful teams and individuals don’t need to be workaholic in any clinical sense of the word, but the best ones ARE laser-focused on results. Many have what author Jim Collins calls “big hairy audacious goals.” And there are those who are hypomanic, whom others might label "obsessed." See my earlier post on that. If you LOVE what you do, if you feel like you’re PLAYING when you’re working, if your work is making a difference for others, you’re not likely to mind how much time you’re putting in. But, yes, downtime is part of the creative process.

      1. Word my mouth all ya want.

        It's a continuum, I think: some creators don't care if The New Thing exists alongside the old. Some actively create in order to destroy the old. Most fall between.

        For me, it's about "Why are we doing something in a way that no longer works?" In art, it's great when Coltrane and Dizzy go beyond Trumbauer and Bix, but it doesn't mean the old has to die. Trad jazz and ragtime are as marvelous today as they were 100 years ago.

        But sometimes, the new requires the space currently occupied by the old. Or the old is so staunchly opposed to the new that there can be no "new" until the old is toppled.

        Every entrepreneur must answer in their marketing and elsewhere, "Am I for something, or against something?"

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