Decisions, decisions

Footprints What do you do when you’ve started writing a letter, an article, a speech, a blog post—or begun almost anything creative—and you’re having trouble choosing between several different directions to go with it? Sound familiar?

Each direction could work, you think. But you’re stuck trying to decide which one. Well, you might try a simple technique that worked for Paul McCartney when he was trying to finish a song for The Beatles.

McCartney sometimes couldn’t decide on the lyrics for a piece of music he’d written. Should the lyrics be about X, Y, or Z? (Leaving his lover? Reuniting with his lover? Finding a new lover?) But instead of staying stuck, McCartney would immediately explore the different possibilities. He would write complete sets of lyrics for each, and then choose which one worked best.

Peter Asher—a member of the '60s pop duo, Peter & Gordon, and producer of James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt—revealed this McCartney trick to me, years after closely watching Paul write songs while they lived together at the Asher residence in London in the days of Beatlemania. (At the time Paul was dating Peter’s sister—actress Jane Asher.)

In the case of one McCartney song from the Rubber Soul album—“I’m Looking Through You” (written about Jane Asher)—Peter remembered the time McCartney had completed the melody and chords to the song, and had written most of the words. But Paul wasn’t sure where to take the lyrics in the “bridge” section. (A bridge is usually eight bars in the middle of a tune which provides a musical and lyrical contrast to the rest of the song.) But rather than stop his songwriting momentum while he was on a roll, McCartney plowed ahead and wrote two different sets of lyrics for the bridge. Afterwards he settled on the one he liked better: “Why, tell me why, did you not treat me right? Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight.”

Ok, this may not be a bombshell epiphany for you. It’s probably something you’ve done on occasion without even realizing it. But maybe now you can do it deliberately, without wasting time trying to pick what direction to take. Try both (or three or four) directions. Then decide.

In business this works great for completing that talk or slide presentation you’ve started to prepare — or that difficult conversation you’re planning to have with a colleague.

This, by the way, is how I write these blog posts when I can see them going in many possible directions. I follow each one through, then pick the best. (The next time you’re traversing parallel worlds in the Omniverse you can read another version of this same post in which I discuss how McCartney wrote “Yesterday.”)


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9 Comments

    1. The story I've heard is that he woke up one morning with this bit of doggerel in his brain

      Scrambled eggs
      How I love to eat my scrambled eggs

      He liked the melody and once the word that fit the meter of the first line came to him the song wrote itself.

  1. An interesting approach, but Isure don't like having to make so many decisions. I try to avoid flipping coins, try to focus and stay with one direction and trust it will work. Different methods for different individuals.
    :-)

  2. For someone who LOVES the analytical process of choosing the "best" solution this is a marvelous exercise for my writing.

    In Switch Chip and Dan Heath talk about a company who needed a particular technical solution but had five apparently equally qualified vendors. They asked all five for a solution for phase one of the project. It was not inexpensive, but working with all five vendors showed them a clear match with one and a serious disconnect from others who had appeared solid in theory. In the end they considered the cost of five solutions for phase one a small price for finding the perfect partner for the project.

  3. Hey, thanks to Adam at http://www.Beatlesnews.com for re-posting this. I know almost instantly when he does because my readership spikes within minutes! I'm hear to tell you the Beatles' community is alive and well.

    For those who are checking in from Beatlesnews, I post regularly about business lessons and team lessons from The Fabs. Just do a word search in the upper right box (or wherever it is on this page) on Beatles or John Lennon.

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