Eight days a week

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA As an amateur Beatles historian I sometimes wake up in the morning wondering what the Fabs were doing on this calendar day decades ago. (Hey, we all have our quirks. At least this one doesn't require supervision.) Today I started poking around to find out what they were up to on September 17th in the years before they became the biggest band on the planet.

It turns out that there’s an amazing online resource for this, The Beatles Bible, which has chronicled where the Fabs were playing—and anything else of Beatles importance—on nearly every day of their existence! Here’s what I discovered:

    On 9/17/60 they played the Indra Club in Hamburg, Germany, the 32nd of 48 consecutive nights there. They had to perform four and a half hours each weekday night, beginning their first set at 8 pm and ending their last set at 2 am. (Longer hours on the weekend.)
    On 9/17/61 they performed at the Hambleton Hall in Liverpool, in the middle of a 33-gig month.
    On 9/17/62 they played a lunchtime concert at the Cavern Club in Liverpool—their 234th appearance there. This was also in the middle of a 33-gig month.

What jumps out from this itinerary snapshot—and the broader schedule the website displays—is that these guys were busting their hump for years! I have written about what workaholics these lads were—not exactly the cartoon stereotype of rock musicians who “love to do work at nothing all day,” as brayed by Bachman-Turner Overdrive in “Taking Care of Business.” But I hadn’t grasped the extent of it.

The Beatles’ customary routine was 30-38 performances a month, even before they charted their first tune (“Love Me Do” in October, 1962). Once they had hit records and Beatlemania took over, things got crazier—though the gig schedule decreased slightly due to increased recording sessions and TV appearances.

That they could keep up this pace over a twenty-four-month period (approximately 700 gigs) while playing for peanuts, with no record to promote them, is insane. Again, this was before the celebrity madness began in 1963 which whipped them into an even higher level of activity for many years. But in this early period they were grinding it out on their own. Overnight traveling/sleeping in a van plus setting up/breaking down equipment each night (unless they had an extended stay at a Hamburg club) was a pretty typical “day in the life.”

I still get weird looks when I tell people that business teams have much to learn from the great rock bands. The looks get weirder when I mention that business teams can learn from these bands the value of being preoccupied with, fixated by, obsessed with results. The great bands were driven. That doesn’t fit the common caricature of rockers. But it does the successful ones.

The Beatles were fanatically focused on the final prize for six years before they broke through on the international stage. According to Lennon historian Jude Southerland Kessler, Lennon was talking about being “bigger than Elvis” long before The Beatles starting calling themselves The Beatles.

And there are dozens of other top-tier bands who had the same crazed ambition and drive—and racked up the days on the road to prove it—from The Rolling Stones to U2 to Maroon 5.

While most business teams can't sustain weeks of work without a day off, bands usually don't get burned out from their intense performance schedules. This might have something to do with the fact that they love their work. It's creative, enlivening, and challenging—and in pursuit of a shared dream. (This is also true for some software teams.)

So a challenge for business leaders is: how do you recreate this phenomenon? How do you generate an environment for this in your company? The point of course isn't for team members to be working eight days a week. Folks should have a full life outside of their job or career. But wouldn't it be great if they had difficulty leaving work at the end of the day because they loved it so much?

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  1. Another thought: what could a person accomplish in ANY field if they were willing to spend 5 hours a day on it, the same thing every day, over and over and over?

    Instant gratification ain't what it used to be; takes too long these days. In the land of I-wanted-it-yesterday the folks who'll put their heads down and their backs into it will crush crush crush those looking for the shortcut.

    Artistic buddy and I chatted over drinks around the bonfire last night about what he's gonna do for work when he's my age. Apparently climbing 100' pine trees to trim them isn't as much fun as it once was.

    But like I said, he's an artist. Welds sculptures out of car parts, scrap metal, whatever he runs across. We started talking about where we overlap and what we could each bring to a partnership to create and sell some sort of utilitarian art.

    Here's what won't happen: we won't get bored. We won't need time off, or away from the project, or each other.

    What will happen is our wives will miss us terribly while we dive into the equivalent of 33 gigs a month, until it flies or fails.

    It's exciting knowing there's something like this ahead. Haven't had a spectacular failure in a long time. I must be due, but I won't get there if I'm not risking.

    1. Physically it's easier. But how many 20-year-olds do you know who display that kind of focus, discipline, and drive? And more to the point of this blog, how many BUSINESS TEAMS of 20-year-olds do you know who do this? (There are lots of complaints about unfocused millennials in the workplace these days.)

      But of course there are exceptions—and hi-tech is one place that's full of those exceptions. Why? Because the work there is often highly creative, workers are given a ton of freedom, and they have big hairy audacious goals to propel them. Lots of other reasons too, but just focusing on those three things for starters can transform business teams in ANY industry. I speak from experience on this one. :-)

    2. That's what I was thinking: how many kids that age are willing to do that?

      If I needed someone I could trust to hang in there far too long, it'd be someone with enough life experience to have a work ethic, and the patience to stick it out when things were less exciting than imagined.

  2. Creativity needs a drive and success, which The Beatles could only cash by performing and it was their 'daily bread' also. The contact between the group and its audience was important so was the booming economic situation of the early sixties. Age has nothing to do with it, looking at 73 years old Bob Dylan, who is still on the road. Just for the money? It is the drive...

      1. I always called it "finding why." If you know where you're going, and why you're going there, and it continues to matter, you'll continue to show up.

        We make time and energy for what matters — unless we slip into the doldrums of default settings, going through the motions.

        A clear goal and the reasons behind it make that less likely.

        1. Yeah, I think of the purpose (mission) as the place to start with a team. Then I'll ask about the measurable goals that are consistent with that purpose, preferably big & hairy ones. (Come to think of it, I don't encounter many small and bald ones.). The bigger the game the better IMHO.

  3. i detect a pattern here ... you seem to favor the 60's and 70's bands and the contemporary bands but not much in between. did you take a long nap?

    1. Good catch. Loved the rock of the 60s and 70s (and even the 50s). The rock of the 80s numbed me out. Hair metal, etc. (Also the 80s were personally my “lost years.”) After a 15-year snooze I started listening again—to myself and to the music around me. I’m suddenly enjoying a lot of stuff that's out now, mostly bands who formed since the late 90s. Go Millennials.

      1. Hair metal. Blech.

        On the other hand, Lyle Lovett's career started in the 80s. Saw him live last month and it was glorious. Steve Earle started in the 80s, too.

        I've always thought of Squeeze as an 80s band. Jools still awes me.

        Crowded House and both of the Finn brothers (brothers in bands; there's a business lesson, eh?)

        REM, I think, changed the shape of the music we listen to today. "Fables of the Reconstruction" gave me permission to mix folks, blues, rock, and country into my rock songs.

        And then there was this guitar player from Texas . . .

        I skipped the latter half of the 70s, mostly, but the 80s gave me a boatload of stuff I don't want to live without.

        Just not sure how many of them are business lesson worthy.

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