How To Collaborate Like The Beatles

Image Credit: Martin Wahlborg

Spring, 1967 — Abbey Road, Studio Two
There’s a semi-famous anecdote about the lyrics for “Getting Better” (track four on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album) that illustrates the power of true collaboration.

As even casual fans know, Paul’s lyrics lean towards glass-half full optimism with lines like “It’s getting better all the time,” “I’ll follow the sun,” and “We can work it out!”

Paul brought an upbeat, hopeful voice (lyrically and vocally) to the greatest selling band of all time. John, on the other hand, was the cynic.

As McCartney himself tells it: “I was sitting there doing, ‘getting better all the time’ and John just said in his laconic way, ‘It couldn’t get no worse’ and I thought, ‘Oh, brilliant!’ This is exactly why I love writing with John…It was one of the ways we’d write. I’d have the song quite mapped out and he’d come in with a counter-melody…”

Paul sang, “it’s getting better.” John sang, “it couldn’t get no worse.”

The yin and the yang. Partly sunny and partly cloudy. Collaboration at its finest.

Why is this such a powerful story, and what can we learn from it in 2015?

Image Credit: Chelsam — Getty Images

The Problem
Excellent partnerships like Lennon and McCartney require transparency, confidence and courage.

The problem is that these characteristics only follow the presence of maturity and high emotional intelligence.

Consider your workplace. Is your organization hindered by insecurity, control issues or a scarcity mindset? More specifically, what about your direct team or your boss?

These traits cripple progress and kill collaboration.

Take the information hoarding co-worker. He treats every potentially helpful bit of news as an ultra-secret Enigma worthy invasion memo.

For a few brief moments, only he has control, and he deploys his Vulcan death grip on the useful insight.

Meanwhile, the competition who actually practices transparency is racing full-steam ahead…

Notice how John shares his “it couldn’t get much worse” line with Paul immediately. Paul embraces it immediately. Together, they make a good song even better.

Collaboration is give-and-take. They’re not carping about whose idea it was or who might get credit (that came later…). They’re busy making great music.

Or, take the insecure co-worker. She lacks confidence in herself so she back-tracks and second-guesses every step of every project. The team is stifled and results suffer.

Worse, this uncertainty prevents her from admitting mistakes or accepting helpful feedback. Hardly qualities we see in good collaborators.

Imagine if Paul had turned to John and said, “No! Stop! John, this is my song. I’m in charge here. Go over there and tune your guitar. I’ll call you when I need you, but don’t hold your breath. I probably won’t need you.”

You don’t have to teach case studies at Harvard Business School to see how foolish and unproductive that would’ve been.

Of course, lack of transparency and insecurity are only compounded if the person involved is a manager.

As we’ve seen through Gallup’s ongoing workplace research, managers account for at least 70% variance in employee engagement.

Disengagement, higher turnover and billions in lost productivity are just a few of the corrosive effects of the bad manager, much less the poor collaborator.

Paul and John had the confidence–not arrogance, not entitlement–to know that while they were very good alone, they were great together.

This inner security in themselves and their abilities provided room for their collaboration to grow, expand and thrive.

Lastly, there’s courage.

True partnerships take courage from both parties. You have to risk a little (time, ideas, energy, compassion, authenticity, genuine interest) in order to gain access to the potential power of good collaboration.

Yet, some insist on taking the very uncourageous approach of giving nothing, but taking everything. Then, they wonder why things fall apart.

As Prime Minister Indira Ghandi said, “You can not shake hands with a clenched fist.”

Real courage is two open hands accepting and exchanging each other’s differences and applying them to create something better. A sum that’s greater than the individual parts.

One melody: “I’ve got to admit it’s getting better.”
One backing harmony: “It couldn’t get no worse.”
Together: The buoyant fourth track on what’s been called “the most important and influential rock album ever recorded.”

Image Credit: Chris Dorney — Getty Images

The Solution
June marks the 48th anniversary of the Beatles’ ground-breaking eighth studio album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

As we remember the incredible song-writing partnership that spawned this masterpiece, consider your approach to partnerships, especially if you’re in management.

Are your insecurites hampering your team’s results? Are you unwittingly giving your competition an edge because of your scarcity mindset?

Go to work today with a newfound sense of humility.
Open up and allow room for others’ ideas and creativity to flourish.
Have the courage to use every interaction this week to practice true servant leadership.

Your co-workers and your team won’t just thank you, they’ll begin providing superior results that accompany a truer, higher form of collaboration.

As Sir Paul McCartney might say, “Brilliant.”



Need a little jolt from Liverpool’s own? Enjoy The Beatles last live performance from the top of Apple Studios.

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