Creativity and collaboration, lessons from the Beatles


I can’t help it. I look at everything through the filter of either creativity, innovation or advertising. So while watching Martin Scorcese’s new documentary about George Harrison, I found this to be one of my favorite anecdotes. Paul McCartney recalls what it was like to prepare for a recording session.

Now, keep in mind that in the 70’s most advertising agency creative teams would insist on two weeks to copy and layout. Didn’t matter whether it was a full campaign, or a single ad. The Beatles, meanwhile, could generate a song a day. On demand no less.

The second part of the story, of course, is about collaboration. John and Paul would show up a week later with their seven or eight songs, all of which were news to their band mates, and within a matter of minutes George and Ringo would be adding riffs and the backbeat, making the idea, the song, the music better.

I imagine that anyone who has ever played in a band knows that this is how it works, or should.  But I couldn’t help but be inspired by these recollections from Paul as he talked about his non-writing (at the time) partners. “They’d go ‘uh huh.’ And George would be like, ‘I can see what you’re doing. I’m one of you.’”

That is how collaboration is supposed to work. It’s the epitome of celebrating the idea instead of the person who came up with it. It’s a great great lesson for all of us working as part of a creative team in the new on demand world.  If you’re not the one who makes the idea, be the one who makes the idea better.

Decades later, The Beatles still inspire. Think I’ll go and dig out some old LPs. Oh, and if you have not seen Martin Scorcese’s new two-part documentary George Harrison: Living in a Material World, you must. It’s on HBO right now.


"If you’re not the one who makes the idea, be the one who makes the idea better."

Good advice, for sure. Back in the Beatles' day, and until fairly recently, really, I think most musicians hired for sessions were happy to make the ideas as great as possible. Sadly, no one was willing to pay them for their, sometimes, key contributions. In fact, I think this is why most bands break up, credit is not shared. U2 has lasted a long time because, mostly, they share credits, which is how it should be, I think. The musicians I know who do a lot of session work are all mostly cynical because they always go above and beyond but don't get paid for it (aside from scale or a day/hourly rate).

edwardboches moderator

@JeffShattuck Gee, what a parallel to the advertising business. Far too often the coders, project managers, production people and others play second fiddle to the "creatives." Perhaps not in good agencies that understand modern collaboration (Mullen included, I like to think) but certainly in plenty of places I've visited or where I've talked to disgruntled employees.


"Perhaps not in good agencies that understand modern collaboration..."

True, and of all the things I admire and find inspiring in your blog and work it is this, this clear, demonstrated commitment to creating the very best ideas with a team of players, not a team of all-stars (though Mullen certainly attracts A-list talent!).