The Beatles and an emerging management theory

12/31/2008 Uncategorized

I am sure that others have used the many phases of the Beatles short history as a useful analogy for thinking about management roles and responsibilities in a creative business, but if not, this is my take on it as it relates to Utile:

To establish the terms of the analogy, let’s agree that there is a relationship between songs-individual commissions, albums-groups of similar projects, and an overall music catalogue-an architecture firm’s oeuvre.

It is well known that even though the Beatles were first represented as a unified group (same bowl haircuts and suits) and Lennon and McCartney purported to co-write the majority of the songs, by the time of St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,  Lennon and McCartney were writing their own music and then using collaborative jam sessions (crits) to provide feedback and to explore strategies for completing or elaborating on the compositions.  Some songs, like Day in a Life, are literally collages of song snippets individually penned by Lennon and McCartney.  For St. Pepper’s, songwriting was loosely organized around a narrative theme but by the time of the White Album, albums were only a compendium of the most recent song writing effort, assembled and curated by the group and George Martin to meet the market demand for an album.  Still, the relative coherence of the White Album reveals the influence and advantages of creative people working on individual projects in a single studio. For example, there are several songs by different song writers that are riffs off of a single genre (both Rocky Raccoon, the Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill are cowboy songs that were probably influenced by the New Westerns of late 60s American cinema).  For me, the slightly looser structure of the White Album, makes the music less self-consciously “important” and much more interesting as a collection of pop songs than St. Pepper’s.

The coherence of the White Album is itself evidence of the value of working together in a single studio on separate projects despite the fact that it is the self-conscious opposite of St. Pepper’s in its conception and in its art direction.  The informal chit-chat and creative tensions in the studio, the slightly more formal crits, and a kind of healthy over-the-shoulder competition was almost as valuable as the more orchestrated management of the St. Pepper’s effort by McCartney and Martin.  Clearly, the White Album was too loosey-goosy for McCartney, he tried to interject a more St. Pepper’s-like themed approach to the B side of Abbey Road with a continuous song series that begins with Because and then builds into a single song montage of McCartney song snippets. 

So what are the lessons for the horizontal management structure of Utile?  Are we more White Album than St. Pepper’s

While the answer is not completely clear, it is worth commenting that my favorite Beatle has always been George Martin and the Apple Record logo (the photograph of the whole and sliced apple in the center of LPs) is one of my top five graphic identity examples.

Next in the series: 
Outkast and an emerging management theory