Be The Beatles Not The Flock Of Seagulls

Two bands, both heralding from Liverpool. Each with a unique look, hip contemporary sound and significant initial success. So what happened?

Why did The Flock crash soon after their initial hit while the Beatles's career has spanned nearly 35-years, including a number one CD ("Love") as recently as 2007. Is this dichotomy merely an issue of the two group's relative musical talent or are their lessons to be learned for an entrepreneur on The Fringe?

We Can Work It Out

The Beatles formed a Core Team (see "The Tribe") that underscores all of the key attributes that must be present in order for your Core Team to function at its peak.

The key characteristics of a successful Core Team include:

  • Creative and flexible drive to win at all costs
  • Balanced and complimentary talents
  • Friendly rivalry
  • Mutual respect
  • Shared worldview
  • Shared vision
  • Constructive internal dissent - external cohesion
  • Strong supporting cast

Let's look at how each one of these characteristics played a key role in the Beatles' phenomenal success.

Creative and Flexible Drive to Win at All Costs

Although John later liked to complain and blame Paul for forcing him to give up his leather attire from the band's early days, the reality is that each member of the Beatles was happy to take Brian Epstein's advice and don a suit. They realized that they had to conform to the reality of the day in order to 'make it' in the music world. It was not until their success was firmly established that the Beatles began changing conventions with their hairstyle, clothing, etc.

When you initially launch your adVenture, you must conform to the realities of the market, your investors' expectations, etc. and 'dress' your startup to best ensure its success. Once you have garnered some market success, you can be less concerned with conforming to others' reality and start creating a reality of your own making.

Balanced and Complimentary Talents

Music historians agree that one of the Beatles' greatest strengths was the manner in which their respective talents were balanced and served to motivate each member to greater heights. Much has been written regarding Lennon's penchant for witty wordplay and McCartney's ability to create catchy musical hooks and melodies. In its most extreme forms, compare Paul's 'Yesterday' with John's 'Revolution #9' to understand how they stretched each other in varying musical directions.

In addition, George brought a distinctive guitar style and a musical and spiritual curiosity that caused the Beatles to explore a variety of musical genres which ultimately led to the introduction of "World beat" music to the masses. Ringo further balanced the team by playing the role of the 'Average Joe' - the member in the group with whom everyone could relate. He was also a highly talented, yet understated drummer.

One of the most important aspects of a Core Team is that there be a balance among the capabilities and proclivities of the members. A team of engineers is doomed to failure, as is a team comprised solely of sales and marketing executives. In order to be successful, the sales oriented team members need to pull the technical team members in the direction of the market's needs to ensure that your adVenture creates real solutions that go beyond the engineer's desire to build something with a high 'cool' factor. Conversely, engineers must balance the company's marketing messages and sales promises with a clear communication of what the company can deliver.

Friendly Rivalry

John and Paul often remarked that the overall high-quality of the band's output continually inspired them to 'top' their partner's latest song. They both fought hard to garner the 'A-side' of each single, although they did not, until the twilight of their career as a group, allow this rivalry to reduce the cohesion of the group. George was also spurred on by this friendly rivalry, as he too worked hard to create songs which compared favorably with Lennon and McCartney's output.

A quick look at the Beatles' uneven solo work provides a clear illustration of how the quality of their songs suffered without the intense, but friendly rivalry of trying to outdo each other. Their rivalry was so intense that it never completely went away. For instance, in some of his final interviews during the Fall of 1980, John admitted that Paul's " McCartney II" album inspired him to return to the studio - showing Paul he could do better.

A bit of constructive competition, as long as the end-goals of the company are kept firmly in sight, is not a bad thing. As a leader within your Core Team, you must encourage a healthy internal rivalry among your team members, while modulating such competition so that it does not lead to dysfunction within your team.

Mutual Respect

During the Beatles' breakup and subsequently thereafter, the band members were quite vocal regarding their lack of respect for each other. In fact, this loss of mutual respect is one of the reasons for the band's demise.

In contrast, during the vast majority of the band's career, each member went out of their way to publicly compliment the work of the other members. Even George earned Paul's respect with such songs as "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun" on their final album, "Abbey Road".

At your startup, you must foster and encourage mutual respect among your Core Team. Such mutual respect is the glue that will bind your team and facilitate vigorous, healthy debates that will not tear your group apart.

Shared Worldview

During the early 1960's, American music sucked. Buddy Holly was dead. Jerry Lee Lewis' career was over due to an incestuous marriage to his under-aged cousin. Elvis was in the Army and Little Richard had found religion. Ray Charles was singing gospel and Chuck Berry was in prison. The charts were filled with sappy, sanitized music by the likes of Deon, Fabian, and Ricky Nelson.

The Beatles shared the worldview that American music from the 1950's was superior to the contemporary early 1960's dribble which was popular when they started their careers. Thus, the Beatles acted upon this shared worldview by emulating the American music of the prior decade and morphing it into something new by re-orchestrating the songs as a four-piece band with three-part harmonies.

A shared worldview and shared vision are the cornerstones to establishing an effective strategic plan. If your Core Team does not see the market ecosystem in the same way or if there is disagreement regarding the company's ultimate vision, your team's cohesiveness will be compromised. A lack of cohesion will almost guarantee your company's failure.

As a Core Team leader, your job is to ensure that this cohesion remains in place, even as your adVenture shifts focus and the market ecosystem morphs over time. If a member of your Core Team refuses to conform to the group's worldview or vision, you should help them find a new home in which they will be more in-sync with their fellow executives.

Shared Vision

The Beatles also shared a common vision, even when they were just four spotty faced kids from Liverpool. John would ask them, "Where are we going lads?" to which Paul, George and later Ringo would reply, "To the toppermost of the poppermost". Their goal was huge and beyond naive. They wanted to become 'bigger than Elvis'. Even more audacious than this goal is the fact that they pulled it off.

Although the Beatles had an outlandishly grand plan, they took a very pragmatic and incremental approach to becoming 'bigger than Elvis'. As John Lennon often articulated, "First we became the biggest band in Liverpool. Then the biggest band in Northern England. Then we conquered London, Europe and eventually America."

Without realizing it, the Beatles followed the business axiom 'inch by inch it's a synch'. Maintain the same balance within your adVenture. Create an audacious vision, guided by a detailed road-map of the near-term steps required to reach the next milestone. Do not lose sight of your ultimate goal (e.g., IPO, M&A transaction, etc.) while at the same time remain focused on executing the steps that will get you to the next milestone in your journey.

Constructive Internal Dissent - External Cohesion

Just like the breakdown in their mutual respect preceding and immediately following their breakup, the Beatles also exhibited a tremendous amount of external dissent during the twilight of their career.

However, for the majority of their tenure as a group, the Beatles were a united front in which they staunchly supported each other in public. Behind closed doors, and especially in the studio, they each fought hard for the inclusion of the musical and lyrical elements about which they felt most passionate. Yet they did not allow this healthy internal debate to become fodder for the tabloids.

Foster the same culture at your adVenture. To the external world (including employees at your company who are not part of the Core Team), the Core Team should consistently communicate external cohesion. External dissent will fracture the team, confuse the other members of your startup and eventually lead to the creation of 'us vs. them' factions which will expend energy battling each other, rather than working together to solve the challenges poised by the market.

Strong Supporting Cast

The Beatles were fortunate to have the support of a creative and driven manager, as well as a highly talented and innovative producer. Without these individuals supporting and augmenting the Beatles' efforts, it is quit e possible the group might have never made it beyond the local Liverpool bar scene.

Your Core Team cannot flourish in isolation either. You must develop a strong supporting cast of VPs, Directors and others at your adVenture who can execute the directives decided upon by the Core Team. In order to develop such 'bench strength', you must be comfortable giving these lieutenants enough latitude so they can fail and not feel that they will be admonished or cast aside. Develop a culture in which failure is a badge of courage worn by those in your organization who are working hard to make a difference. Everyone at your adVenture should internalize the slightly trite, but highly relevant adage: "The only people who never fail are the folks who do nothing."

What About Talent?

You may be thinking, "This Core Team concept is rubbish. The Beatles had a ton of talent and The Flock didn't. That is why The Beatles are in the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame and The Flock are relegated to the occasional appearance on VH-1's 'One Hit Wonders' countdown."

Yes. I concede this important point. Talent certainly played a major role in the Beatles' ongoing success. Thank-you, Captain Obvious. However, lots and lots of talented musicians never 'make it'.

One factor, other than talent, that distinguished The Flock and The Beatles was the characteristics of their respective Core Team members. The Beatles' encompassed the traits found in successful teams of all kinds. In contrast, The Flock's Core Team was weak, which resulted in their career taking on the trajectory of a bottle rocket.

Ents on The Fringe understand the importance of augmenting their chances of success by pulling together a solid Core Team. One way to devise a winning Core Team is to emulate the characteristics of a successful team that you admire. Which team would you rather be on? The Beatles or The Flock?

Dream Team Exercise

Identify a successful team that you admire. Select a team from sports, entertainment, fiction, politics, etc. Maybe your ideal team is the 1927 New York Yankees, which included six eventual Hall of Fame players, including Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig. The '27 Yankees outscored their opponents by a record 376 runs. Maybe your ideal team is Abbott and Costello, The Justice League, The Marx Brothers, The Fellowship of the Ring or The Scooby Doo Mystery Team.

Write down five factors that you feel contributed the most to the Dream Team's success.

After you identify the five factors that you think were integral to your Dream Team's success, compare your list with the following key characteristics of a great core team. How many of your factors overlap with those listed below?

  • Creative and flexible drive to win at all costs
  • Balanced and complimentary talents
  • Friendly rivalry
  • Mutual respect
  • Shared worldview
  • Shared vision
  • Constructive internal dissent - external cohesion
  • Strong supporting cast

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