Why John Lennon’s message is better than you think

John Lennon beatles

Drawings by Ayd Instone

John Lennon’s and the Beatles’ music comes from a time when music seemed to actually matter. Their influence on music, art and youth culture is well documented. But what of the other angle, Lennon’s so-called ‘message’ about peace and love?

Some bores have criticised Lennon’s simplicity in his message. What did they want? A doctoral thesis? Essays on psychology? Those things exist, but who reads them, who remembers them and who acts on them? No-one.

Overplayed and overused, 1971’s Imagine is not quite what people think it is. The message isn’t a banal hollow hippy one. It doesn’t make empty promises. It doesn’t dictate a solution. It just asks the listener to imagine a different world. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing to criticise there. It’s just a simple a mind game that we should all be able to play unless we have become dangerous creatures that lack the imagination to wonder ‘what if?’. Imagine is a creativity workout song.

Two years earlier Lennon recorded the improvised Give Peace a Chance. Again it’s criticised for its simplicity. The message is in just one line, “All we are saying, is give peace a chance”‘. That’s all he was saying. Again, he wasn’t offering solutions to the world’s complex problems. He knew there were people better equipped to work those solutions out (“we’d all love to see the plan”). All he was saying was to give peace a chance, not to overlook it or rush in and miss the opportunity for it. “You may say I’m a dreamer” he sings in Imagine. But in fact he was an imaginative realist too who knew the limitations of our society and of himself, even when, for a brief time he was one of the most powerful cultural figures on Earth.

Lennon’s approach to revolution was different from many rebels. He wasn’t wanting to usurp the current leaders and take over. He wasn’t insular, speaking only to a select few. He was instead sending out messages to everyone, all the people and the leaders, to instil a sense of doing a better job of getting along with each other.

The Beatles All You Need is Love is another so-called ‘peace and love’ song that is criticised for its simplicity. It was performed and recorded live in the first global satellite broadcast in 1967 to 500 million viewers. Why not use the opportunity to send a simple message that almost everyone could understand? Again the critics have missed the point. Lennon wasn’t necessarily saying that all you need is love, that you don’t need anything else (like food and water for example). He was saying that you have everything you need and now, the one thing you are lacking, is love.

The fact that people are still talking abut Lennon’s ‘peace and love bed-in’ 41 years after the event (even if it’s to moan about how simple and rubbish the idea was) shows what a great publicity stunt it was. In fact, in terms of peace protest (or guerilla marketing awareness campaign as they are now called) you’d be hard pushed to top it. Lennon’s simple idea of staying in bed for the week and inviting the world’s press to come and chat is second only to Ghandi in memorability and cultural resonance (whether you agree with the methods or results or not).

We’re still talking about him 30 years after his death. We notice and mark his 70th birthday.  Lennon isn’t going away anytime soon and possibly never will. In many ways the myth gets stronger as time passes. Lennon is the most recent god elected to the pantheon alongside Shakespeare and Mozart. It doesn’t even matter what you and I think.

It doesn’t matter whether you love the Beatles or not (although if you don’t you may be in the minority). As a cultural phenomenon they are here forever and as long as our civilisation endures, they will be listened to, referred to and talked about.

Making the complex appear simple is not easy, it is an art in itself. Taking complex psychology or a meaningful message to motivate, inspire or engage and packaging it up in a medium such as a song that can transcend barriers of time and space is the work of a creative genius. We should all aspire to being that simple.

Creativity and the Beatles

This is an extract from my forthcoming book, Creativity and the Beatles.

Read more here.

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Where it’s @

Ayd Instone PSA award

It says "For his outstanding contributions to the PSA"

There’s one thing I hate about the annual Professional Speakers Association Convention: lunchtime on Sunday.

We’d all been locked in the hotel together, around 100 professional speakers, since Friday morning, having seen nine speakers present from the main stage, attended 6 workshops, had two dinners, lunches and breakfasts, three hour panel session, lots of networking coffee breaks, a multitude of catch up chats, numerous laughs and far too many late night/early hours of the morning ridiculously silly joint ventures planned. So for it all to come to what seems like an abrupt end come Sunday lunchtime is a jolt to the system.

The cure for that deflated feeling is what I’ve been doing now. Getting out my notes and once again getting excited about what I’ve seen, heard and learnt and most importantly what I’m going to do differently to benefit my own business. The main part of my review of being at such an event is to look at who I’m now going to contact and connect with, to thank them, to further some conversations and to discuss ideas with.

Is it a bit flippant to say it was the best PSA Convention I’ve been to? (I’ve been to the last 6). Objectively I think perhaps it was as the best. All the speakers were powerfully enlightening, entertaining and at the top of their game. Subjectively it certainly was, and I’m not just saying that because they gave me an award.

It was the first time I was actually embarrassed going on stage since I was awarded my 2 metres swimming certificate and sew-on patch for my trunks… aged 14 (my primary school had lost it, then later found it and forwarded it on to my subsequent school.) So on Saturday night after the awards were given out for speaker excellence to the great and the good I would have kindly refused had it not been such a nice piece of etched glass with the words ‘The presidents award for outstanding contribution’ on it. My thanks to Peter Roper and the board. Better than a badge with a fish on it. But I won’t sew it onto my trucks, might cause me to sink.

And anyway, it’s not about me, it’s ‘all about you’ as new PSA president @grahamjones has put it. Every year the PSA has a ‘theme’ to focus the mind for the year ahead and to have something different to put on the marketing materials. The new theme for the year is @. Can you see what he’s done there? It means it’s all about connections, because it is. Whether that’s online connections using technology or just by keeping in touch over the phone or having meetings. It’s about external and internal connections, just like how our brains work by neurons connecting together to fire new combinations of ideas.

Having a new theme doesn’t mean the old ones don’t still apply, and their have been some good ones, which apply to whatever business you’re in, whether you’re a ‘speaker’ or not. We should all be there to ‘enlighten and entertain’, we should still have ‘astronomical aspirations’ and we should all be embracing the ‘Spirit’ of creating a sharing community.

This new theme is no different. It should apply to us all. We all need to enhance the connections we make. But I’d like to squeeze a few bonus meanings out of Graham’s ‘@’ theme. As well as being the symbol for email and twitter, meaning ‘at’, it’s also shorthand for ‘and’. I’m taking that as an extra cue for the year: AND: what else can I do to be better? AND: what else can I do to connect with more people, AND: what else can I do to help?


The PSA @ logo for #psa11

AND there’s a third significance for the symbol ‘@’. It’s a mnemonic, which is a device used to simplify a complex process. For example computer ‘machine code’ is actually an endless stream of binary 0s and 1s, but few people can program a computer and get it to do anything useful using binary. It would just be too complicated and take too long. So binary processes are group together and simplified by being given a mnemonic, a name that we can understand and relate to that represents the complex process.

This year, whenever you see the @ symbol, let’s all realise that WE are mnemonics with our businesses. We are all here to make complex processes easier to understand so that our clients, customers, audiences or whoever we serve, can take action, make changes and improve their lives in some way. WE are the connectors. We ARE the @.

AND that’s where it’s @.

For more see:

The Spirit of PSA

Here is the video with the title sequence and brand I created for the Professional Speakers Association Conference this year (1st-3rd October 2010). Yes, that’s my band playing the music.

For those that were there and saw this as it opened the convention – there are a few treats added in the middle.

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How to be funny

Graham Davies the Presentation Coach

Graham Davies signing his books

I was honoured to be at the launch of Graham Davies’ book launch last Thursday in Mayfair in London. Graham Davies is not only a great presenter, ex-barrister, brutally funny after-dinner speaker and MC, he’s also the UK’s greatest presentation skills coach.

Which is why the book is usefully titled, ‘The Presentation Coach’. Anything else wouldn’t have said ‘presentation coach’ in quite the same way.

Nearly 200 people attended the book launch including, I’m told, lots of top new MPs and some very rich and successful people who were treated to champagne (in the form of a speech from Neil Sherlock) and then a sausage on a stick in the form of a speech from Mr Davies himself.

Comedy, as they say is a funny thing; the business of being funny is actually quite serious. Getting laughs with your presentation is only relevant if you want your talk to be remembered, and get paid lots of money.

What I’ve learnt from Graham is simple: take your presentations seriously: plan, prepare, research, enhance your performance persona, practice and continuously find places to perform. But don’t take yourself too seriously. You can tell from watching Graham Davies that he is so accomplished, he is able to be totally spontaneous and yet totally in control of the platform, while at the same time, punctuate each point he makes with an outrageously funny gag.

To be ‘funny’ on stage you can’t just rely on just being funny.

I’ve found, quite painfully, that being humorous is a wonderful thing to be but it’s not enough to be ‘funny’. Fortunately there are no recordings of my standup shows from the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006. All of my talks are humorous. It’s how I am all the time. It’s a state I find natural. It is the right-brain techniques I’m good at which allow me to cope with unexpected sudden change or problems when I’m on stage. It allows me to cope with heckling and to engage and win over audiences. But on its own it’s not enough to be actually ‘funny’ as my first audience found out back then. I spent the whole of the next day writing gags for the following night and performed a whole new show to claw back a tiny bit of self-respect by getting the greatest of gifts any ego can every receive: laughs from an audience.

Being funny is not a right brain skill as you may expect. It needs the addition of the cold, ruthless discipline of the logical left brain to be able to analyse and pinpoint the right one-liners, well timed gag setups and short routines. It’s the planning and detail that allows you to move from humorous to funny. To be funny we need both right and left brain working together.

And that’s why I’m reading ‘The Presentation Coach’ and that’s why you should too.

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