Dare we discuss the F word?


smile, beach boysDare I write an article about failure?

The internet is so full of positive platitudes, feel-good quotes and testimony from all the rich, famous and celebrated (successful) people about how failure is a good thing – the best time to begin again – the another way not to do it getting you closer to success and so on…

But does that help?

Are there different types of failure that need to be handled in different ways?

Perhaps.

Here’s the first and most clear cut type. We can all recognise it. It’s where you fail to reach a set standard, such as a driving test, or get a silver medal instead of gold, B for your Mathematics GCSE instead of an A. It’s also a failure to pass through a gateway such as failing to get the job or the university place or to close the sale.

These I believe are all the same; there’s a target and you didn’t hit it. Maybe, depending on what it is, you can have another go and try for the bullseye again – re-take the driving test. Sometimes you can’t and have to settle for less – take home the silver medal, go to your second choice university, put up with the job for a bit longer.

But there is another kind of failure that attacks the creative mind that is unrelated to that first type. This more pernicious one is less easy to spot and deal with face on. No amount of platitudes or quotes from Marianne Williamson or Edison will make a dent it its blackness. It’s a creeping doom of an arbitrary dissatisfaction with your work, your abilities, your life. It’s a sense of having failed that unlike the first type isn’t matched to a clear and visible target. It has fuzzy edges. You can’t quite get a handle on it. It’s a feeling of failure rather than a printed out results page that clearly gives the grading mark. It’s something only you can see and often you can’t quite explain it.

Zig Ziglar said, “Failure is an event, not a person”.

That’s a great and useful quote, and clearly helps with Failure Type 1. But with Failure Type 2, when there doesn’t appear to be an actual event, it really does still feel like a personal failing.

It manifests itself as an over whelming feeling of not being good enough (rather than a specific and tangible failure to hit a target that can be identified and corrected). It appears as a holistic failure, of all systems.

So many artists, on completion of a piece of work, which may even have been labeled by the outside world as a masterpiece, often turn on themselves and their work and label it themselves as a failure, and sometime even destroy it. Authors have been known to burn or shred manuscripts, painters to paint over or destroy their paintings, musicians to wipe mastertapes.

It’s symptom is that of regret, focusing too much time on what might have been if we’d only chosen the alternative path.

We know we’re prone to it when we find ourselves comparing ourselves or our work with others.

In the mid-sixties, the Beatles and the Beach Boys vied for position as the greatest creative force in popular music. Inspired by the brilliance of the Beatles’ 1965 Rubber Soul, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys felt the gauntlet had been thrown down and he had to better the Beatles’ efforts. The result was the excellent Pet Sounds. But it didn’t hold he crown of most innovative LP for long as the Beatles released their groundbreaking Revolver LP in 1966. This excited and enraged Wilson, who took it upon himself to bring in a new lyricist and the best professional musicians he could gather, ignoring the rest of the Beach Boys, in an attempt to produce his masterwork and trounce the Beatles once and for all. The Smile sessions were the most ambitious recording sessions ever attempted, but the complexities required were just not possible with the technology of the day. He also took it upon himself to produce the album himself feeling that no other producer could translate his vision. The Beatles of course had George Martin in their collaborative team, as well as being a tightly knit quartet. The overly complex Smile was hit by delay after delay and then, in January 1967, Brian Wilson was traveling in his car when something came on the radio. He pulled of the road to listen and broke down, tears falling on his cheeks. It was the Beatles new record, Strawberry Fields Forever. That was the moment that Wilson knew that the Beatles had won. That was the high water mark for innovative popular music. From that point on, everything to come would be variations on a theme as music fragmented into genres. It was cemented by the release of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper six months later making Wilson’s creative breakdown complete. He never fully recovered. Smile was abandoned and he left the Beach Boys.

44 years later in 2011, Brian Wilson returned to the Smile tapes and finished off the record. Technology and time had moved on sufficiently for him to be able to piece together the intricacies in a way he couldn’t back in 1967.

He had set himself up for creative failure by setting a goal that was impossible to reach, setting his ambition too high, by wanting to create the greatest music work every created (trying to get ‘one up’ on Revolver could have been attainable). He was also weighed down by the immense pressure of a mythical standard of his own making by judging his success by comparing himself with others. Instead he could have compared himself with his personal best (trying to beat Pet Sounds could have been attainable).

There is a reason that creative people create their own demons in this way.

Creativity is governed by right-brain thinking, by imagination, with subconscious inspiration in the visual arts, in music and in creative writing. One of its principles, or attributes, is uncertainty. It’s a by-product of how creativity works, it is not certain of itself, it is in flux and without logic or sequence.

Uncertainty is uncomfortable. We usually want to search for certainty, for an anchor, for something to cling on to. But we need this uncertainty to be able to create in the first place, but its dark side is that we turn it into self doubt and spiral down into our own meaningless lack of worth instead of spiraling up into transformational success.

So what’s the answer? In short there isn’t one. But there is hope in knowing that this is the path that we will find ourselves on at some point in our creative lives. Being forewarned is forearmed and knowledge that our despair is just a side product of our creative power can take the sting out of it.

Doom and glory are the extremes that only the creative mind tastes. Our job is really to surf the space in between as neither of those countries are places we should ever linger.

So perhaps the old platitudes were right after all. You actually can’t have success without failure as they are both manifestations of the same mechanism.

Churchill famously said “If you’re going through hell, keep going”. The same is true, of course, for failure. You’ve heard the one “Bravery is not the absence of fear, but the ability to take action in spite of it”.

Success favours those who continue to take action in spite of failure, those who keep going. So come on, let’s keep going, knowing that failure is perhaps not a false path after all, but is perhaps instead the fuel.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

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Getting over brutal criticism – you won’t have it as bad as John Lennon


John Lennon 1968 pen and ink drawing white album

Drawing by Ayd Instone, aged 16

There’s no escaping criticism. No matter how good you are, there’s always someone who’ll have a pop. There’s a whole profession of people out there who describe themselves as ‘critics’ whose job is to criticise. And the more successful you get, the more open to brutal criticism you are.

When it comes to your own personal creativity and work you have done yourself, criticism is tough. It’s personal, or feels personal. Highly creative people often lack confidence in themselves and their work. We often believe that we’re only as good as out last piece of work (that’s never really true) so if we get a bad review or a finger is pointed at us and our errors, we take it so much to heart that it feels like the end of the world.

Can you imagine going from being universally loved and adored for your work to having pernicious personal criticism levelled at everything you do and then having one critic so hating you and your work that they set out to murder you.

Yet that’s exactly what happened to John Lennon.

In 1968 the Beatles released the John Lennon song Revolution as the b-side of Hey Jude. It had the line “But if you talk about destruction. Don’t you know that you can count me out.”

The revolutionary sub culture was split on whether their idol and spiritual leader had gone soft and had sold out. Was he saying they should all just be cool, peaceful and take it easy, or was he siding with the establishment?

But later that year, the Beatles eponymously titled White Album, was released with a different version of the song which contained the lyric ‘But if you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out… in.”

It had appeared that Lennon had done a u-turn on the previous non-violent stance. The subculture was now incensed. Not because Lennon appeared now to sanction direct action but because it looked like he’d swayed and changed his tune just to keep in with the underground.

The truth was that the album version of the song, although released second, was recorded first. Lennon’s actual stance was initially to perhaps support destruction which he later changed to be wholeheartedly in favour of peaceful protests.

The criticism he faced hurt him deeply and possibly pushed him into more proactively declaring his position (which was perhaps a good outcome) and led to his signature bed-in-for-peace events. But it also caused him to attempt to forge closer links with the more undesirable members of the underground subculture where his naivety was unable to tell good from bad. This led him to donate money and effort to some very undeserving causes, all to fend off that feeling of failure from harsh personal criticism.

This new radicalism alienated him from many of his former fans who, in Lennon’s words, “loved the mop tops and A Hard Days Night, but I’ve grown up. Have you?”

Yet this radicalism was short lived. He gained critical acclaim for his first solo album (1970’s John Lennon Plastic Ono Band) but it had poor sales figures. The best selling Beatle after the split was George Harrison with his hit single My Sweet Lord and triple LP All Things Must Pass. Even Ringo was having more hits than John. Lennon’s second LP, Imagine, was more commercial, but the third, Sometime In New York City was a disaster.

Lennon had been the first Beatle to be singled out for criticism, back in 1966, when the US radio stations picked up on the infamous ‘bigger than Jesus comments’. He’d had to suffer the embarrassment of having to ‘apologise’ repeatedly for what was a simple and fairly accurate statement made to a UK reporter months earlier and taken out of context. This event was part of their decision to stop touring. They had violent threats on their security by all sorts of weirdos including the Klu Klux Clan who threatened to plant bombs at a Beatle concert. John was physically sick before going on stage during that last American tour.

Then, from 1968, he’d had to put up with being criticised for getting together with Yoko, later blamed for ‘splitting up the Beatles’ but even before that, he had to endure nasty and disgraceful racial abuse leveled at her. He’d been criticised for turning his back on the Fab Four and pop music and being far too nutty and far out and yet also criticised for being childish and not being or radical enough.

Then he was criticised for producing ‘mediocre’ albums in the mid seventies (Mind Games and Walls and Bridges) and his LP of rock ‘n’ roll standards. Then he was criticised for not producing any new material for five years while he became ‘househusband’, looking after his son Sean. And more often than not, he was blamed for the lack of a Beatle reunion. (When if fact they’d all agreed on a reunion, but never at the same time.)

Then, in 1980, he was hunted down and killed by a ‘deranged fan’ who decided Lennon had become a ‘phoney’.

It would be hard for any of us to imagine what it could be like to have such adoration as the Beatles enjoyed (and suffered) in the sixties. It would be equally hard for us to imagine the type of criticism that followed, especially after following on from such acclaim. It would likely be impossible for us to consider that our creative work would cause someone to want to murder us.

I think when we consider what happened to John Lennon, it makes any criticism we face, just that little bit less raw, a little bit less biting and a little bit less relevant.

So don’t let it stop you. Carry on with your great works and love what you do remembering that there are no statues or memorials for critics.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

The truth is not out there


I’ve always loved paradoxes and alternative realities.

They are very useful things to be able to embrace if you’re a parent or work with young children. Children operate in a constantly changing, often incoherent and sometimes contradictory reality. As adults we often see our job as to ‘straighten them out’ by getting them to understand ‘the real world’ and to ‘get’ the ‘truth’.

I’ve put all those worlds in inverted commas because I don’t believe in any of them.

(But that’s just me. It is of course possible to prove or disprove a belief in anything you like.)

So what is this ‘truth’ that we are supposed to be weaning them onto?

Here’s an example. Do you believe in Father Christmas? Most dull adults will say ‘no of course not’. Most of the people I hang around with will say, ‘yes’ because they’re a facetious bunch. But the more we think about it, the more that opinion is correct.

Let’s look at the facts: children have a strong image of the Father Christmas/Santa Claus being. There are pictures, films and songs of him. He turns up at school and/or in shops. They write letters to him. There is a mythos surrounding his story, paraphernalia and methods. But most of all: on Christmas morning, presents turn up, just as they have been promised.

This all means that Father Christmas is real. He exists. You can argue with me if you want to and say that it’s daddy who get’s dressed up and/or waits until their asleep. But that just proves my point. The problem with truth is that so many people want to be so blumin’ literal with it. If you want to take it further there are other strands to the mythology of the concept of Father Christmas that are ‘true’ and ‘real’, some positive, some perhaps not so: wishful thinking, positive thinking, hope, greed, consumerism, trust, joy. Those feelings are real.

So to those people who say that encouraging a believe in Father Christmas is ‘lying’ – you’re not only miserable joy snatchers you’re also categorically wrong, according go my evidence and my beliefs.

I’ve heard is said that some people think it’s bad form to let children believe in things that they think ‘aren’t true’. (The list usually includes Father Christmas, faeries and God amongst other things). They think we should tell our children ‘the truth’.

So where do I begin in this quest? And where do I end? Do I tell them about violent pornography and pedophilia? Do I give them the full truth and details of mass murder, torture and cruelty? Do I tell them the details of the Holocaust? Do I explain the pain of dying from cancer? That’s the truth isn’t it? Of course I don’t, and in the moment that I censor any of that ‘truth’, I’m presenting a modified and incomplete vision of the world and  its reality to my children. (And in my opinion, quite rightly so.)

Our children recently watched the Beatles animated film Yellow Submarine. They loved it and began acting out the stories and characters in imaginative play. As a Beatle fan, I have the Beatles records and their other films in the house. Over the past few weeks we’ve also watched A Hard Days Night and Help!

Mabel said, “I wish the Beatles lived in Oxford so that they could come to our house and sing for us”. I wish that too, but I know it’s not possible. I know that the events depicted in those films took place 46 to 48 years ago. I know that Paul is nearly 70 and Ringo is 71. I know that George died of cancer ten years ago and that John was murdered outside his home thirty-one years ago. So do I tell this ‘truth’ to my children, running around the house singing A Ticket to Ride and putting on Liverpool accents and saying “I’ve got a hole in my pocket”?

The answer is of course no. In the same was that I won’t be saying that Mickey Mouse or Scooby Doo is dead. The Beatles aren’t real, not in the sense that our family and friends are real. But in a sense that Thomas the Tank Engine or Tinkerbel is real, then yes they are very much alive. It’s only us boring literal adults, locked into linear time that say they no longer exist.

By the time they realise that Paul McCartney doesn’t now look the same as he did when he was 21 and is as old as their granddad it won’t matter because their understanding of the world will by default have ungraded their own mythologies as their reality changes as they grow.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know I’m a big fan of the television programme Doctor Who. My son is 6 but he’s not watching it because I’m withholding it from him. Why? because he’s what they patronisingly call a ‘sensitive child’. He has no concept of death, and frankly he doesn’t need to have one. Not yet. He will. That will come. But there’s no rush, why should there be? Doctor Who deals with death. It deals with nightmarish monsters that currently have no place in his straightforward problem solving world of Thomas the Tank Engine. So there I am again, creating and maintaining a deliberate different reality to yours (and mine).

My children believe in faeries. I didn’t encourage that belief, but neither have a dissuaded it. The reason is that just like Father Christmas, faeries are real.

My daughter may visualise them as flittering winged creatures, akin to angels, and princesses (and cats, in some surreal way. She’s 4). That’s her reality and who am I to stomp all over it with my Gortex boots.

After all, she’s probably right. Faeries are nature sprites. The small fluttery ones help the flowers bloom. The gnome-like ones work on decomposition and help fungus breakdown rotting matter. What if faeries are our anthropomorphism of these natural processes? That makes them real. I’d go further and suggest that faeries are live, actual beings that do indeed work with flora and vegetation, blossom and decay. Today we tend to call them the more uninspiring names such as butterflies, bees and woodlice. Perhaps faeries are the anthropomorphism of insects? When some people look at them they may see just an insect. Their boring lack of imagination sees a creepy-crawly. I see the miraculous circle of life. If I ingested enough ergot alkaloids I’d probably see pixie faces too, just like our ancestors did.

I’ve got grown up friends who have seen ghosts, spoken to them (and got replies). The fact that I haven’t doesn’t make them wrong either. It doesn’t make their experience less valid. I haven’t seen one and I know nothing about such things. My experience proves nothing about the subject.

The esteemed professor Dawkins and his cohort would have us not believe in God. His non-belief is his own rightly held opinion although he can’t have any evidence for it, only lack of it as you can’t prove a negative. But his assertion that such a belief is like believing in an invisible unicorn or a chocolate teapot in orbit around Mars or a spaghetti monster is not the same thing and his weakest argument. No-one believe in those things because there’s no point in believing in those things. There’s a great point to believing in a creator God or a Father God and many people derive great joy and meaning from their beliefs which is why they have them and keep them. (If someone has a belief that is a threat to others then we may well have to step in to challenge their reality but they’re not the people Dawkins et al go after, preferring instead softer targets, which is a shame.)

If you ever watched the 1990s television series about the unknown, The X Files, then you will be familiar with the phrase ‘the truth is out there’. I think that the truth is NOT out there at all. It’s in here, that is I have my version and you have your version.

Another more useful phrase from that programme was on a poster behind Agent Mulder’s desk. It said, ‘I want to believe’. I like it because it has a positive flexibility within it. I may not be able to believe, but I’ll seek out the evidence accordingly, rather than a default setting of disbelief which is as inflexible as any other dogma.

To those who still maintain that so-called supernatural beings aren’t real and don’t exist: our society has some fashionable concepts that are, by all modern definitions, ‘not real’ and yet we all believe unquestioningly in them. Money being a good example. We all believe in things that very few of us really understand (such as Electromagnetism).

In mathematics there are calculations that cannot be done unless you invoke what it called the ‘imaginary number’, i. It’s determined as the square root of -1, which is impossible (and therefore imaginary). And yet we need it to solve the equations that make our modern world possible as it’s needed for signal processing, control theory, electromagnetism, fluid dynamics, quantum mechanics, cartography and vibration analysis. Some mathematicians describe i as not ‘imaginary’ but ‘pure real’.

We need the imaginary in our lives which it is just as relevant and therefore just as real as anything we can actually see and touch, which, when you come to think of it, is such a tiny proportion of our so-called reality don’t you think?

Perhaps we live mainly in a ‘pure real’ world…

Ayd works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

A record for your life


“A record was like a massive flat mp3…. there was almost no information on it at all. It was very impractical – it could break or warp in the heat and get scratched…

…but it was better than your life.”
Stewart Lee

Record player Twist and Shout by the BeatlesI finally got my record player plugged back in. I unplugged it in late December to make room for a seven foot Norwegian Spruce that I’d covered in glass balls and low voltage white bulbs. We’d long since thrown that tree away and vacuumed up thousands of tiny needles and now it was time to re-install just one needle in its place.

There was an air of anticipation and excitement. My three children gathered around. From a massive pile of 7” black discs, some in paper sleeves with pictures on, some in plain green sleeves, they selected one.

Oliver (age 6) slid it out of its cover and I showed him how to place it on the spindle by touching only the edges. I told him to flick the switch on the left to ’45’. I lifted the metal arm over just a little bit and Mabel (age 4) flicked the switch on the right; once to make the platter spin and again to lower the needle into place.

We all watched as the disc span round and round at 45 revolutions per minute. A crackling sound, like that of a well established fire came from the speakers. Then, the room was filled with the booming mono sound of the most energetic 2 minutes and 35 seconds ever committed to the physical realm.

49 years ago, a few young men played and sang live in a recording studio in Abbey Road, London, using their voice boxes, guitars and a drum kit. The sound they’d made caused vibrations in the air which caused magnets to create electronic fluctuations along a wire which cause another magnet to re-arrange the rust particles on a lengthy plastic tape into a pattern.

Later, another magnet was affected by those magnetic particles from the tape causing low level electronic fluctuations in a wire which were amplified by a complex arrangement of glass vacuum valves to move a diamond tipped needle to vibrate. The needle was held still while a lacquered disc spun round at speed, allowing the needle to carve a spiral on its surface.

A mould was made from that lacquered disc and a glass disc was made from the mould. This was then pressed onto millions on lumps of hot vinyl plastic which were flattened into a 7” disc.

One of those discs found its way into a shop in mid 1963 and was bought by my Dad. 18 years ago when I got my own house, I liberated it, and now it was here, spinning around in my lounge with my three children jumping and dancing to the sound of the Beatles performing Twist and Shout live in 2012.

They were in room with us. This was no sample. No abstract digital file in the cloud from zeros and ones in a computer. They were here for real. (As real as a reflection in a mirror of you, is actually you, where a photograph of you is not you.)

That record is a time mirror that reflects their sound, via magnets and needles, right here from the long distant, unimaginable so-called past of 1963 to today, here and now. They were with us, alive and happy and infectious.

But more important that all that was the fact that my children were dancing and singing. Music was real. They could see it. They could touch it. They could choose it.

The past two weeks have seen Oliver become a DJ, going through my collection of singles and albums, intrigued how the large cover images may relate to the secret sounds hidden within the grooves. He’s playing tracks for his sisters to dance to, or draw to, or play to. He wants to be like Ringo and play the drums so he can come with me to my conference performances and provide the beat for my keynote songs.

He’s developed an ‘ear’. Some tracks he says are ‘too noisy’ or ‘too sad’. Mabel has lifted the piano lid and is more considerate in which keys she presses. She knows that some combinations are more pleasing than others. Our youngest is just 20 months old. When the records are on she smiles and dances and twirls.

It’s an involved process to choose which record to put on. You have to make a decision that will involve some physical activity that needs to be done with great care. The records are precious and fragile, and therefore by association, so too is the music. So once a record is on, it needs to play all the way through. It needs to be listened to, to be engaged with. There’s no easy way to change your mind, or to default to ‘shuffle’. You make your choice and stick with it.

Is there a danger, in our perceived search and adopted desire for ‘easy’ and ‘quick’ we are at risk of overlooking the experience altogether? After all, what is music ‘for’?

In our instant coffee, free download, always online world, do we rush through the day to get to the evening? Do we sometimes rush through the week to get to the weekend? Do we rush our children through childhood so they can grow up? And rush them through education so they can get some certificates?

Do we risk rushing the journey of life to get to the destination of the grave in the easiest and shortest possible time? Do we risk taking for granted the complexity of the human experience in order to dumb it down to effortless chicken nuggets that we can consume on the move?

Take a moment.

Dust off your own record player (whatever that might be) and put on a record. Choose it. Touch it. See it. Listen to it. Dance to it. Enjoy it.

Life is not about the needle reaching the run-out groove in the centre of the record.

It’s about the music in between.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com


And by the way. For those of you who read my blogs and take all the metaphors literally: this is not a blog about replacing new technology with gramophone vinyl records. If you thought that, this blog is not for you. You’ll find material better suited to your taste here.

Do you still have potential?


Beatles Twist and Shout 1963 by Ayd Instone

The Beatles 1963: A representation of youthful energy and creative power

Can one person really be of more worth than another?

And if that person is a teenager, do they have more worth than someone who is 29? Is a seven year old more deserving of our support and love than a teenager, or an unborn something, or a 50 year old man?

The moral reaction is that all have the same worth and value, that is what the law states, that is what all religions state, but it’s not quite how society behaves.

When a baby is born, the universal emotion is one of joy. When one dies, it is with great sadness, but not always quite as great as when a child, who has lived for a short number of years, dies. Perhaps it’s because their personality is more tangible than a baby. Usually only the immediate family mourn a baby who dies in childbirth. A teenagers death is tragic, but once we move into being adults, the tragedy of our untimely deaths grows less and less important to other with our age. Why?

Is it to do with potential? Perhaps there’s perceived greater unfulfilled potential in a child, which by the time that child has become an adult has either become manifest, or not, revealing an adult who has achieved, or has not. Is it therefore to do with what value an individual human contributes, or could potentially contribute?

People certainly mourn famous celebrities as much as members of their own immediate family. Is it connection that deserves our attention? We feel connected to actors, musicians and royalty so we mourn their passing? If a child dies of an illness or incident at home, no-one apart from the immediate family and friends cares. If one dies on the road, strangers may leave flowers. If one dies as a result of murder, thousands may take to the streets in mourning. If the victim of the murder was a 40 year old man, no-one would bother taking to the streets. The end result is the same in each case: we’ve lost a human life too early. But why the difference in reaction?

A celebrity expert, let’s say a famous author, is often quite willing to lend their expertise to support and help a young writer under 16. They would not be so willing to help a 50 year old. Is it that the 50 year old should have figured it all out themselves by that age. They clearly should simply have tried harder in their life and having blown all the chances and opportunities that must have come their way, don’t deserve any help… No-one would argue that children deserve help more than an adult. But why? The 50 year old clearly has more experience, of something, as they have had a longer life than the teenager, but do they have less potential, less to contribute? Or more? Potential to do what exactly?

In most societies, throughout history, age meant wisdom. Today though it seems less so. There have been many examples in the media where a greater age has been perceived to be a disadvantage and some have observed that television presenters appear to be biased towards more youthful ones. Do we value youth (and beauty) more than age and experience?

In some disciplines, the optimum level of youth does have a clear advantage. There is an average peak age where a sportsperson can perform at the highest level. It is said that mathematicians perform at their optimum between the age of 19 and 26 when our brains are said to be at their peak before cells start to die off.

But recent research has shown that brain cells may well die off, but new ones do grow. And it is the connections between the cells in the brain that are more relevant than the actual number of cells.

Because of a number of high profile successes in various creative endeavors by quite young people, the focus of the media is that creativity peaks when we are in our mid to late 20s.

The Beatles are the perfect manifestation of this rule. By the time they’d competed their final recordings together (on Abbey Road in 1969), George Harrison was still just 26. Ringo was the oldest at 29 (John Lennon was 28 and Paul McCartney had just turned 27).

Just a few years earlier, the four Beatles who wrote, played and sang on their first number one record were aged just 20, 21, 23 and 23. Their manager, Brian Epstein was only 27 and George Martin, their recording producer, 37.

In almost every creative avenue in the 1960s it seemed that youth had the creative power and it’s something we seem to have stuck with ever since. But is that actually true, or are the results somewhat skewed? Can people still be creative in their 30s, their 40s, their 50s and beyond?

Anyone of you who knows my age may well be thinking, “oh you’re just bitter and twisted because no-one spotted your ‘genius’ when you were 26.”

That may well be true, but it’s not the point. Or rather it is part of the point because I may well write off part of my creativity in the same way that you have, by thinking that we must have been no good at a certain thing or it would certainly have led somewhere by now, or we’ve missed the opportunity, and that we’re just past it.

If we ignore the negative impact of the media we’ll notice that many successful painters and authors only began their craft close to ‘retirement’ age.

We ALL have potential and we always will have that potential right up until our very last productive day on this Earth, irrespective of our age.

Drawing by Ayd Instone.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com


The 10,000 hour rule: can we trust it?


It’s been said* that if you constructively practice anything well for around 10,000 hours you will have become world class at it. The argument is that talent is less relevant than effort. What do you think? Is this the case?

The Beatles 1964 and 1966 RevolverLet’s try to make it simple and compare like with like. Take a dozen or so rock ‘n’ roll bands from Liverpool in 1960 and send them to Hamburg in Germany to perform 8 hours a night or more in various nightclubs for two to three years. They all have the same background. They all have the same exposure to influences. They all start with similar ability (they’re all aged between 17 and 19 so have been playing music for the same amount of time, between 1 and 3 years).

They are all the same, and yet only one of those acts becomes the phenomenon known as The Beatles.

I’ve been talking about, researching and training creativity overtly for 8 years. (Yes, before that I was doing it covertly).

Creativity is still a dirty word. By dirty I mean messy. It almost doesn’t mean anything. Sometimes when I’ve been talking about it I’ve had to keep it so broad, to encompass so many things that it can become almost meaningless. I make a great point that it has to be practical, that it’s not just to do with a particular artistic discipline, that it’s about making connections, problem solving, intuitive leaps, experimentation and so on. There are different facets to it, like a diamond, and so many differing ways to engage it, express it and use it. It’s what makes us human (as opposed to animal). It’s what forms our beliefs, it’s what allows us to explore the universe and ourselves. It IS science. It IS civilisation.

Here’s a new definition for you: creativity is a human’s ability to imagine a future in the minds and then use the hands to manifest it.

But even with this glorious definition there is still a misnomer that exists. So many people still believe that some people are more creative than others. We’ve got to admit, the evidence is compelling. But it is really true?

I think it comes from a misinterpretation of what creativity is and what it does. People believe in ‘talent’ and often think that talent = ability = gifts = creativity. It doesn’t.

There are many observers who report that talent is a myth. They believe that any concerted effort into consistent constructed practice will deliver exceptional performance. They cite examples in sport, mathematics, performance, art, business, chess, science and so on. Almost everything in fact.

Are they right? If you practice, practice, practice in a constructive way, learning and growing, learning and growing for 10,000 hours or 10 years, you will become a world class expert? Really?

I think the answer is yes, and no.

The 10,000 hour rule works with certain activities. It works with activities that have their basis in pattern recognition. Any sport that is based on pattern recognition will improve with practice. This is true for tennis, football, motor racing and chess. If you want to know more on why those activities are pattern recognition and not reflexes or memory then you need to read these books: Bounce and Talent is Overrated. I’m not going to be going down that route here.

Any sport that relies on endurance, motor skills or strength will not improve with 10,000 hours practice past the limitations of a particular person’s body. We can all get fitter and stronger, but not without limit. Those limits are set by our particular skeleton, muscle arrangement etc. So we’ve found one hole in the practice theory.

It’s said that the Beatles did their ‘10,000 hours’** of practice in the night clubs of Hamburg, playing, as they did, 8 hours a night. To be able to do that, to play and sing for that length of time they needed a few things or they would have collapsed. They needed youthful energy and endurance (this was enhanced by them ingesting Preludin, a drug that increases metabolic rate, then a freely available diet pill, now known as speed), they needed to be able to sing correctly so they didn’t damage their voice boxes. They needed a large repertoire of songs so that they or their audiences didn’t get bored.

So their time in Hamburg made them world class rock ‘n’ roll performers. So the story goes, there was their 10,000 hours, and that’s what made them musical geniuses, right? Is that it?

The time in Hamburg made all those bands blumn’ good at playing Twist and Shout. But the Beatles version is undeniably better than all of them.

There were plenty of bands that performed to the same schedule as the Beatles and who came from the same starting point. Many of them we know about, you can get hold of their record and you can compare. Many of them were also signed by Brian Epstein to EMI’s Parlaphone label. Many of them were produced by George Martin and many of them had a few number one records. But only the Beatles went on to write amazing hits like She Loves You or I Want to Hold Your Hand within a year of coming back from Hamburg. Only the Beatles came up with groundbraking songs outside the rock ‘n’ roll genre of Hamburg like Yesterday or Eleanor Rigby. Out of all the Merseybeat groups that had exactly the same background and experience, only the Beatles re-defined rock music with Strawberry Fields Forever, Tomorrow Never Knows and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Cub Band.

So what did the Beatles and specifically Lennon McCartney have that the others lacked?

Can we really say that it was ‘talent’? And if so, where was that talent located and how did it emerge? Were they born brilliant? When did they become genius songwriters and how?

There’s even more to this question because if you looked at the Beatles in 1963 you would already recognise (as many comentators did) the genius songwriting skills of Lennon and McCartney, but you would have ignored George Harrison’s songwriting ability. You’d have pricked your ears up in 1966 to his contributions to Revolver but it wasn’t until  1969 with his songs Something and Here Comes the Sun and his triple solo LP All Things Must Pass in 1970 that made comentators place Harrison’s songwriting on an equal par to Lennon and McCartney (some would even place it higher).

So when did George become a genius? Was it with him all along? Was it innate talent, or was it developed by hanging around with the century’s greatest songsmiths? If it was environment, why don’t we value Ringo’s songwriting skills as highly? He was there all the time too?

Their story does point to something else, some other mechanism. But what? Were they born with the talent and potential to write Sgt. Pepper? Were they unique in that respect? If so what DOES that say for the rest of us? Is 10,000 hours spent a waste on time for mere mortals? We’ll no doubt get pretty good at singing Twist and Shout but will we ever be able to transform the experience into A Hard Days Night, never mind a Hey Jude?

Perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that the Beatles really, really really wanted to write the greatest songs. They certainly had a driving passion for their chosen field. But just being super keen isn’t enough either, otherwise all the contestants on those talent shows who ‘I’ll shrivel up and die if I don’t make it as a star’ would eventually shine. We know that they don’t.

Perhaps the teenager living next door to you, playing Wild Thing or Stairway to Heaven very badly on his out-of-tune electric guitar at all hours, may well be a future George Harrison, if only he had the chance to perform and/or hang out with some serious masters for enough time? How can we know?

There STILL are too many questions when it comes to creativity and the weird, obfuscated

world of talent (whatever that is) and still not enough answers.

So for now we’ll have to just keep practicing, crank up our 10,000 hours in our chosen field after all, and make sure we do our best to follow our own passion in the best way we can.

* Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.
** It was more likely 2500 hours, but that’s actually no less impressive.
Drawing by Ayd Instone. 

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com


What the Beatles got wrong, part 1: Don’t flitter to the glitter


The success and longevity of the Beatles as a cultural and creative force is undeniable. And, as discussed here, their legend has a solid place in history.

But is wasn’t all plain sailing. To the people of 1962 (1964 in America) the Beatles seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, fully formed. Behind their overnight success lay many years of hard work, heartbreak, sweat and coincidence. They then went onto have hit after hit, everything they touched seemed to turn to gold for longer than seemed believable, evolving and innovating and getting better and better.

But there were a few, at first unnoticeable errors and mistakes and then later bigger decisions which nearly sank the ship.

Beatles 1968 by Ayd Instone

The Beatles in 1968. Drawing by Ayd Instone

Most people are aware of the criticism of the Magical Mystery Tour TV (the less-than) Special and the Get Back/Let it Be misery, so here are some perhaps lesser-known and hopefully more insightful decisions made, that had repercussions for the Beatles and their post-Beatles lives.

There are quite a few, so let’s choose just just one for now and it’s this:

They thought their All Powerful god-like success could be transferred to projects outside their experience and knowledge

In 1968 the Beatles launched Apple Corps (The name was a joke as it was pronounced Apple Core, although a more accurate pronunciation would have been Apple Corpse). It was a mess from the start. They attempted to transfer the hippy mentality of boundless creativity and expression, or freedom, peace and love into a retail outlet and a open door talent agency.

The Apple store lasted a few months before they knocked it on the head by announcing that everything in it was free. It brought out the worst in people who reportedly stampeded and fought to get their hands on kaftans and beaded garments. In the ugly scene that day, they even ripped out the shelving and flooring. That was the end of the Apple Store.

Apple’s idea that anyone who has a talent should just send in their stuff or turn up at the door showed another level of naivety. Like every record company and publisher, then and now, they were inundated with the bad, the ugly and the untalented. Of the handful of new acts they did pick up, only Mary Hopkin, Badfinger and James Taylor amounted to anything and they’d been discovered by the Beatles themselves, not from the slush pile of submissions.

Lennon showed admirable idealism in a 1968 interview about their business plans, for championing the unheard talented, creative masses, but also revealed his ignorance when he said that the Beatles were also going to be involved in “…what you call it, manufacturing …or something”. They really had no idea. Less than a year later Lennon admitted that if Apple continued to lose money at the rate it was, “We’d be broke in three months.”

Their decisions were bad and the implementation poor. But looking again at the ideas, they are actually very sound indeed.

The Apple Boutique was the first store of what is now an accepted concept. A shop that sells multi-cultural clothing and World music. Unheard of in 1968 and now everywhere.

The idea of encouraging talent, to give it the break it deserves is a magnificent idea. They just went about it the wrong way by using the old methods of opening the floodgate with no thought to how to manage it. Compare it with the different ideas of running initiative in schools or even television talent contests such as the X Factor. They have similar aims, but more manageable processes.

When I do my creativity talks and training, or my book writing workshops, one of the common ‘problems’ people have is that they say they ‘have too many ideas’.

So the problem is not, ‘not having a clue’, it’s more like being able to make the right choice from your ideas, to do the right thing at the right time.

The answer to this problem is easier than you might imagine: you chose the idea that you feel you can do best, that you will enjoy the most and that will give the greatest reward (in whatever measurement you choose to measure success, be it fulfillment, money or whatever).

We need to realise that we shouldn’t flitter to the glitter of the next and most brightly glimmering exciting looking idea. We should expand and innovate around our core and make the jump into something completely new only when it too has a solid foundation, just like the thing we’re leaping from.

This is the problem the Beatles had. They had too many ideas that all sounded to them as brilliant as every single idea they came up with. The mistake they made was to jump into these crazy ideas without looking where they were leaping.

The Beatles diversion into ‘business’ with Apple Corps showed them, eventually, that they were very, very good at making music. But little else. Sometimes we need to realise that it’s no bad thing to be very, very good at doing just the one big thing. If you’re going to expand into new areas, get the talent in to help so you don’t take your eye off the ball that you can play so well.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com


Creativity and the Beatles

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

The two year creativity rule and how the Beatles used it


(or Why you must turn She Loves You into Tomorrow Never Knows)

Beatles US visit 1964 ink drawing  by Ayd Instone

The Beatles in 1964. Drawing by Ayd Instone.

Most things in popular culture have a shelf life of just two years. Two short years before they run out of steam, become passe or boring and disappear, or, change form into something different, and then last another two years.

If you look at the pop charts, there are few artistes there from earlier than two years ago.

Just take a moment to look at your own life. The two year rule appears to work there too.

It’s as if human projects, be it friendships, affairs, or bands, clubs or gym membership begin with an enthusiasm which powers it long enough to last 600 – 700 days before the energy runs low. If the project doesn’t have another burst of enthusiasm, it will fall apart. But if it does get another injection of energy, it will change, hopefully for the better.

If you look at television series, the first two seasons have a similar feel. The third has to change the format somehow which either makes the show a hit and lasts another two years, or loses it’s audience and dies off. When the format ceases to innovate for that third series and tries to keep everything the same, even if it appears to the writers that their stuff is as good as ever, often it has become a parody of itself, re-treading old ground and becoming self-referencing. This is the point it either develops a cult following, or flops and fades away.

It’s the same with our lives. The two year rule reminds us that we must constantly innovate, but must be prepared for drastic change every two years.

If you’ve been in a job, in the same role for two years, the third year will seem repetitive and stale. If you don’t get promotion, changes in your role, more responsibility or something else, you’ll get bored and it will begin to affect other areas of your life.

There are plenty of examples of how best to use the two year rule but my favourite is the story of the Beatles.

Beatlemania arguably began in autumn 1963. The Beatles were enjoying universal success in the UK with their third number one, She Loves You and had just performed for the nation live at the London Palladium. This is our starting point. They slowly evolved, producing hit after hit for the next two years, conquered America and the World, keeping within their winning mop-top formula, keeping the girls screaming and everybody buying their records.

Then the two year rule took effect in late 1965. If they had produced another ‘Merseybeat’ happy-go-lucky song and album at that time they could have gone the way of all the other early sixties beat groups. They didn’t. They went in the studio and recorded Tomorrow Never Knows (Revolver, 1966). In just under three years from recording She Loves You they had produced something which was just about as far away from that song as is possible to get, and which at the time sounded like nothing on Earth. (It incidentally and unintentionally lay a foundation for modern electronic dance music too).

Beatles Revolver 1966 ink drawing by Ayd Instone

The Beatles in 1966. Drawing by Ayd Instone.

They became the market leader in this new phase of ‘psychedelic’ music. A phase which again, like every other, had a shelf life of two years. Again, many bands tried to stick with this new sound past 1968. They would come to be seen as the next batch of old fashioned yesterdays groups. Instead, the Beatles went (as they described it) ‘back to basics’ on their White Album, which appeared as a literal antithesis of the garishness of Sgt. Pepper which came before it.

This re-found ‘rawness’ heard on The White Album, the Get Back sessions (later released as Let it Be) and Abbey Road took them through to 1970 when another change was due. The change they chose then of course was to work apart.

The musical styles that followed also adhered to the two year rule as the Beatles handed the batten to a new generation of bands to carry it forward. But very few other acts managed to do as they did and survive the two year change and stride the changes that inevitably come, in music and in every field.

From the early 1970s onwards music went through a number of mainstream trends, (some overlap but essentially are) the heavy rock/folk rock of 70-72 into Glam Rock 72-74, Disco 75-77, Punk 76-78, New Wave 78-80, New Romantic 81-83 and so on.

Where are you in your projects, work and life? Have you been working within something for nearly two years? If so you may need to work out what will innovate and revitalise it before it loses power and is overtaken by newer ideas from outside.

Here are a few ideas to do every two to three years:

  • reignite your personal relationships, partners and friends with a celebration.
  • If you are in business, think of a new product or service to launch or a completely new marketing campaign to revitalise the old
  • Start a new hobby or take an existing one to the next level by getting advanced training, new equipment or new players and partners to join in with
  • Go somewhere new for your holidays
  • Have a massive ‘spring clean’ in your home, work and life, getting rid of what no longer serves or is broken

Ask yourself this question: If you’re doing well right now, at the top of your charts with your own She Loves You – how can you top it? How can you create something bigger, better, more influential and yet still very much you: what will be your She Loves You into Tomorrow Never Knows transformation?

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com


Creativity and the Beatles

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

9 reasons why your business needs to be more like John Lennon


John Lennon ink drawing 1967

John Lennon from 1967 by Ayd Instone

John Lennon may have left us 31 years ago, but his legacy is not only alive and well – it’s making a lot of money.

• It has an annual income of over £10M which adds to the existing £400M already banked.

• Lennon is number one in the world for rock memorabilia. Any handwritten lyrics usually sell for in excess of £400,000. In June 2010, handwritten lyrics to A Day in the Life sold for £810,000. His simple line drawings sell for around £4000

• 1 million people visit Liverpool each year to follow the Beatles trail, spending around £48M while they’re there.

• There are over 5000 books on Lennon currently in print. There are numerous stage musicals, plays and tribute acts performing around the world.

You may scoff and say, “of course there’s money, he’s an icon, a legend, due in part to the obvious fact that he’s dead. It’s not like my business at all, a completely different thing.”

But you’d be wrong. Just think about what that really means…

The aim of any business is to make money and the aim of any business owner is for that business to make money without them being there. Lennon has achieved that.

He did, in fact achieve it in his lifetime and were he alive and well today he would be making even more money. The Beatles were repeatedly offered $1M in the mid 1970s to reform, even just for one day. They couldn’t be bothered. In one such offer, they were asked live on a television show, just to turn up to the studio before the show finished. Oddly, Paul McCartney was visiting John in New York at the time. The story goes, they got as far as putting their coats on, but then, feeling a bit tired, decided to stay in and order pizza instead.

But let’s put to one side the thoughts of Lennon and the Beatles being gods with the Midas touch, leave for a moment the wonderful music and the messages of peace and love and look at some of the practical aspects that have turned John Lennon from rock ‘n’ roll performer into a massive, profitable business empire.

Lennon’s legacy is a type of business that if we weren’t clouded with the magic and beauty of his original product: entertainment and the fact that so many of us equate creativity with some other purpose other than making money, we’d see what it is. It’s a franchise.

The Lennon franchise includes those heritage tours, the museums and exhibitions, the sales of his artwork and writing, the repackaging of his back catalogue plus the ever expanding business in tribute acts, musicals, biopics and books created by an ever increasing pool of fans, friends and relatives. They may all working to keep the name alive but in the process have created  a branded merchandise franchise not too different to George Lucas’s ever expanding Star Wars (do you remember when it was just a film?) or even, if I can bring myself to say it, MacDonald’s.

There are some key choices that Lennon made, as part of the Beatles and after that helped to grow the Beatles, and then his own solo success. He also made more big, and more devastatingly bad decisions in his short career than the rest of us usually make in a lifetime.

Here are 9 great decisions and actions he used to great effect:

1. Choose one niche, do one thing really well, irrespective of what everyone else is doing

It’s hard to believe now, but when the Beatles performed their peculiar version of Rock ‘n’ Roll to audiences in Liverpool and then Hamburg in 1960 to 1962 they had chosen an obscure and almost irrelevant out-of-date musical style. Rock ‘n’ Roll was a fad that had lasted from 1957 to 1959, mainly imported from America by the likes of Bill Haley and Elvis. Many of the other acts we know about today in the pantheon of the genre were not too widely known and by 1960, rock ‘n’ roll had all but vanished to be replaced by crooning pretty boys singing safe, boring Tin Pan Alley formula songs. The Beatles chose what they liked and what they were good at, irrespective of market forces. They were told by the record company Decca, “groups with guitars are on the way out…” and they took no notice.

2. Appoint people to your board who are better than you

The American author and speaker Bill Stainton puts it best in his book about the Best Decisions the Beatles Ever Made where he points out what bigger and decision could a teenager like Lennon could make than to allow a cleverer, more talented, prettier musician into his own band with whom he’d have to share the limelight with? Lennon knew that the Beatles would be better with McCartney. His ambition and decision making process was not clouded by pride.

3. Charm the media with natural wit – not a fake persona

One of the keys to the Beatles immense success was the way they charmed the World’s media. Lennon was the best at it. It worked because he was always himself. Whereas McCartney was always awkward and embarrassed in front of the cameras, Lennon appeared natural and honest. He could be cruel, cheeky and very funny. The Beatles became quickly seen as young men of interest and influence, not just grinning pop singers. Their opinions were sought on a variety of intellectual topics that before the Beatles appeared, would be unthinkable to ask a mere singer or musician. Lennon’s honesty and integrity came across and it connected people to him.

4. Bring your interests and expertise into your money making products and services to make them more unique and more compelling

The towering beacons of the 1960s were undoubtedly the Beatles and Bob Dylan. What’s fascinating is how they admired, hated, loved and influenced each other. Lennon inspired Dylan to expand his music arrangements into new areas and Dylan inspired Lennon to expand his lyrics into new areas. Dylan couldn’t understand how Lennon could write such interesting, deep, funny and clever prose in his two books (In His Own Write, 1964 and A Spaniard in the Works, 1965) and yet kept that use of language, wit and allegory out of his song lyrics. Literary reviewers had likened the poems in In His Own Write to Edward Lear. High praise. And yet Lennon was still writing songs about banal topics as ‘diamonds and rings’.

Lennon took this observation seriously. The first results were the introspective coded lyrics of I’m A Loser (Beatles For Sale, 1964) and You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away (Help!, 1965). These were followed by the creation of songs whose theme was not romantic love such as The Word (Rubber Soul, 1965) and the mighty Tomorrow Never Knows (Revolver, 1966). From then on, Lennon’s songs explored obscure themes of existence and thoughtful psychology with only the exception of songs directed inspired by his relationship with Yoko. Look at the internal questioning of Strawberry Fields Forever, the dreamlike Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, the wordplay of I Am the Walrus and the surreal imagery of Happiness is a Warm Gun.

5. Be prolific

From 1963 to 1966 the Beatles averaged every year two national tours and a world tour, 3 to 4 number one singles, 2 top charting EPs, 2 number one albums, a film and a few short promo films, a Christmas show, numerous tv appearances and a weekly radio show, every year. That’s prolific.

6. When you have nailed your first key product or service, move onto the next natural one. Constantly change by evolving

Having conquered the hit song, Lennon and McCartney started selling their spare songs and writing songs for other performers to sing. This increased their earnings considerably. Lennon then entered the world of book publishing with his collection of funny surreal verse, another win. Then they entered the movie business producing four hit films, A Hard Days Night (1964), Help! (1965), Yellow Submarine (1968) and Let It Be (1970). The Beatles left frustration and feelings of inadequacy with other rock musicians in their wake. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was frustrated with his own groups inability to change and evolve their sound as quickly as as unexpectedly as the Beatles. There was a secret competition to out-do each others albums that came to a head when the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band causing Brian Wilson to give up and have a nervous breakdown. He shelved the Beach Boys album Smile (it was finally released in 2011) feeling it wasn’t enough. He knew that the Beatles sound was constantly evolving. “Each Beatle album sounded different” he said.

7. If it’s boring, stop doing it

Like everyone of his generation, Lennon wanted to be a film star, among other things. After getting the taste for it in the first two Beatle films, he agreed to be in Richard Lester’s How I Won the War in 1966. He described the experience as being “as boring as hell” and would not appear in a movie again (bar the Beatles own biopic, Let It Be.)

8. Marketing is simple if you keep it simple

Lennon was a genius at marketing. Just think about the ‘Bed in for Peace’ from 1969. It’s still talked about today, 42 years later.

9. Seek out new experiences and new muses

John Lennon ink drawing 1974

John Lennon by Ayd Instone

John had a number of creative breakdowns, each of which he recovered from with something new. The first was perhaps after the whirlwind of touring as a performing Beatle came to an abrupt end in 1966. He, like the others, felt defined by being a live performer with a full schedule. What was he to do now? After throwing himself into the red herring of film acting, Lennon and the Beatles found that experimenting in the recording studio wold give them a new direction. It worked and a new level of creativity was reached.

The next breakdown was sometime in late 1967. Sgt. Pepper had been a massive success, as had every other piece of music that had come from the studio experimentation. But by the end of the year Lennon was creatively drained. His home life was at its lowest ebb. The increased use of drugs was having an effect on his ego resulting in a massive loss of self confidence and feeling of failure. Added to this was the death of the Beatles manager and Lennon’s close friend, Brian Epstein. He was questioning the meaning of everything and losing his purpose.

There were two parts to his escape from this low. One was the getaway: the Beatles retreat to India. Intended as a spiritual retreat, it re-fueled each Beatle’s creativity, composing so many songs that their next LP would have to be a double, The Beatles aka The White Album (songs from India also made it onto the Let It Be and Abbey Road albums the following year as well as onto Lennon, McCartney and Harrison albums for many years to come.)

The other aspect to Lennon’s creative revival was Yoko. Many people cite Lennon’s pairing with Yoko as the worst thing that could have happened, and the reason for the Beatles split. The truth is more complex. It’s true that Yoko replaced Paul as Lennon’s main collaborator. It did mean the fab four would never be the same, but that had been true throughout their career anyway. Yoko started off as John’s new muse, his inspiration, then became his competition and then his business manager and finally Empress of his legacy.

After the Beatles split, each Beatle suffered heavily with lack of purpose, low self confidence, doubt and criticism. In many ways John suffered most, in part because George and Ringo came off, initially, so well in comparison. It must have confused and galled Lennon that Harrison, freed from the restrictions of two songs per LP in the dominated world of Lennon-McCartney, had just released a triple LP of critically acclaimed material. Ringo became (briefly) the highest paid actor in Hollywood. Paul carried on being Paul, now teamed with his new wife Linda, and was having melodic hit after melodic hit. And yet there he was, the instigator and powerhouse of Beatlemania, struggling to enter the charts, estranged from a hostile press, addicted to Heroin and within a few years separated from his second wife. (He and Yoko nearly divorced, their 18 month separation was re-branded as ‘The Lost Weekend’ by Lennon after their reconciliation of 1974).

His recovery from all this took the rest of his life to turn around. First, during The Lost Weekend, he was re-aquatinted with old friends and collaborators, healed old wounds and wrote and performed for fun. He hung out with Ringo, Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, Bowie, Elton John and Mick Jagger, but it was his oldest friend that would seal his fate to create the final chapter in his life. He’d been seeing Paul McCartney on and off in 1974 (they even had a jam together with Harry Nilsson and Stevie Wonder). John was ready for a reunion and Paul had the choice, after a conversation he’d had with Yoko, that he could get the Beatles back together, or, relay how Yoko felt and what John needed to do to heal their marriage. Paul chose to help John and Yoko. They got back together in 1974. The Beatles reunion was postponed for the next opportunity, but by the time it was planed to happen in 1981, it was too late, John had gone.

But returning to John’s creativity breakthrough, it needed two elements, missing from the early 70s, which he finally found in the last years of his life. One was security. At last his finances were in order. His lifestyle was healthy, his home life was stable. He has a proud ‘househusband’ and father, bringing up his son Sean. The second was adventure. he sailed a boat single-handed through a storm in Bermuda and he thought of returning to the stage with new material (plus greatest hits of his solo and his Beatle hits) in the new year of 1981. The first fruits of his renewed creativity gave us the LP Double Fantasy and the posthumous tracks on Milk and Honey. There would have been much more to come if history had taken a different course on 8th December 1980.

In the next article I’ll discuss more of the best business decisions Lennon ever made plus look at some of the most devastating bad ones that almost brought the myth, and the money, crashing down.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com


Imagine and the Millennium Prayer


John Lennon beatlesIn 1999 I wrote an article about the two songs released at Christmas that year which competed for the number one slot in the UK single charts.

They were John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ and Cliff Richard’s ‘The Millennium Prayer’ (the Lords Prayer sang to the tune of ‘Amazing Grace’).

As we approach the 31st anniversary of John Lennon’s untimely death, I thought it might be worth looking at again.

Both songs were saying very different things to very different people – or were they?

Both are very simplistic musically and lyrically, presenting quite complex ideas with enormous consequences in straightforward everyday language.

‘Imagine’ is John Lennon’s most famous song, but by no means his best selling (that honour goes to ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’). It was composed a year after the Beatles split, at his house in Ascot in 1971, becoming the title track of his second solo album. Some of the lyric came from his wife, Yoko’s book ‘Grapefruit’. The song stands out on the album like a healthy thumb on a sore fist – its plea for world peace is at odds with the bitter and cynical songs that follow it. It was not released as a single at the time and had to wait until 1975 when it was released to promote a Lennon greatest hits compilation (reaching number 6). It was re-released following his death in 1980, taking the number 1 slot for four weeks in January 1981.

In April 1970 Lennon had walked out on the most successful and popular entertainment phenomena in history. After leaving the Beatles, he began the process of deconstructing his cheeky, friendly mop-top image, much to the disappointment of his fans. John had married Yoko One, an avant guard Japanese American artist in 1969 – from then on the two were never seen apart. John began his new role of dressing in white and parading around the world outraging his fans and critics alike by proclaiming peace and ‘War is Over – If You Want it’.

His message, like the lyric to ‘Imagine’ was simple and by his own admission, childish. If everyone stayed in bed for a week, there’d be no more war – Lennon knew he was no politician (who he described as ‘all insane’) but he knew he had a presence and the attention of the world’s youth. Outraged by the crisis of the late sixties and Britain and America’s involvement in Biafra and Vietnam he began his bed-in for peace campaign.

Born out of clownish stupidity John described himself and Yoko as the ‘Laurel and Hardy of the peace movement’ seeing their role as drawing the world’s attention to the issues then allowing the serious peacemakers who lacked his public appeal to take over. John wanted to fight the enemies of peace with humour, vowing he would never take himself seriously, because he said, ‘all the serious people like Ghandi, Kennedy and Martin Luther King got shot’.

After ‘Imagine’ was released, the World Church approached Lennon to ask to use the song as their theme. Initially he was interested until they asked to change the line, ‘Imaging no religion’ to ‘Imagine one religion’. Lennon flew into a rage saying that they had misunderstood the whole point of the song. But what was ‘the point of the song’?

John refers to himself as being regarded by the world as a dreamer. He knows that the sentiment of ‘peace’ sounds idealistic and even foolish. He then informs us that he’s not the only one and that someday hopes that we, the listener will join with him and all the ‘dreamers’ so that the world will live as one, in peace. To me that’s the most important part of the song. A personal request for us all, when we’re ready, to join those who dream of world peace.

The Beatles had been involved with religion before. In 1967 they attended a talk by the Marharishi Mahesh Yogi. Ringo never really got stuck into the eastern philosophy (he didn’t like the food) and Paul’s Catholic upbringing made him feel uncomfortable with it. George and John however dived in head first. George was the first to renounce drugs in late ’67 in favour of meditation. John’s affair with the Hindu mystic was short lived, pulling out of their stay in India after discovering that the Marharishi had urges that were certainly very human.

A year earlier had come the first sign of Beatlemania turning against them. John had mentioned in an article in a British magazine interview that he believed the Beatles were now more popular than Jesus. In Britain no-one took any notice, but the southern states of America went into a frenzy of burning Beatle records in numerous bonfire points culminating in the Beatles receiving a death threat from the Klu Klux Klan. In a very uncomfortable interview, John had to explain to a press conference what he had meant, and apologise. He said, ‘I didn’t mean that we were better, or greater than Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing or whatever it is. I just said what I said and it was wrong, or was taken wrong and now it’s all this. I use the term Beatles as I see them…If I has said television was more popular than Jesus I might have got away with it.’

John’s involvement with the peace movement was always from a common sense point of view. He was attacked by critics for seemingly criticising protestors involved in the riots in 1968. His Beatles song ‘Revolution’ says that instead of violence, ‘You’d better free your minds instead’. In an interview around that time he said, ‘Ok, so you bring down the government, what then? You assassinate the leaders, what then?’ Lennon’s view was that it was the system that needed attacking, not the people and to attack the system people’s minds needed changing on an individual basis, a personal belief that he had found lacking in eastern mysticism.

Lennon gave up his peace protests in 1975 after the birth of his son Sean. Now living in America, he had been threatened by the CIA who had been bugging his telephone and had agents following him around over a period of two years. With the risk of him losing his permit to stay in America, he wrote to all the movements that he had been involved with, including his record company, saying that he was withdrawing from public life to bring up his son.

Lennon said in 1970, ‘Jesus was all right. It’s his disciples twisting it that ruins it for me.’ At that time he was surprised to hear that his close friend Bob Dylan had become a Christian. And yet in his last interview (two days before his death in 1980) he talked about studying early Christian gnosticism and had become an avid viewer of television evangelism.

Taken alone, ‘Imagine’ appears to describe a humanist utopia, but in the context of Lennon’s life and his other, rather large, body of work, it proves to be a reductionistic prose that, like the Lord’s Prayer, hints at a greater goodness. It would take many more words to explain fully but through gentle well chosen passages, stirring strings and a haunting piano, it manages to capture the attention of today’s impatient minds, perhaps just long enough for them to consider the message.

Lennon’s work alternately switched from proclaiming peace and love to proclaiming his own humanity and frailty. The line in the song, ‘Image there’s no heaven’ is presented as though he believes that it exists, like he believes there are countries and possessions. What he wants to achieve from the song is the removal of obstacles that prevent world peace and that prevent us living for today, the same message as ‘give us today our daily bread’ – we cannot eat yesterday’s or tomorrow’s bread, only today’s.

The message of ‘Imagine’ is the same as of most of the Beatles songs, essentially the same as the Lord’s Prayer, that of universal, eternal love.

In 1967 the Beatles were chosen to open the first satellite broadcast around the world to 300 million viewers. John wrote a special song for the occasion called ‘All You Need is Love’. George Harrison said of the song and the broadcast as ‘an opportunity to do PR for… God’. It wasn’t that he really thought that you don’t need food or water, only love, but instead that we actually do have everything already, but what we really need, the thing that is missing, is love.

What would Lennon make of his song being used for the Millennium? From his reaction to other things in his life we can safely assume that his reaction would not be the one we’d expect. Having his song used for a bland aimless celebration of nothing he would certainly have disapproved. But if in minds of the hedonistic aimless revellers at the white elephant of the £789 million Millennium Dome, it it stirred some thoughts on peace, he would have been pleased.

Cliff Richard’s ‘The Millennium Prayer’ was released by an independent record label, Papillon Records, after Richard’s own label EMI refused to release it. Proceeds of the single went to aid charity Children’s Promise. It was panned by the critics and many radio stations refused to play it. A 2004 VH1 poll labeled it the worst number one record of all time. (Imagine had been ranked by Rolling Stone as the third greatest song of all time)

The Millennium Prayer won the Ivor Novello award for the best selling single of 1999. It was Richard’s fourteenth number 1 hit, hitting the top spot on 4th December 1999 and was the third highest-selling single of his career. The re-release of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ sat behind it at number 3. Both singles were beaten to the Christmas and new millennium number 1 spot by Westlife with their ‘I Have A Dream’/’Seasons in the Sun’.

Creativity and the Beatles

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

Read more here.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

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