RAM on against the critics


Paul and Linda McCartney RAMIn my last article on criticism I focused on John Lennon. Let’s have a look at what happened to Paul McCartney who had to deal with criticism in a different and more prolonged way.

McCartney had, unlike John, lived his life almost without any form of criticism at all, right up until the end of the 60s. Then it hit him hard. Blamed for the acrimonious way the Beatles split up and appearing to attack the other three and their business decisions, it placed McCartney as the outsider. The press and the public seemed to always side with Lennon and the others. While Lennon’s first solo efforts were seen as deep, McCartney’s were seen as shallow. He suddenly found himself in a place where, just a year or so earlier he was hailed as Britain’s greatest songwriter, responsible for YesterdayMichelle, Eleanor Rigby, Sgt. Pepper, Hey Jude and Let it Be, his new efforts were seen as pale and trivial.

Today we know better. Listening to Every Night and Maybe I’m Amazed of 1970’s McCartney we can imagine that a followup to Abbey Road would have been every bit as great.

In 1971 McCartney recorded his second solo effort and his first post-Beatles LP, entitled RAM. He’d been in a panic as to what to do following the split. The pressure to deliver something spectacular must have been enormous. His solution was a great one: just do what would be fun. He retreated to his Scottish farm and with the help of his new wife Linda, created the new album.

When it was released it face almost universal scorn. Lennon reportedly hated it (it contained secret messages to Lennon encoded in the themes of the songs Too Many People and Dear Boy). Even Ringo, who nearly always managed to stay positive and not take sides said that “there wasn’t a good song on it”. However it did spawn a massive US number one single with Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.

Everyone, including McCartney’s own record company despised the fact he’d credited the album to ‘Paul and Linda McCartney’ and the ‘fan’ backlash against Linda continued. That had begun with his marriage to Linda in 1969 – how could ‘their’ Beatle, leave beautiful and talented Jane Asher (she left McCartney by the way) for this plain, American divorcee? Paul took his family on tour with him throughout the 70s with his band ‘Wings’ and Linda sang (and played) in the shows and on the records, giving rise to the joke, ‘what do you call a dog with wings? – Answer: Linda McCartney.’

But what makes the story of RAM all the more curious is that in May 2012 it was re-released in remastered form, on multiple CDs, DVD box sets and as 190g vinyl record to universal acclaim, with radio stations and rock magazines showering praise and awards on it.

They even went as far as saying that RAM was McCartney’s best ever album.

And Linda turned out to be a devoted wife, loving mother, talented award winning photographer, famous celebrity chef, founder of and instigator of soya protein vegetarian food. When she tragically died from breast cancer in 1999, everyone loved her.

So it just goes to show, even when you face what seems like universal criticism, you can never really be sure of the context, which might be different for every critic. Getting criticism doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done a bad job. People will always have their own agendas and reason for slagging you and you work off.

So take care. You may well have just produced your greatest work too.

(In 1995, the famous and successful comedian and actor Stephen Fry disappeared. His friends got worried. It was because he’d had a bad review for a show. He said he’d felt as low as he thought possible. If his talent and his track record wasn’t enough to fend off just one bad review then it’s no surprise the rest of us suffer.)

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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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

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


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


How to write songs (or create just about anything)


John Lennon and Paul McCartneyThere’s an important difference between most classically trained musicians and self-taught musicians that gives us an interesting clue into our creativity. It’s to do with the difference between prescriptive practice and trial and error…

Few self-taught musicians play classical music, they tend to play more popular styles. The reason for that is that classical playing is difficult and requires dedication and discipline that, in most cases, needs tuition to get right. Pop music on the other hand has few rules and it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what they are.

Most songwriters and music composers are of the self-taught pop music kind. In fact, being a self taught pop musician almost always leads to composition, whereas much fewer classical players write their own music. (Just about every fledgling rock guitarist has written a batch of songs within 6 months of learning to play. The average member of any orchestra, no matter how accomplished, may never put pen to paper).

The reason is that the two types of playing, or rather the journey that arrives at the types of playing, use different kinds of learning and result in different types of creative expression.

With the classical musician, the task is to master the instrument in the proper way, to learn the language of music to be able to read it and perform it with accuracy and then hopefully, with personality.

With a pop musician, the task is to knock out your favourite tunes to entertain yourself and others as quickly as possible.

With the classical musician, the task of learning heads towards perfection through practice. Mistakes are corrected and eventually eradicated.

With the pop musician, mistakes arrive quickly due to ignorance or lack of technical ability on how the favourite song should be played. But instead of correcting, some of these errors are kept in to give a deliberately imperfect performance of the song. Getting ‘the gist’ of it gives a much quicker result.

With the classical musician, the task of playing does not naturally lead to original composition whereas with the pop musician, original composition is the natural destination. When the pop musician strikes the wrong chord, or sings the wrong note or lyric and that mistake sounds ‘interesting’ they have, due to that mistake, become a songwriter.

The thing that first impressed Paul McCartney when he first met John Lennon when John was playing with his band The Quarrymen at the school fete on 6th July 1957, was that John clearly didn’t know all the words to the rock and roll songs they were performing and because of that he made new ones up that sounded roughly right. He was already a proto-songwriter.

The driving force for many pop musicians isn’t that different from classical musicians: they both start off wanting to perform a particular piece with perfection.

With Paul McCartney, he wanted to sound like his heroes such as Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. His early inadequacies meant that he could get close, but not all the way. Those performances that were close, but slightly different then easily became modified into new songs in their own right. They sounded similar to the inspiration but had a different personality. This inability of Lennon and McCartney to write songs exactly like their heroes is what gave us that amazing Beatle sound and those brilliant new songs.

As the sixties progressed and McCartney became such an amazingly proficient musician, he could replicate his favourite songs exactly and easily so had to draw upon new sources and methods to create new songs. You can hear the transition in 1965/66 with the songs like Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby. The reason he could move on to write in a different way was because of the way he had learnt to play, by trial and error. The resulting connections in his neural pathways gave rise to a whole new direction for his composition.

With a pop musician, most new compositions arise from the happy coincidence of unusual chord progressions, melody or rhythm combinations. This is because the way they learnt to engage with music was in a way that allowed errors, and, allowed those errors to be incorporated and developed.

In business we need to think more like the pop musician rather than the classical musician. Our aim is not to aim for a prefect rendition as an end in itself, but to aim for perfection as a method that throws up interesting diversions that could very well lead to a fantastic innovation.

Creativity and the Beatles

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

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Don’t let your ego get in the way of success


Ayd Instone John Bloor Jason BlundellWhen I formed my first proper band aged 17 we were almost ready to take on the world. By that point I’d written close to 100 songs (and bandmates John and Jase were writing good stuff too). But we had a problem.

With the exception of Mark on drums, we all played guitar. John was far and away the best lead guitar, but both Jase and played rhythm. We had no bass player. With hindsight it’s easy to see that either Jase or me should have switch to bass, even if just for gigs. A year later both of us independently bought bass guitars to use on our recordings and we both quickly learned to be quite good at it. I even enjoyed it (and still do).

The reason neither of us did what was so obviously needed is the same reason that other enterprises fail, be they bands or businesses: we were both totally stubborn and had fixed ideas about what we wanted to do.

Let’s compare this attitude with the early Beatles who faced exactly the same dilemma 26 years earlier. They had three guitar players. John’s artist friend Stuart Sutcliffe had played bass in the early Hamburg gigs, sometimes so badly that he’d turn his back to the audience so no-one would notice he’d be playing the wrong notes. But he had left to continue his painting and be with his German girlfriend, photographer Astrid Kirchherr.

So that meant they had no bass. Who was going to switch, John, Paul or George? It wasn’t going to be George because he was lead guitar which is something you usually can’t do when singing. As George wasn’t going to be a full-time front man it made sense for him to stay on lead. John was stubborn and refused as he identified the guitar as the front-man’s instrument. I bet he’d realised that it would be too hard to pay bass and sing too. I think that Jase felt that way too. In retrospect I should have been the bigger man, like Paul, who switched to bass without fuss. Paul’s genius with melody enabled him to play some of the greatest bass lines in popular music whist singing the main vocal line live. The Beatles then had the perfect line up to create their sound.

My band, The Jinx on the other hand, were stuck with two rhythm guitars and no bass, creating a thinner, trebly sound live with no low end to drive it. As I found out much later, I was perfectly capable of playing bass and singing live. If only I hadn’t put my fixed ideas and stubbornness in front of the big picture.

The lesson learnt: sacrifices may need to be made for success.

Having fixed, immovable ideas can hold you back. I didn’t want to play bass because I wanted to be the John in the band, not the Paul. There were even four members of the band because that was the magic number: anything to be like the Beatles, that was the model. But trying to shoehorn our quite different attributes and personalities into a preconceived model was foolish. It disregarded each individual’s uniqueness for the sake of an fixed idea. A decade later, I found that we were a better band as a threesome, ‘a power trio’. It took that long to break away from trying to follow the wrong prescription.

The lesson learnt: have a model to follow, but don’t make it above question and change it if needed.

The band contained yet another example of this. I’d taken the model of each member of the band being of equal status with Jase and I being the two front men (i.e. the John and Paul), John taking George’s role and Mark as Ringo. In many ways it would have better suited us if I’d been less fair on the spotlight and pushed myself forward as the singer/songwriter and had the rest, as ‘my band’. At the time, that model would have shown our uniqueness clearer to agents and bookers. But Cliff and the Shadows or even Bob Dylan and The Band were not my models. Putting as the main face could have been better, but so too could the idea of making Jase the figurehead. I recently saw a picture of a young Elvis Presley. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I’d seen a photo of Jase, circa 1989. Again, the arrogance and insecurity of my youth did not allow me to realise that we could have sold the band off the back of Jase being pushed to the front instead of me. His tall, dark and handsome Elvis look complete with quiff was exaggerated by his adoption, unlike me, of contemporary late eighties fashions which owed more to the late fifties than the then alienness appearance of sixties fashion which I was looking for. What’s more people came to see Jase, or more importantly, girls came to see Jase. They didn’t come to see me. I thought they should have done, after all, I was the songwriter and band leader. It took me years to discover that girls don’t care about such things. Not when there’s a better looking guy stood there.

The lesson learnt: get the right people in the right roles irrespective of your own ego.

Pride is a hard thing to swallow. Geeky-looking Manfred Mann pushed cool-looking Paul Jones and then Mike d’Abo to front his band. Noel Gallagher knew that his brother Liam was the face that would sell Oasis.

Bill Stainton picks up the best example of this in his book ‘The 5 Best Decisions the Beatles Ever Made’ when he points out that the biggest thing John Lennon ever did, as an arrogant and confident teenager, on the lookout for success and girls, who already had a working band, was to let young upstart Paul McCartney into his band. Paul was better looking, more popular with the girls, a better singer, better guitarist and was also a songwriter like Lennon. Paul was the most deadly rival a cocksure and yet insecure pubescent Lennon could ever have faced. And yet Lennon was big enough, strong enough and far sighted enough to realise that sharing the front of the stage and sharing the glory with this rival would make a better band with a better chance of success. Lennon was proved to be right and was a far bigger man than I was at the same age.

The lesson learnt: bring in people better than you.

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The Ghost of Yesterday


John Lennon and Pal McCartney by Ayd InstoneAs in all myth, the concept of the creative muse, a supernatural goddess who inspires creative endeavour, contains some truth. Those who have found their creative flow often refer to something coming to them from somewhere else. John Lennon once said that he felt as though he hadn’t actually written his best songs, they had instead been transmitted to him. His ‘aerial’ had picked up the signal and he had written them down.

Many songwriters have described how their songs were ‘transmitted’ to them and all they had to do was write them down. Sometimes they had to leap out of bed to catch the tune that played in their head before it was lost. This has happened to me quite a few times.

I awoke in the night with a fully formed song, with music, lyrics and title complete. I jumped out of bed and played and sang it on the guitar, otherise it would have been lost.

So where did it come from?

A 56 year old man from London claimed recently to have written 350 songs that he was suddenly urged to write by channelling, so he said, the spirit of John Lennon*. The creative process is so weird that it’s easy for many to invoke the supernatural. Mike Powell claimed that Lennon’s ghost visited him after he visited the graves of his deceased parents in 1992. I imagine his experience is less likely to be spectral and more likely to be bicameral.

Perhaps emotions and ideas he was unaware of were being presented to his conscious mind from his subconscious in a way that was so out of character for him and augmented his reality in such a way that it felt as though it must be external. There are many cases of previously un-artistic people suddenly picking up a paintbrush or a guitar and being not only proficient but highly talented. The triggers for these transformations are numerous, but are often unusual stress, or sudden release of stress or even physical trauma.

Paul McCartney said this about the creation of Yesterday, (which became the most recorded song ever). In early 1965 he woke with a melody in his head. It was so powerful that he was sure it must be an old jazz tune. He played it to a few people, but no-one knew it. At that time he didn’t have the words, and as it was breakfast time he improvises words of “Scrambled eggs… oh how I love your legs…” just so he could play through the tune.

He later worked out the real lyrics and the song was released on the No.1 Help! LP in the UK and as a No.1 single in the US. (At the time the Beatles felt the song too sentimental to release as a single in the UK). They even poked fun at it and at Paul when it was first performed.

There’s an interesting appendix to the story of Yesterday. It’s well known that Paul McCartney nearly always wrote about other people in his songs. This allowed him to create masterpieces like Eleanor Rigby and Hey Jude, but unchecked and without Lennon’s realism he was also capable of producing banal and meaningless songs like 1985s Only Love Remains. John Lennon on the other hand, always wrote about his own feelings. This allowed him to give us real emotion in songs like Help!, In My Life, God or Jealous Guy. But unchecked by McCartney’s commercial eye he could easily produce self-indulgent ramblings like Two Virgins, songs with Yoko’s name in and the hurtful How Do You Sleep?

But it’s not that clear cut. It wasn’t until 1995 that Paul realised, while compiling the Beatles Anthology that his 1965 song, Yesterday, apparently on the surface, about the loss of a lover was actually about the very real loss of his own mother a few years earlier from cancer. It was written with his own, secret emotion, all along.

Have a listen to the song again with this context in mind and you’ll hear a pain coming directly from Paul’s unconscious, back there in 1965, at the height of the Beatles glory and fun. A pain that he wasn’t consciously aware of when he wrote it.

Perhaps creativity is a ghost after all, a spectre of energy, emotion and hidden memory that at certain times, perhaps when we least expect it, will come to haunt us.

*Make you own mind up on Mike Powell here.

Creativity and the BeatlesSee the Beatles first ever performance of Yesterday. It’s eerie as the fans emotions change from mania screaming to sobbing as they tune into the song.

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

Read more here.

Book Ayd to speak at your event.
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