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How the Beatles strike a chord in business

The Beatles


Come Together: The Business Wisdom of the Beatles

By Richard Courtney and George Cassidy

Trade Paper Press, 248 pages, $25.55

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In life, the Beatles told us, all you need is love. And in business, all you need is the Beatles, according to Nashville writers George Cassidy and Richard Courtney.

To achieve Beatle-like success in your field, they say you must first learn to think like the famed musical group. That means you must aspire, like the Fab Four, to be big. They wanted to be bigger than Elvis Presley, bigger than any musical group that had existed. "Few aspire to greatness, even fewer to be the greatest," the writers note in Come Together: The Business Wisdom of the Beatles.

Most people, they contend, are comfortable with mediocrity. We hold ourselves back with lack of ambition. Even if we have some ambition, we might fail to find the ignition switch. We don't know ourselves well enough to figure out where we might be great.

John Lennon was born with the drive to be the best in the world, but wasn't sure at what. "His dreams remained vague - and therefore unattainable - until he and his young friend Paul McCartney began hearing American rock 'n' roll records. The songs of Buddy Holly, Elvis, Ray Charles, the Everly Brothers, and Little Richard transformed their inchoate longings into something different, something better, something bigger, into a passion and gradually a plan," the authors write.

To be successful, you also need a little help from your friends. You can't do it alone. The Beatles were a foursome, with some top talent helping them in the studio. They became more than the sum of their parts.

But at the heart of their success was the duo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, a reminder at the same time, the authors say, of the importance of dyads. Duos are particularly common in entertainment - Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. But they exist in other fields; David Heenan and Warren Bennis catalogued some from business and sports (and a notable one in fiction, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson) in Co-leaders.

When John and Paul met as young teenagers in 1957, John immediately saw his new friend possessed many talents he didn't have. Notably, Paul was the better natural musician (John couldn't even tune his guitar). But Paul recognized that John had a raw edge he was missing and a keen wit. They were soon writing songs together - because Paul was left-handed, face-to-face - and agreed to ascribe both their names to their songs, regardless of who had more input, and share the income 50-50.

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"If you or your business is stalled, and deep down you recognize some 'old business,' some old familiar flaw that is once again tripping you up, maybe you have been waiting for someone to perform with. Perhaps it is time to find the other half of your business dyad," the authors write.

But the Beatles, even as they soared in popularity, were able to move beyond that vital dyad and, indeed, beyond even the quartet, to get advice from others who had something to teach. They were influenced by Bob Dylan's records, but the authors note "they didn't just get their information from records - as peers, the Beatles and Dylan sought each other out and had long, fruitful (and often, stoned) discussions about their mutual ideas on songwriting." They also served as mentors to others, inspiring Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to write their own songs.

The Beatles hit the jackpot, but they didn't collect as much as they should because at times they didn't get the competent help they needed and were too easygoing. The book shows how they signed bad contracts with their inexperienced manager Brian Epstein, who in turn made some woeful deals, notably with record producer George Martin. For every record the band sold, they were only getting one English penny as a royalty - with Mr. Epstein and his company taking 25 per cent off the top.

They also hired too many of their friends, who became hangers-on, and they set up a variety of companies, on whims, supposedly to help with tax planning, that turned into financial debacles. The authors counsel you to get professional, third-party advice when building your business.

The story of the Beatles is familiar to us, and so the lessons taken from their life have special meaning - we know the facts, and when we focus, take away a message. Reading their story will also bring back memories for children of the 60s. But the book tries to take away too many lessons - 100 in short chapters of two to four pages. The vast majority are feeble and perhaps because of that, the writers become overwrought in trying to impress their message on readers. They could have learned from this immortal Beatles wisdom: Let it be.


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After losing her job at the New York Daily News, Caitlin Kelly (who once toiled for this newspaper) found herself working in retail, and in Malled (Portfolio, 226 pages, $32.50) she shares what she learned as a front-line worker in those trenches.

In Bare-Knuckle People Management (Ben Bella, 255 pages, $17.50) consultants Sean O'Neil and John Kulisek offer a no-nonsense approach to taking your team to greater heights, with insights on the 16 basic worker types you must oversee, from "the badass" to "the burnout."

The Guide to Getting Paid (John Wiley, 204 pages, $29.95) by credit and collections consultant Michelle Dunn shows how to deal with bad-paying customers and collect on past due balances.

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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