Paul McCartney's Innovative Style

by Peter Cook

Paul McCartney's Innovative StyleWhat can one say about the innovation and creativity skills of a man who composed songs ranging from Eleanor Rigby, The Long and Winding Road, Blackbird to The Frog Song? Let’s start at the beginning:

Beginnings

Paul McCartney was born on 18th June 1942 to parents who were around 40 years old when he arrived. Much of his early life was spent playing on bomb sites on the outskirts of Speke in Liverpool. His father was a jazz musician, playing the trumpet and a self taught pianist. He used to tell Paul “Learn to play the piano – you will get invited to parties”

One of the most important elements of the bond between Lennon and McCartney was the fact that both of them had lost their mothers early on in their lives. A partnership needs a bond and early childhood experiences are frequently very powerful in this respect. Other examples include Simon and Garfunkel and Mick Jagger and Keith Richard, who were childhood classmates. All proof positive that you really just need “A little help from your friends” …

Paul McCartney's Innovative StyleHelp!! – The Beatles as represented by Consulting Artist and friend Simon Heath – Twitter @simonheath1

Creative Tension

It is reckoned that Lennon and McCartney were quite different personalities. See an assessment of the Fab Four’s Myers Briggs types below. There is of course some disagreement as to where each of them sit as (a) your type varies over time and (b) it’s rather difficult to assess John and George these days … 🙁 Some argue that John Lennon was an ENTP, which is my own type – a rare breed. In any case, it’s interesting to note that all of The Beatles occupied essentially minority types, especially George Harrison who conceived of the idea to produce large scale concerts to highlight world poverty issues long before Bob Geldof got on the case with Live Aid etc.

Paul McCartney's Innovative StyleThe case for diversity

McCartney and Innovation

Paul McCartney is perhaps a lower risk taker than John Lennon, what psychologist Professor Michael Kirton would call an adaptor, as compared with those people he classed as innovators. Adaptors tend to work within the system, producing ideas that are more within accepted wisdom and so on whereas innovators tend to challenge existing norms, producing more radical ideas, some of which are impractical. Contrast “Yesterday”, written by McCartney with “I am the Walrus”, written predominantly by Lennon. In business, adaptors often have greater success than innovators, as they tend to produce ideas that are less challenging and which are recognised by consumers in the marketplace as being a logical build on existing ideas. Often we need both innovators and adaptors to produce sustainable innovations: The innovators to produce the hard-to-copy ideas and; the adaptors to help bring the ideas into a practical market focus.

Whereas Paul McCartney has traversed musical genres, these have tended to be within existing musical paradigms, for example in his writing of Standing Stones, an album of original classics. He has also tended to be a great arranger of other people’s music. For example McCartney wrote the distinctive mellotron introduction “Strawberry Fields Forever” for John Lennon. His latest album, entitled “New”, provides us with a set of Beatles’ inspired songs. After all, he has nothing to prove. This does not mean that he did not produce anything outside the paradigm. For example it was McCartney that instigated the use of tape loops on “Revolver”. Here is the title track from the album – some shades of Sargent Pepper in this I feel …

McCartney and Creativity

Paul McCartney says that he still seeks advice from John Lennon when songwriting, imagining what John would advise him to do. This skill is what psychologists call projection and fantasy and is embodied in creativity techniques such as ‘Superheroes’, ‘The Disney Creativity Strategy’, ‘Six Thinking Hats’, ‘Wishing’ and so on.

He also exhibits playfulness in his approach to creativity. For example, McCartney woke up with “Yesterday” in his head.  For several weeks the lyrics to “Yesterday” were “Scrambled eggs, oh my baby how I love your legs”. I certainly identify with the idea of putting down a prototype in order to develop an idea into an innovation, both in my life as a musician and as a Research and Development Scientist. Sometimes, putting down any idea produces the creative tension needed to develop a better idea.

There’s more on The Beatles and Creativity in the books “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” and “The Music of Business“.

Paul McCartney's Innovative StyleStill Life with Apple, Mac ca and The Beatles

image credit: by fiona (bluecherry74) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via wikimedia commons
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The Music of Business Peter Cook is a business academic, author, consultant and musician. He leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock, and provides Keynote speaking, Organisational Development and Business Coaching. You can follow him on twitter @Academyofrock. Peter is Rock ‘n’ Roll Innovation Editor at Innovation Excellence.