Fab 4 Lessons About Creativity from Watching The Beatles

Jeff Lowe

March 4, 2022

As a self-described Beatles super fan, I’ve been drawing inspiration from the lads from Liverpool, nearly all my life. In my younger years, I tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to become a real-life rock star, but sadly more practical pursuits eventually prevailed. (Plus, the ironically named Velcro Shoes never could catch on with the foot fashion-forward crowd.) I named two of my kids after Beatles songs or actual Beatles members. And, for a period of time between my late teens and early twenties, the “mop top” was the hippest hairstyle around—an ideal that I espoused proudly, both in and on my head.

As said self-described super fan, I’m slightly ashamed to admit that it’s taken me nearly three months to make it through the Disney+ documentary, “The Beatles: Get Back.” (Again, those ever-present, ever-prevailing practical pursuits.) But now that I’ve finished watching it, it’s easy to see why I, and so many others, try to emulate John, Paul, George, and Ringo. I’m more convinced now, than ever before, that they are creative geniuses, the likes of which the world has rarely seen. And, as someone who attempts to be creative in my own professional (if still practical) pursuits, I saw The Beatles in a brand-new light during this documentary. Here are four fabulous lessons I learned about the creative process from the Fab Four.

1. The Best Idea Eventually Wins

I’ve watched my fair share of Beatles documentaries, and I was expecting more of the same from Peter Jackson’s “The Beatles: Get Back.” But to my surprise, the footage, the music, the interviews, the dialogue—everything was incredibly raw.

This creative choice surprised me at first, but eventually I grew to really appreciate the format. For the first time ever, I got to see The Beatles in their element. They were in studio, interacting with each other, writing songs, making music, planning a concert, and making creative decisions as a group. Every member brought their own ideas to the table to be altered, added to, and refined, before eventually given life.

Even though the group’s primary songwriters (John and Paul) wrote mostly on their own in these later years, each song was still credited to Lennon/McCartney—a testament to the significance of the group creative process. It may also explain why the post-Beatles individual iterations of each artist (with the exception of one example—more on that later) never spoke to me the same way.

Applying this lesson to creative endeavors, I was reminded of the power of the group creative process and how creative pride can sometimes get in the way of a good idea. When first formed, a creative idea has an uncanny way of bypassing the brain’s BS filter. It sparks to life and becomes part of the creator—an extension of their genius in a chosen medium.

No creative likes to kill their babies or have their genius called into question, but that’s the benefit of the group creative process—the best idea wins. This process provides checks and balances on unbridled creative pride and allows for good ideas to eventually become great. If The Beatles can subscribe to such a process—and remembering that its defiance led to their eventual undoing—anyone can.

2. Don’t Underestimate the George Harrisons

I was surprised to learn while watching this documentary that George Harrison—the infamously unsung Beatle, who was actually an amazing singer in his own right—abruptly quit The Beatles during the Let It Be sessions. Somehow this fact completely escaped me until now, and the circumstances that led to his exit reminded me of an important creative principle—never underestimate the quiet ones.

If you watched the documentary, you know that George essentially left the group after feeling that his voice was unheard. The “quiet Beatle” was either being drowned out by louder voices and larger-than-life personalities, or ignored altogether. Either way, his ideas were falling on deaf ears, and he felt lost in the noise—enough to leave the band altogether.

I have since learned that during the few days George left the group (he eventually got back), he wrote several songs that would later appear on his first solo album, the aptly named All Things Must Pass. In other words, George used the ideas that he was trying to communicate with his world-famous rock band to create a masterpiece of his own. And in the humble estimation of this self-proclaimed super fan, it’s the best collection of songs written by any former Beatle.

In a balancing act with lesson number (the best ideas eventually win), creatives need to be aware enough to recognize a good idea, no matter where it comes from. During creative brainstorms, the loud voices tend to win out. Even bad ideas can sound like good ideas when delivered by the right person in the right way. And those voices tend to drown out other, sometimes better ideas, especially from unlikely sources. It’s a good reminder to create a creative environment that encourages every voice to speak up and every idea to be considered.

3. Create a Culture of Creativity—Have Fun

For the uninitiated, the Let It Be sessions were the beginning of the end of The Beatles. From my understanding (before viewing the documentary), this period of time was entrenched in turmoil. And while the documentary certainly captures some of this, my general takeaway was different.

Despite creative differences, George temporarily leaving the band, and Yoko sitting on an amp (when she wasn’t screaming into a microphone), The Beatles genuinely seemed to have fun together. I was impressed with their ability to put differences aside and treat each other (and each other’s significant other) with respect and get good work done. Even as George left the group, the remaining members realized their mistake and made every effort to be contrite and reunite.

From a creative perspective, arguments arise, personalities differ, some valuable members of the group may even leave, but when you create an atmosphere of fun, great things happen. Whether you do this at the beginning of a brainstorm to get the creative juices flowing, or perhaps more importantly, create an ongoing culture of fun, this kind of atmosphere—one of laughter and levity—breeds creativity.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Make a Creative Course Correction

“The Beatles: Get Back” not only tells the story of the band recording their final (released) album, it also documents the decision-making process that went into their final public appearance. Both projects were huge undertakings that hit multiple creative snags along the way. The band began filming the sessions for a TV show and an upcoming concert, but the specifics of where (and exactly what) were as yet undetermined.

Over the course of the documentary, the band moved between studios and evolved their ideas to adjust to complications and fit within certain constraints. Eventually, they landed on an idea that became perhaps the most famous (and infamous for its illegality) concert ever.

The Beatles final public concert took place on the rooftop of Apple Corps (not that Apple) headquarters in London. It was unannounced, unceremonious, and to the dismay of a large gathering of onlookers, totally unauthorized. In fact, the show was shut down by the London police, not long after it started. It was nonetheless, a genius idea that evolved from a longer list of other failed ideas.

Drawing parallels to present day, creative ideas aren’t always in final form the first try. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad from the outset. Some ideas take the long and winding road to greatness, so don’t be afraid to make a creative course correction when needed. If you’ve ever had the idea that “there’s something good in there somewhere,” you’re probably right. You might just be an iteration away.

Whether you’re engaged in the practical pursuits of a creative career or you’ve fully embraced the mop top phenomenon (bangs are back, no need to feel ashamed), take it from the creative quartet themselves. Follow these four lessons to turn off your mind, relax and float down the proverbial stream of consciousness toward better, more complete creative ideas.