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Home > Blog > Alpha Dogs, the Beatles and Power
Out of Our Minds
Friday, September 03, 2004 8:32 PM
Alpha Dogs, the Beatles and Power
Anita Sharpe on Life

I have two alpha male dogs: a laid-back Rhodesian Ridgeback, Copper, and an aptly named standard poodle, Tiger, who desperately wants to be top dog. At least twice a day, Tiger stages a power dance which consists of lots of teeth-baring and barking. Copper, who is the older of the two and has a certain canine gravitas, always wins the bark off. Tiger, undeterred, keeps trying. He never tires of the game.

People are different; the power dance invariably grows tiresome. For some reason, this started met thinking about one of my favorite subjects --the Beatles -- and their demise. Almost everyone who follows the Beatles agrees that their greatness stemmed from the creative tension between John Lennon and Paul McCartney: each always tried to write a better song than the other.

In the early days, John, who formed the group as a teen-ager and invited the younger Paul to join, was the lead writer on the group's No. 1 singles. But in 1965, when Paul penned Yesterday, the tables turned. From that point forward, Paul's writing dominated the Beatles' top hits -- out of the next 16 No. 1 singles, Paul was the driver behind Day Tripper, We Can Work it Out, Paperback Writer, Penny Lane, Hello Goodbye, Lady Madonna, Hey Jude, Get Back, Let it Be, and The Long and Winding Road. (And Sgt. Pepper -- the band's critical triumph -- was his idea, as well.)\n\nMy theory on why they broke up is John, being less energetically alpha than Paul but still very competitive, grew tired of the power dance as he got more interested in other stuff. Paul, meanwhile, surely hated getting second billing on songs he essentially wrote.\n\nIn my 20 years of covering business, I've seen similar scenarios play out over and over. You could probably make a case that nearly every great ad agency was formed by the defection of a strong creative talent from another great agency. The same thing happens in the worlds of tech, retailing, publishing. . . And on balance, it seems more positive than not.\n\nAnd yet -- I think about the wonderful alchemy of the Beatles and the products of that creative tension and can't help wondering how the world might be different if power were less of a zero-sum game.\n\n


genevieve - 9/7/2004 10:29:26 AM
I agree bandwidth is important - pity it hadn't been heard of when the Beatles were in full flight. Admit it guys, we milked them for all they were worth and they were just self-taught kids riding on unknown black musicians' backs. It is amazing to watch Anthology and see the residual fear in George's eyes when he spoke of Beatlemania nearly thirty years later. No bandwidth in da house then people.

It wasn't their own power that killed the Lennon- McCartney writing partnership at all, it simply had an intense and brilliant shelf life. No less remarkable for that, I believe.

I have a handicapped son who has been playing Abbey Road every day for a year now. Thank goodness it is the Beatles, I doubt anything else could still cut the mustard for a year.

Mindwalker - 9/7/2004 10:25:43 AM
Here's one of my favorite Beatle stories that relates to this thread:

Paul McCartney was once interviewed on Bob Costas' 'Later' program. He told a story about how in the later years (especially post-Sgt. Pepper), he and John grew increasingly combative and argumentative. The littlest things would send each other storming out of the studio. George Martin described them as 'two immovable icebergs.'

One time, as Paul recalled, they were having a particuarly nasty row. All of a sudden, John leaned forward, pushed his granny sunglasses down slightly so Paul could see his eyes and said quietly, 'Hey, it's only me.' Simple. Quiet. Enough.

That ended the argument and they went on to finish the song they were working on: 'Two of Us' (one of my favorites).

The point is that even as these two creative giants were going back and forth in their power dance, John had the insight to just clear it all away for a brief moment.

For that creative tension to exist, maybe we need to give people all the room they need to vent/express when they need to and yet still leave the door open for them to come back.

Thank goodness I have this song on my iPod this morning:

'Two of us wearing raincoats,
Standing solo in the sun.
You and me chasing paper,
getting nowhere.
On our way back home.
We're on our way home.
We're on our way home.
We're going home.'
- 'Two of Us'
Johnnie Moore - 9/6/2004 3:44:07 AM
Anita: Yes! I am in favour of more creative tension and a power dance will often lead to the suppression or simplification of conflict. I think we need to get more bandwidth between people so that more can be safely expressed and that tends to challenge more rigid hierarchical models.

Paul: I laughed at the subtle point you make about co-creativity and getting credit for your part in the story!
anita - 9/5/2004 2:30:22 PM

I think you're absolutely right about the creative process; and there's no question that Lennon inspired McCartney's greatest writing (and vice versa.) That's why I wonder what would happen if this kind of creative tension were more common -- and lasting -- in business and the arts (instead of succumbing to the power dance.)
paul botsford - 9/5/2004 2:07:47 PM
that's my arm in the picture
Johnnie Moore - 9/5/2004 2:04:59 PM
Those are some thought-provoking dogs you have there.

I think creativity is a far more social process than the popular stereotype of the starving artist in the attic. I think in partnerships it is very easy for one partner to underestimate the subtle ways in which the other supports the creative process. Even - maybe especially - when the relationship has lots of obvious conflict.

We can credit Paul with all those songs, and yet I wonder if any of them would have happened but for the relationship with Lennon.

As for ad agencies, I am suspicious of the tendency to identify individual creative geniuses; the tendency to inflate the individual and downplay the context is particularly exaggerated in that trade...


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