GET BACK! What we learned about improv and collaboration from The Beatles
If you haven't seen Get Back on Disney+ yet, you're really missing something special - something beyond the remarkable late-60's outfits, lung-clogging amounts of cigarettes, and the ubiquitous paisley. Sooo much paisley.
Get Back is a unique window into the creative process of, arguably, one of the greatest bands in history (and I mean "arguably" because my wife and I argue about it often...She's not the biggest Beatles fan. I am.)
So, what are some quick lessons that we can learn from S1:E1 of Get Back featuring The Beatles?
First, good collaboration is about listening, experimenting, failing, and then trying again. In episode 1, at approximately 2:14:14, Paul McCartney is busy directing his vision for a song that is shaping up to be "Get Back." As the riff and bass line start coming together, watch John Lennon and Paul closely. I mean REALLY closely. At 2:15:20 they stand across from each other and start into that blessed communication that only good collaborators experience - "How about this? - What about this? - Let's try this..." During the course of this sequence, they lay the foundation for a guitar hit on the upbeat that becomes one of the signature sounds for the song.
John and Paul collaborating on the song Get Back
How did they get there? Well, they've been collaborators for years, so it's easy to see how they might innately understand each other's creative process. Underneath all of this is an inherent language and subtle agreement of what sounds good and what doesn't. They listen. They try things. They laugh. They are willing to play around. Toward the end of the sequence, you see Paul and John giddily dancing around like children. Their brains have entered the "flow" state and we see them nimbly leverage "The Improv Mindset", which comes naturally from the suppression of the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex during periods of intense group creativity.
Second, there's a lesson here about trust. Paul and John certainly wouldn't have gotten to the point of dancing around if they didn't trust each other implicitly. They trust each other to know what sounds good, what works, and thrive on mutual failure and creation. Yet, watch George Harrison. At 2:17:40 George starts getting shut down by Paul with words like "but" and "that's good enough for the rock 'n roll thing..." He's removed from the creative process, and he's not happy about it (watch his face - he's not able to hide it well). As a matter of fact, at the end of this sequence, he quits The Beatles and walks out. Good news, he comes back - but you certainly see the discord of the band playing out in real-time.
George looking not so happy
As you start thinking about your next creative effort, whether it's a new process, new technology, or new product, consider the following:
Create a space where you can develop trust within the whole team
Establish equity in the process. John and Paul are so in tune with each other that George is more of a sidekick than anything. In episode 2, after they convince George to come back, you see the effort that both John and Paul take to make George feel included and heard.
Even the greatest creative collaborators need to be reminded that the whole of the group makes better music together than one single person.
Got questions or want more detail? Ping us in the comments!
--by Bruce Montgomery