(Fab) Four management insights from The Beatles

by Patrick Adriel Aure

One of life’s best pleasures is discovering The Beatles for the first time.  The sheer volume of hits and hidden gems of the original Fab Four’s discography will delight casual listeners and music aficionados for many hours. As a music fan, I marvel at the quality of the band’s songs that prove to be timeless and appreciated by many generations. Inspired by their success, here are four insights I uncovered from listening to their records and watching documentaries about them.

Insight 1: The beauty of coopetition

One of the most fascinating things about the Beatles is the agreement of John Lennon and Paul McCartney to credit the songs to the Lennon/McCartney partnership even in cases when each wrote songs individually without the help of the other. This agreement gave birth to a circumstance that resembles coopetition (a combination of cooperation and competition),through which competitors collaborate due to an overlap of interests. John and Paul would individually write songs about the same themes (e.g. Revolution and Blackbird; Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane) that would push each other to elevate their creativity. They would strive their songs to be featured on the A-side of albums. However, in the end, both get songwriting credits and the entire band would gain success.  

Managers can strive to create an environment wherein team members can both engage in healthy competition and helpful collaboration to push each other forward.  Perhaps leaders can develop a rewards system that is “coopetitive”—a hybrid of both collective and individual rewards that can motivate team members to improve themselves while benefitting the team.

Insight 2: Individuality that complements the collective

Although the Beatles gained recognition as a band, the members did not stop expressing their individual preferences and improving their musical prowess. John expressed his wit, experimentation and penchant for clever lyrics (I Am the Walrus, Strawberry Fields Forever, A Day in the Life); Paul explored instrumentations not typical of rock-and-roll (Yesterday, Eleanor Rigby, Blackbird); George embraced Eastern and Indian influences such as playing the sitar (Norwegian Wood, Tomorrow Never Knows); and Ringo reinvented expectations for drummers through iconic beats (Come Together, Ticket to Ride). As such, managers must find ways to empower team members to express their individuality that complements the group instead of the traditional notion that members are there to merely follow orders.

Insight 3: Breaking the limits of established perceptions

Although the original Fab Four started primarily as a rock-and-roll band, their evolution shattered notions of what genres a band must perform.  Eleanor Rigby does not a feature a single Beatle in its accompaniments and its darker themes are not what the audience would expect in pop music.  Revolution experimented with loops of tape recordings and is considered as avant-garde even by today’s standards. Studio experiments with tape recordings were also featured in Tomorrow Never Knows, Strawberry Fields Forever and A Day in the Life.  The Beatles did not limit themselves with the conventions of rock and pop music.

As the field of business and management evolved, new concepts and specializations emerged, such as functional areas (marketing, operations, finance, human resources, information technology, etc.) and industries (e.g. consumer goods, pharmaceutical, service, etc.). Although labels can help managers focus, labels can also serve as artificial limiters that hamper creativity. We can learn from how the Beatles kept reinventing and shattering labels that would otherwise limit their creativity.

Insight 4: Relentless practice of profession despite difficulties

The Beatles’ latter years saw increasing frustration and other negative experiences among its members’ personal lives. However, despite the difficulties, The Beatles still produced music. John wrote the dreamy and mystical Across the Universe, while Paul crafted what would be a quasi-religious and widely-acclaimed song in Let It Be. What is more admirable is how George and Ringo were able to grow beyond the shadow of the Lennon/McCartney partnership during the most tumultuous phase of the band’s life. George created Here Comes the Sun as an optimistic song that his personal life and the band’s difficulties will get better. Ringo composed Octopus’s Garden as a form of expressing his wanting to escape the increasing hostility among the bands’ members.

Managers can learn from how the different members of The Beatles still continued to create quality outputs despite setbacks and difficulties.  The best managers are able to march through challenges and still attempt to perform at a high level not only in times of stability, but more importantly in times of uncertainty.

A continued revolution and evolution in management

As a management scholar and practitioner, I find myself in awe at how The Beatles were able to be so productive and creative in the way they write songs that gain both commercial and critical success. May the content of their songs, as well as insights from their songwriting process, provide lessons that can lead to the evolution of management. As the Beatles sang in Revolution, “we all want to change the world”—and an improved practice of management can indeed change the world for the better.

Patrick Adriel H. Aure is an Assistant Professor of the Management and Organization Department of the DLSU Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business. He is also a junior research fellow of the DLSU Center for Business Research and Development (CBRD). His business and research interests include social entrepreneurship, sustainability, innovation and new business models. You can reach him at [email protected] and [email protected]

The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty and its administrators.

Topics: fab four management , the beatles
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