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Get Back: Creativity Lessons from The Beatles

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2021

the Beatles asking for some toast and tea during a practice session

I haven’t had a chance to watch Peter Jackson’s Beatles documentary yet, but I really enjoyed reading Tom Whitwell’s 10 lessons in productivity and brainstorming from The Beatles gleaned from the series.

1. The ‘yes… and’ rule

The first rule of improvisation (and brainstorming) is “yes… and”. When someone suggests an idea, plays a note, says a line, you accept it completely, then build on it. That’s how improvisational comedy or music flows. The moment someone says ‘no’, the flow is broken. It’s part of deferring judgement, where you strictly separate idea generation from idea selection.

As they slog through Don’t Let Me Down, George breaks the spell. Instead of building and accepting he leaps to judgement, saying “I think it’s awful.” Immediately, John and Paul lay down the rules: “Well, have you got anything?” “you’ve gotta come up with something better”.

Don’t judge, build.

I worked on a secret project recently (shhh…) where I really wanted to just say no but chose to do “yes… and” instead, which led my collaborator and I to a better solution. I love the improv rule, but it’s so hard for me to follow sometimes because my job is basically saying no to things all day.

6. One conversation at a time

One of the striking thing about the sessions is how polite everyone is. Perhaps it’s editing, but nobody speaks over anyone else. Everyone has a chance to be heard, which means people spend most of the time listening, rather than talking (apart from Paul, perhaps).

This is another lesson from musical and theatrical improvisation. The difference between a creative environment and a bunch of people shouting out ideas is the listening.

You can read all ten lessons here.