“If you run out of ideas follow the road; you’ll get there.”
Edgar Allan Poe
I wonder how many times a great idea has been filmed? It couldn’t have happened that many times. Most of the time it is an internal process. You cannot see it. Fortunately, and luckily for us, that is not the case in Peter Jackson’s new documentary called ‘Get Back’ about the Beatles last couple of weeks together in 1969. I am a Beatles fan so found all 6 hours of it fascinating.
However, even if you are not, you should watch the clip above of Paul McCartney trying to come up with a song which just happens to be Get Back. It is the best example I have seen of how an idea happens. It has all the ingredients and none of them are a post-it.
What struck me about The Beatles was how they worked. They were almost always joking around but focused. Relaxed and slightly on edge. They were in no rush but when something stuck they suddenly became aligned. Even Ringo who seemed stoned most of the time had this weird way of suddenly playing the drums when an idea started to take shape.
But back to this clip. What does it show? Let’s start with desperation and belief. Ingredients that every creative understands and are always useful at the beginning of a process. Belief is a wonky compass. Desperation a strange fuel. Paul has both because he is under the pump. He needs a song. So, he just starts with no idea of what to do. This is what every creative does. He starts to basically fuck around. Strumming something with no words. He believes there is something there. But he doesn’t know what it will be.
This is actually a critical and very sensitive juncture. Nobody stops him fucking around and he has the time to fuck around. George and Ringo have no idea what he is doing. But they don’t say, that’s a bit shit Paul. They wait because they know this is how you come up with ideas. They believe Paul is going to find something. They know he will find the beginning of the thread. It is the perfect example of an idea being a line rather than a dot. When you have the wrong people in the room or you work in a negative environment ideas die before they are even born. Those people want the idea to be fully formed instantly. But that’s not how ideas work. Most friction in our business is because of this fact.
The other part that is fascinating is when Paul does find the thread. This is where you see why The Beatles are truly great. There is instant unequivocal support. They almost all instantly know he has found something. They don’t question it. They all click into place. They just support what he is doing. Even John, who comes in late sits down and begins to play. He doesn’t say a word. He just fits into the idea. Four minds become one. That ability only comes from teams who have worked together for a quite a while. They just know. They don’t need language.
The ingredients. A little pressure. The ability to play and have fun despite that pressure. Having enough self-belief that you will find something. Creating the time to find it. Getting support from your band. Nobody in that clip has any idea where things are going. There is no data. There is no proof.
These are the ingredients you see working perfectly in this clip. These are the ingredients that you need to find a great idea. Not the illusion of an idea. Not a pretend we have seen that idea a million times before idea. But an idea that wasn’t there and then it was kind of idea.
It is strange how we try and bypass these ingredients. We always think there is an easier, faster way. It is also strange how we don’t realise the value of people working together and that experience and collective experience creates things that couldn’t be done any other way. We want ideas. The world wants ideas. But we don’t like the uncertainty of how you have them. We want the destination without the journey.
Most of the time the reasons given for this are progress and efficiency. I often hear the words faster and more. For some this is how we move forward.
However, it would seem there is another way that will never change and has been here all along.
Perhaps, to truly move forward it would be far better if we just listened to ‘Get Back’.