This blog, by guest blogger, Greg Bustin, business advisor, author, and fellow Vistage chair, tells the poignant story of the Beatles breakup. 

This story is a wonderful reminder of the importance of aligning our values and goals with our purpose, and most importantly our relationships.  And, it also reminds us that while values seldom change, goals and purpose evolve and therefore so must our relationships.

Elisa K Spain

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As 1968 became 1969, George Harrison felt as if the Beatles “were reaching the end of the line.”

While it may have been twenty years ago that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play, in the 16 months since that landmark album’s release, the Beatles had morphed from collaborative colleagues into bickering bandmates barely able to stomach studio sessions together.

“Sgt. Pepper was our grandest endeavor,” Ringo remembered. “It gave everybody—including me—a lot of leeway to come up with ideas and to try different material.…The great thing about the band was that whoever had the best idea—it didn’t matter who—that was the one we’d use.…Anything could happen.”

And anything did.

While recording their ninth studio album—The Beatles (known also as the White Album)—the creative forces that propelled Sgt. Pepper to the top of UK and U.S. album charts for 27 weeks and earned the group four Grammy awards boiled over into acrimony.

 Songs written collaboratively earlier that year were recorded without all four of the Beatles present. The presence of John’s new partner Yoko Ono created a divisive distraction that violated previous agreements among the Beatles that wives and girlfriends would not attend recording sessions.

 As the tension mounted, producer George Martin took a sudden leave of absence and engineer Geoff Emerick quit abruptly. Ringo left the band briefly around this time, and three of the album’s songs were recorded without him.

 The finished album reflects this developing discord, and some tracks are little more than fillers between higher quality songs. And yet The Beatles reached number one in the UK and US and contains some of the group’s best material.

How can we rise above pettiness, selfishness and genuine differences of opinion to come together to produce a worthwhile or significant result?

Of the album’s 30 tracks, only 16 include all four of the Beatles performing together.

 On three tracks, Paul played bass, drums, piano, and guitar, overdubbing tracks to create the final song. John worked alone on one song. As did Ringo. Of the 14 songs on which only some of the Beatles played, nearly half were performed by only two of the four group members.

The Beatles were a group in name only. And a bad sign of things to come.

High-performing teams share five characteristics, and the Beatles were challenged by all five

  1. Clear common goals
  2. Clear roles
  3. Clear deadlines
  4. Trust + Respect
  5. Fun or Fulfillment in accomplishing something significant together

Which of these five critical success factors must we enhance in our organization?

The group gathered in January 1969 to make another album.

Paul hoped playing together live in the studio might lead to resuming touring. George hated the idea—he was worn out from that experience.  

It didn’t take long for old tensions to surface. George and Ringo resented Paul’s constant critiquing of their playing. John had disengaged from the group, having grown weary of battling Paul and fed up with over-engineered and over-produced recordings.

On January 6, George walked out of the studio, went to his home in Surrey and wrote “Wah-Wah,” reflecting his frustration with the group.

George was coaxed back the next week but the damage was done—and caught on film. The group’s dysfunction is plainly visible in the film Let It Be. Rather than documenting the making of an album, the film became famous for showcasing “the break-up of a band.”

 George’s “I Me Mine” became the final song recorded by the band before its split.

 In his autobiography, George recalled his own self-centered focus, seeing everything “relative to my ego, like ‘that’s my piece of paper’ and ‘that’s my flannel’ or ‘give it to me’ or ‘I am.’ It drove me crackers, I hated everything about my ego. It was a flash of everything false and impermanent, which I disliked. But later, I learned from it, to realize that there is somebody else in here apart from old blabbermouth. Who am ‘I’ became the order of the day. Anyway, that’s what came out of it, ‘I Me Mine.’”

 Perhaps subconsciously, the song also reflects the clash of egos in the studio as the Beatles moved toward their split.

“‘I Me Mine’ is the ego problem,” George explained. “There are two ‘I’s: the little ‘i’ when people say ‘I am this’, and the big ‘I’ – is duality and ego. There is nothing that isn’t part of the complete whole. When the little ‘i’ merges into the big ‘I’ then you are really smiling!”

George’s epiphany offers insight for us as a New Year dawns.

 “The truth within us has to be realized,” George said. “When you realize that, everything else that you see and do and touch and smell isn’t real, then you may know what reality is, and can answer the question ‘Who am I?’”

 What kind of person do you want to be?  What obstacles are in your way? 

Two of the hardest questions any of us must answer for ourselves are “Who am I?” and “What do I want?”  Here’s to your clarity. 

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