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The Beatles Get Back — Learning from their Creative Process

Peter Jackson's epic remake of 'Get Back,' available on Disney+ streaming, is instantly engrossing as one of the most realistic views of the creative process recorded. The documentary bears witness to the Beatles developing and recording tracks for the 'Get Back' Album.

Jackson fashioned a documentary from 60 hours of raw footage and 150 hours of audio into a three-part eight-hour stream that is a walkthrough of the creative process as the Beatles compose many of the tracks that appear on the Get Back album. We met them in January of 1969 at their recording studios in Twickenham with little setup through a historical montage of the Beatles. For the next 30 days, we sit in with "great artists in the messy art of creation," as Stephen Colbert described.


Takeaways from the stream offer an intimate view of where creativity comes from: 

Jackson's storytelling

Peter Jackson's greatest contribution to the creative process was to show the process is messy, disjointed, dysfunctional, but working. Leaving so much of the footage intact, leaving the rough edges and the process of creation — not over-editing down the raw footage. The calendar is the only plot driver as we watch the band in their creative brilliance. Yet, the magic is natural.

Innovate through iteration

Innovation is neither linear nor structured — iterate the whole experience from end to end repeatedly, even if you must skip over parts. Many of the lyrics and flow were placeholders or wrong paths to the song. When a verse wasn't ready, nonsensical words were used as placeholders. Watching them skip over entire bits and lines to get to the next area they are working on. Recognizing and believing that the details will come and not get bogged down by them. The creative process and innovations are many failures refining toward something new. 

Borrow inspiration

Much of the time spent in the sessions was spent remaking old songs and playing others' songs. Rolling Stone reported that between January 1st and 31st, the "Beatles played, or at least started, more than 300 different songs, not including untitled jams and instrumentals." Lennon and McCartney discuss movies, culture, the poetic power of Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech. The path to inspiration is about curating what exists into new forms and pathways to creativity.

Leverage time together

The Beatles certainly had elements of asynchronous work before as they each developed songs and went into the studios on their own to contribute to recordings. Much of the Beatle's recent work had been termed by Rolling Stone as "thirty songs that were really four solo albums under one roof." While zoom meetings and communications channels can move single projects and topics forward, they cannot genuinely collaborate through video. In the room, collaboration enables multiple priorities and cross-collaboration that is not currently possible. Don't get bogged down on details if you are on the right track. Experiment, swap roles, bring in talent, and watch their process. Much of the creative discussions were crossing, reshuffling, and amorphous that are not possible on a zoom call or any digital means.  

Have goals and deadlines ... even if you change them

Deadlines work even if they are self-imposed, even if you break them. The initial construct of the project was a live concert and date set. They ended up changing the date, venue, and all aspects of the project moving through the process. Even as the project evolved and shifted as options were considered, the looming deadline was the only driver to get back into the studio.

Intertwine work and life

Work and family life are one with the Beatles. Yoko Ono is ubiquitous in the documentary, as are visitations from other family members' kids. As work crosses boundaries to the family, so too can families cross the boundaries to the office?

A window in the future of work could look like

Get Back simultaneously shows how critical in-person collaboration is and offers a window into how this might be accomplished in the future of work. The Beatles never assemble on fixed hours or set times — session hours are flexed and moved. Abbey Road becomes a hive of creation. They collaborate between who is on hand to move the project forward, assuming different roles, and work on various aspects of the album based upon who is there. Here too, an established team can look to outside perspective and energy, by way of keyboardist Billy Preston, to move a project forward. Preston onboards quickly and contributes some of the more iconic sounds on Get Back. Yet for anyone, even the most famous, ultimately, being part of a team, success and performance is secondary to the recognition people need. George Harrison quit and rejoined, taking a break from the band. Both John and Paul are active in their reconsideration and recognition of George's contribution.

Peter Jackson's vision of true innovation and creativity is why we need to get back to the office. And that doesn't mean it needs to be the same.

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