“Beatles” or “Stones”: What About Your Corporate Culture?

We remember the sixties as a time of major worldwide controversies and changes. Eastern Europe had its Iron Curtain; Vietnam was caught in an endless war. In America people were battling for civil rights; France was giving up its African colonies. And in Nanterre it was finally legal for boys to go into the girls’ dorms.

But among all these, there was always one serious, tough position you had to take: Are you Beatles or Rolling Stones? Which side are you on?

There’s actually a lot to learn from these two groups, who clearly defined the popular music scene for the next fifty years. Let’s think about it: what do these nine British kids whose exceptional talent dominated the entire period have to tell us about our companies?

The Beatles: the innovators

Innovate, innovate, innovate—that’s all you hear about these days. You can hardly find an office that doesn’t have its innovation poster with its own paradoxical injunction: Innovate or die.

And the Beatles did innovate! There is not one musical door they didn’t open in their day (and through which The Stones, as they themselves admit, did not then crash afterwards). Every year during their short ten-year career The Beatles explored, invented and renewed pop music. Every year they astonished the world with their vocal and melodic perfection. Every year they won top spots on all the charts. The Beatles had both innovation and quality. And they created a transgenerational legacy with annual distribution rights that continue to stun professionals a quarter century later.

It’s no accident that The Beatles label was called Apple and that the other Apple was the dream child of Steve Jobs, an all-time fan of the sixties. Innovation for innovation: that’s what the Fab Four were all about and within two years their entrepreneurial energy was flooding radios in adolescent bedrooms everywhere. Of course the candles that lit up in Central Park the day after Lennon’s death are the same as those that burned in front of Apple stores the day after Steve’s! Apple for Apple, esthetic perfection for esthetic perfection. A different generation, a different group, but the same purpose: penetrate the heart of a generation.

The Beatles are “start-up spirit”: intuition, energy, inventiveness, overwhelming success and talent. The got branded as the “good boys”, but that hides the sulfurous early days. Their revolution wasn’t only about posturing. It was about commitment and music.

The Beatles overwhelmed America with their lovely, joyous adolescent “I Want to Hold your Hand“. Seven years later The Stones came at us with their seedy “Sticky Fingers“.

Two different takes on boy-meets-girl. Two different views of the world.

The Rolling Stones: the businessmen

The Stones are brilliant “me-too’s”. Their claim to fame is physical and sexual far more than musical. It’s personified by thick-lipped Jagger, that the world-famous logo (identically reproduced from a Beatles Illustrated one year earlier) will ultimately personify in turn. A logo? You need that marketing, after all, and it included mugs, teeshirts and all sorts of other by-products. Little by little The Stones invaded all markets and morphed into a brand. This doesn’t have much to do with music, but who cares. It’s all about style: Jagger’s androgyny and Keith’s ravaged elegance.

From ’64 to ’69, Beatles and Stones followed relatively similar paths and both were known world wide. Their relative positioning was well-identified: Beatles were the good boys and Stones the bad boys. But in 69 The Beatles blew apart and Jagger transformed his group into a performance industry business—an act that 50 years later is still filling stadiums worldwide with thousands of bald heads clapping their hands and wriggling in their seats to Satisfaction (I Can’t Get No); 1965.

Now that’s client loyalty! There’s something to be learned here.

While The Beatles embody the joyous vitality of today’s startups, The Stones, like Taylor’s profitable machines, deliver the logistical perfection of Amazon warehouses. Like many start-ups The Beatles have faded pretty quickly but unlike many start-ups, they remain a symbolic and living marker of their time. The Stones, on the other hand, are the immortal marker of an industry that can go on forever. Not necessarily very creative but very, very powerful.

Stones and Beatles: Teams first of all

These are indeed two brilliant and different success stories. But a major thing to keep in mind about Stones and Beatles is that they are teams. They were drawn together initially by the power of a shared dream, enormous talent and the energy of athletic champions. Lennon galvanized his group by promising they’d become “toppermost of the poppermost”. Jagger electrified his by promising to do bigger and better than The Beatles. A dream. Energy. The rest is history, and the miracle right along with it.

ICM doesn’t manage rock groups. At least, not up until now. But as we work with the teams that invite us to do so we look for a bit of Beatles and a bit of Stones: inventive craziness and an eye on the cashbox. And then we keep only one thing in mind: how can these teams share the dream and get onto the same wavelength that will enable innovation, creativity, and value as well as individual and team development.




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