Linked Leaders | The Beatles | Apple | Steve Jobs


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Were it not for the Beatles, would Steve Jobs and Apple Computer have risen to the heights?

At first glance, the question may appear… unexpected. Nonetheless, it may be useful to reflect upon. [For anyone wishing to explore these issues further, Serve to Lead includes greater detail on some of the points offered below.]

Comparisons of Steve Jobs Impact with John Lennon

In the immediate aftermath of the death of Steve Jobs, numerous observers have compared his premature loss to that of John Lennon. Perhaps the most moving came from his friend, Steve Wozniak:

Jobs Looked to Beatles as Business Model

Some observers have divined Biblical meaning in Jobs’ choice of the Apple brand. In this view, Jobs is understood as a “secular prophet.”

Perhaps… but the real connection of meaning to comprehend the Apple brand is offered directly from Steve Jobs himself:

Apple Computer and Apple Corps

From every indication–beginning with the name Apple itself–Jobs was a great admirer of the Beatles. His interlacing of Beatles standards and themes with Apple events and the brand were surely shrewd marketing–especially with First-Wave Boomers such as Jobs himself. Yet the link is compelling because it was heartfelt and foundational.

Here are a few of the links:

Real Artists Ship  This Jobs mantra could just as well be applied to the Beatles. Their astonishing productivity was unequalled, producing nearly 200 songs–including many standards–in the less than one decade.

Management Style  It should not be overlooked, amid the well-deserved eulogies to Steve Jobs, that he could be incredibly difficult to work with. He could be challenging to a point well past abrasive. And yet… in the context within which he operated, his approach elicited creativity and effectiveness. So, too, John Lennon could be quite challenging within the Beatles and in his interactions with outsiders. Paul McCartney’s perfectionism at times fostered resentment among the other Beatles. Ultimately, for both versions of Apple at their best, it was all about the team. 

Design  The Beatles were innovators in design. This was reflected in everything from the haircuts, to their clothing, to their record album covers and their pioneering music videos. Along with their music, such design innovation embedded them into the narrative of their time. Many young people sought to incorporate them into the outer expression as well as inner soundtracks of their own lives. The centrality of design in Steve Jobs’ Apple can be viewed, to an extent, as a descendant to such an approach and the underlying conception.

Jumping into Realms Unforeseen by their Audiences  The Beatles reliably innovated. Each of their album releases was an event, taking their audiences to new, unforeseen places. With some–most notably Sgt. Pepper–they lost some of their prior admirers as they gained others. Jobs guided Apple with a corresponding sense of adventure, disrupting entire communications industries in his wake.

Competition as a Valuable Spur  For many years, Jobs was publicly highly competitive with Microsoft and Bill Gates. This appears to have been personal as well as a spur to his company and its customer base. The Beatles were powered by the internal combustion of the friendship-cum-rivalry of Lennon and McCartney. They were also inspired by competing groups, notable Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. The latter expressed admiration for Rubber Soul, which in turn helped them reach toward the iconic Pet Sounds. As Paul McCartney has acknowledged, Pet Sounds was an inspiration for the Beatles to aspire toward their masterpiece, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Extraordinary Confidence  Just consider one example: Steve Jobs’ decision to take the name of the Beatles’ organization as his own. In turn, as Jobs must have anticipated, this act of almost filial impudence unleashed waves of lawyers in trademark suits–all the while, linking Apple Computer to the Beatles in the public mind….The Beatles’ examples of extraordinary self-confidence are too numerous to require citation.

‘All-In’ For Their Calling  Steve Jobs went al l-in for his calling–computers–when there was no career path to provide comfort. So, too, the Beatles went all-in as rock-and-rollers. Most of their contemporaries kept their day jobs.

Spiritual and Consciousness Experimentation  Jobs, like the Beatles, experimented with various cultural and spiritual traditions, most notably from the East. As young people they sought additional insight and access to creative associations by the use of hallucinogens.

Break Through ‘Silos of the Mind’  Like Lennon and McCartney, Jobs did not complete a college education. In common with many other autodidacts, each sought learning with ferocity. And each was uninhibited in ignoring the silos of the mind that formal education can bequeath as an enduring legacy. McCartney continues to move into new areas of musical experimentation in his eighth decade. 

Family Issues  Lennon and McCartney each lost their mothers tragically early. Jobs was offered for adoption by his birth-parents. This issue moves into the realm of speculation and psychology. It is possible that Jobs sensed or thought through an additional connection on this account.

Knowing When It’s Time to Go  Though McCartney announced the breakup of the Beatles in 1969, it was Lennon who precipitated it. According to various reports, Lennon recognized that the Beatles were linked to the 1960s in a fundamental way that could not be extended. So, too Steve Jobs departed with apparent premeditation. The business concerns–that his departure would damage the company’s value and prospects–were averted. He appears to guided Apple in navigating the succession adroitly.

Life as Performance Art  The Beatles, as well as Jobs, saw no contradiction between their business focus and their role as artists. Seeing their lives as art, they consciously strove to make their own lives performances. It is this aspect which may be most decisive in recognizing their roles as leaders.

The Ultimate Leadership Link: Connection Itself

It does not diminish their impact to note that the Beatles’s phenomenon arose at the confluence of a number of out-sized factors. Television was becoming universal, with the limited offerings creating an intimate, shared experience. The post-World War II era was ending. The Baby Boom had occasioned unprecedented percentages of young people in the populations of many nations. Those young people had access to disposable income and, in many cases, leisure time.

The Beatles comprised  an inspiring example: Young people could write their own music, convey their own messages–and affect the world.  

First the Beatles (particularly Lennon and McCartney) connected with one another at a deep level. Then, their memorable expressions of universal emotions were given ever wider audiences via technology. Then their messages–including the message of their example–were adopted and adapted by people across the world.

Steve Jobs, who turned nine a few weeks after the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964, would imbibe that example completely.

The Beatles showed the world that people could create and express their own music. Jobs enabled millions of others to find their own music, and to explore new worlds, all the more for being connected with one another.

 The Message Becomes the Medium

Jobs evangelized through his own adaptation of the message that the Beatles, among others throughout history, transmitted: Think Different. In Jobs’ vision, given life through his calling of retail technology innovation, the message became the medium.

Just as the Beatles example empowered Steve Jobs and countless others, Jobs’ legacy is seen in the many connections of people across every line–geography, nationality, culture, class–by means of various Apple products.

The Apple revolution that the Beatles unleashed was carried forth by Apple Computer. Now it continues into a new century of connection, the ongoing Information Age.

We can no more foresee the results than we could have foreseen the emergence of Apple Computer, in part, from the hot sparks scattered by the Beatles.


Think Different about Leadership

To answer the question at the beginning of this meditation: one can make a strong case that the influence of the Beatles was a vital part of the evolution of Steve Jobs and Apple Computer.

Serve to Lead argues that 21s century leadership is changing everything. Recognizing the Beatles as consequential leaders, as well as Steve Jobs, and seeing their interconnection, is evocative.

The loss of Steve Jobs, far too early, is, justly, occasioning reflection. Most importantly, it should incite our own fires.

Tom Peters, as so often, put everything in context in just one tweet: Don’t get weepy about Steve’s passing. Get your butt in gear and live today as he did every day! Challenge! Challenge! Challenge!

How can you best serve in the new world of 21st century leadership? How can you best connect with others to serve the greatest number at the deepest level?

What will your legacy be?

A paradox: Only you can answer those questions; yet you cannot answer them without reference to others.

Whatever path you choose: Everything follows from Service. The more that you choose to think different, the more effectively you can serve.

Linked Leaders | The Beatles | Apple | Steve Jobs