Learning success from the Beatles

Whatever your music taste, it’s hard to deny the success of the Beatles! They are still the best selling band in the world. In the UK, they have had more number one albums in the charts and have sold more singles than any other act. In the USA, where it was historically tough to “break into”, they are the best selling artists ever.

The Fab Four were popular for their unconventional music and very different musical styles, ranging from pop ballads to hard rock and from Indian music to psychedelia. They are credited by many as being the most influential band in history.

This success wasn’t by accident. It got me thinking about what they did to be successful, and what testers can do to harness this.

Lesson 1: Coach each other

The success story for the Beatles started when a young John Lennon, aged just 16, formed a skiffle group with his friends from school. The band was originally called Blackjacks, before changing to the Quarrymen.

John met Paul McCartney, a talented rhythm guitarist, a few months later. Paul had mastered “20 Flight Rock”. He could have kept this talent to himself, but he spent his time coaching John until they could jam together.

As testers, it’s important to coach others and equally important to seek coaching to improve yourself. This doesn’t need to stay within the testing community though — reaching out to other disciplines can improve your breadth of knowledge. This can be in the form of shadowing, taking part in meetups or being active on Twitter for example.

Lesson 2: Recognise each other’s strengths

Before too long, the band recruited George Harrison. John originally thought that George was too young and immature to join the band, but George persisted and proved himself during a performance on the top deck of a Liverpool bus.

They soon realised that each of them had unique skills — John was an extremely talented songwriter, Paul wrote haunting melodies could send a tingle up your spine, George’s guitar playing was melodic and moving, and Ringo had developed an instantly recognisable style of drumming.

Individually, they were good. As a team, they were unstoppable.

It’s good to recognise that everybody in a testing team has different skills to offer. Some are more suited towards automated testing, others are geared towards manual testing. Some are more design focused, others are more technically minded. These sorts of skills complement each other and can help to build the most robust and efficient testing team out there.

Lesson 3: Hard work pays off

The Beatles were heralded by many as an overnight sensation. Suddenly, they appeared every time you turned on the television or radio.

This wasn’t half as easy as it seemed though. Behind the scenes, the Beatles had put in thousands of hours of practice and songwriting, alongside thousands of hours of performances in clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg.

Success doesn’t happen overnight and it requires hard work and dedication. Equally, don’t be despaired if it success doesn’t happen quickly enough.

Lesson 4: Make each other’s ideas even better

Thanks to their hard work, the Beatles were growing bigger and better by the day. They managed to break into America and had their first number one in 1964 with “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.

Paul composed the entire melody of their next hit song in his sleep. He rushed to the piano and made sure he memorised the tune. He started adding lyrics to the melody, the opening verse of which was:

Scrambled eggs
Oh my baby, how I love your legs
Not as much as I love scrambled eggs
Oh we should eat some scrambled eggs

Paul McCartney (1965)

John stepped in at this point and together they evolved it into “Yesterday”. This was a massive hit and holds the world record for the most covered song ever.

If Paul had stuck to his original “Scrambled Eggs” idea, who knows whether it would have had the same success as “Yesterday”? Nevertheless, Paul let John try his idea and it worked! The success came from not being afraid to develop somebody else’s idea, and not being afraid to let somebody develop your idea.

Testers have ideas all the time about how to improve quality or increase efficiency, so it’s key to share these ideas and let them blossom.

Lesson 5: Encourage each other

In most bands, the drummer is hidden away at the back, out of sight of the fans. They generally feel underappreciated and undervalued by the rest of the band.

The Beatles wanted to make it clear that Ringo was a key member of the Fab Four, so they put him and his drum kit on a high platform. It made him feel part of the band and let the fans see his incredible drumming.

The other members didn’t hog the limelight when it came to singing either. John and Paul wrote “With a Little Help from my Friends” with the intention of Ringo singing it. They encouraged him to be the lead vocalist, staying with him in the studio until 5:45am. When Ringo became apprehensive, all of the Beatles stood around the mic for moral support. The song became an intrinsic part of the album.

Testing teams do some amazing work, whether it’s finding complex bugs or meeting challenging deadlines. By giving encouragement and motivation where appropriate, people in the team are more driven to achieve these goals. It’s also essential to let others share the limelight and have opportunities to shine.

Lesson 6: Ride through the bumps

In 1967, tragedy struck. Paul was fatally injured in a car accident whilst driving his Lotus over in America.

The Beatles understandably didn’t want to ruin their winning formula, so they replaced Paul with Billy Shears — the winner of a Beatles lookalike competition. Billy Shears blended perfectly into the band, unnoticed by the world, except for a few eagle-eyed fans.

Of course the above didn’t actually happen, but it didn’t stop these conspiracy theories attempting to ruin the Fab Four’s success. It was a tough time for the band, but they made it through to the other side.

We will occasionally miss bugs or deadlines, but we need to remember our success and ride through the bumpy journey. When things aren’t going to plan, that’s the time for testing teams to stand by each other.

Lesson 7: Don’t be afraid to admit mistakes

The next year, after almost getting over the “Paul is Dead” conspiracy theory, the band found that they were taking each other for granted and were assuming success. Ringo had had enough and walked out one day, vowing never to return to the band.

The rest of the band quickly realised their mistakes and tried to put things right. They send Ringo a telegram:

You’re the best rock ‘n’ roll drummer in the world. Come on home. We love you.

John, Paul and George (1968)

Ringo returned to the band, to be faced with an apology for how he had been treated. The other members had even decorated his drumkit with flowers to show their remorse.

We all make mistakes and there’s nothing wrong with admitting it. If you need to, don’t be afraid to leverage the power of your testing team to help you through.

Lesson 8: Develop yourself

Now that Ringo was back on board, the Beatles were moving from strength-to-strength. They changed things up a bit, so they didn’t become stale. The public loved the change in genre and continued to buy their records!

For example, whilst “Yesterday” (or “Scrambled Eggs” as I want to call it now!) and “Revolution” were two very different genres of music created nearly a decade apart, both both sold over 1 billion copies each.

It’s important to keep developing yourself and developing others. Don’t be afraid to try something new — there’s a chance that it’ll work out and that people will love it.

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