PostsWhen Creating Anything, Think Like The Beatles
Posted 02/01/2014

Drifting Through An Opened Mind

Some time ago, I read about The Beatles' song writing techniques. All of the techniques are both clever and sensible.

Here's my favorite

They didn't write down the tune or melody of new songs. This was not out of laziness, but a way to filter out the unmemorable songs. The post, The Beatles: the birth of the band describes the technique:

If they couldn't remember something the next day, they could hardly expect it to stick in the mind of anyone else

The Beatles understood the importance of getting a song stuck in a listener's memory. They didn't let their conscious judgement choose which songs would or wouldn't be catchy. Instead, they let their subconsciouses filter the dull songs right out of their mind.

That idea stuck inside of my own mind. I tried applying the technique to things that I do. After some successful experimentation, I fully adopted the technique into my own workflow.

It's Not Just For Songwriting

The technique has proven to be great tool for songwriting. It can't be denied that The Beatles wrote perhaps the most catchy songs of all time. However, this technique can be used to do much more than write songs.

Generally speaking, it forces your focus on the most important task at hand. In the creative mind, ideas drift in and drift out all day. Some thoughts keep coming up, over and over again, these are often the best ideas.

There are many tasks which engage the creative side of the mind. We can apply the technique in any of those situations. The book Rework explains an iteration of the same technique (unintentionally), but for creating software. Below is a series of excerpts from the Don't write it down chapter of Rework

How should you keep track of what customers want? Don't. The requests that really matter are the ones you'll hear over and over. If there is a request you keep forgetting, that's a sign it isn't very important.

Both the authors of Rework, and The Beatles applied the same technique with great success. If it's not good enough for you to remember, you customers certainly won't.

A Case Study

This is an outline of how this technique fits within my workflow for writing a blog post:

-  Each day I take a 25 minute walk to the train
-  I do whatever I want during that walk
  -  Sometimes I listen to an audiobook
  -  Other times I just listen to some music
- While walking and listening, I am open to letting my mind wander
- Sometimes new ideas occur, or old ideas bubble back to the surface
- When I need to write a blog post, I pay attention to the recurring ideas
- ...and, if I find an idea I like
   - I draft it on the train that morning
   - I try to get the whole idea out in that hour, unstructured
   - After that I revise the post many times
- Otherwise, I repeat this process until an idea comes up

When the brain is told to produce ideas, the subconscious will start to hunt for matches. Like a search engine, it may take time to load, but it usually has the results you need. It returns mostly new versions and combinations of ideas it previously conceived.

Dont Believe Me?

If you are having trouble conjuring up ideas, then train your brain to get creative. Read more about the science of harnessing your creative side in Pragmatic Thinking and Learning. This book also presents practical methods for balancing your left and right brain. When properly balanced it becomes an unstoppable force at formulating striking new ideas.

Gotchas

This technique may not be the right choice in certain situations. Sometimes its required to complete EVERYTHING that is asked :/.

Take Heed In These Situations

  1. Doing important chores, or administrative things
  2. Doing work for a boss

Its critical to remember to pay the rent, or to call grandma on her birthday. Certain things need to be on a list, and cannot be forgotten.

Even if keeping a backlog of tasks is necessary, still keep this technique in mind. Use it to decide what really needs to be on The Todo List.

As an example, buying new sneakers may not need to make the list. When you walk past a shoe store you will probably remember to buy some. If not, life will go on. Don't burden yourself by putting those tasks on your todo list.

Bosses have sturdy expectations. They don't appreciate only some work being completed. Sometimes they think that mundane ideas, or worse, the wrong ideas are important. As stupid as this is, they write the check, so do as they wish.

...Otherwise

Employ this method, and enjoy not having a massive laundry list of ideas and things to do. Projects shouldn't be bogged down with details that don't matter. The authors of Rework say: 'If there is a request you keep forgetting, that's a sign it isn't very important.' So, go out and enjoy the work you are doing, and don't sweat the small stuff!!!


Further Reading

  1. The Young Beatles: The Beatles: the birth of the band
  2. Productivity, and running a company: Rework
  3. Thinking and being creative: Pragmatic Thinking and Learning.