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Pearls of wisdom from John Lennon

October 14, 2013

Hindu mythology tells us that pearls are made from dewdrops that the pearl mollusc absorbs when it rises to the surface of the sea at night to breathe. Diving for pearls – a hazardous endeavour that involves ropes, stone weights and a good deal of trust between a diver and his mate in the boat above – was seen as a test from God, the pearl a reward for the true believer.

The most beautiful natural pearls used to come from the Persian Gulf, they were the mainstay of Qatar’s economy until oil and gas were discovered in the early 1970s. Their large, white and perfectly formed lustrous orbs were eagerly sought by pearl merchants.

But rather than eulogise about pearls, it’s pearls of wisdom that I’m writing about this week, and specifically, those from John Lennon. John would have been 73 years old last Wednesday. For me, he was the most iconic Beatle. His social conscience, and acerbic, verbal wit in his lyrics, and cutting, humane and distinct voice made him one of the most talented musicians we’ve ever seen. He epitomises disruptive creativity.

Lennon’s brutally confessional solo work and his political activism were a huge influence on subsequent generations of singers, songwriters and social reformers. When Lennon was murdered on December 8, 1980, he seemed on the verge of a new, more optimistic phase. In the years since, his image has become a staple of T-shirts and posters, used by rock fans and activists alike as a symbol of peace.

Like the other three Beatles, Lennon grew up in a working-class family in Liverpool. His parents, Julia and Fred, separated before he was two. Lennon saw his father only twice in the next 20 years, and went to live with his mother’s sister. When Lennon was 17, his mother was killed by a bus.

In the summer of 1956 he met Paul McCartney, and they began writing songs together and forming groups, the last of which was the Beatles. As half of the iconic song writing team Lennon & McCartney, Lennon himself penned some of the Beatles’ most well-known songs including Nowhere Man, Norwegian Wood, Ticket To Ride, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Strawberry Fields Forever, Revolution, Don’t Bring Me Down and Come Together.

On October 9, 1975, Lennon’s 35th birthday, Yoko Ono gave birth to Sean Ono Lennon. Lennon devoted his full attention to his new son. For the next five years, he lived at home in nearly total seclusion, taking care of Sean while Yoko ran their financial affairs. Not until the publication of a full-page newspaper advert in May 1979 explaining his and Ono’s activities did Lennon even hint at a possible return to recording.

In September 1980, Lennon and Ono signed a contract with the newly formed Geffen Records, and on November 15 they released Double Fantasy. A series of revealing interviews were published. (Just Like) Starting Over hit number one, and there was talk of a possible world tour.

But on December 8, 1980, Lennon, returning with Ono to their Dakota apartment on New York’s Upper West Side, was shot seven times by Mark Chapman, a 25-year-old drifter and fan to whom Lennon had given an autograph a few hours earlier. Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival at Roosevelt Hospital.

On Lennon’s birthday, Yoko Ono goes to the island of Videy in Reykjavik, Iceland for the annual lighting of the Imagine Peace Tower in honour of her late husband. You can check out the tower, which is a beam of light shooting straight up into the sky, tonight through to December 8, the day Lennon was killed in New York, at It’s a stunning web site in terms of image, technology and emotion. You’ll need to have your audio switched on.

I can relate to John Lennon. He was the intellectual, the artist, the funny one, he had interesting things to say, and the one who was more interested in pushing boundaries than just making hit music. Whether or not that’s the reality, I’ll never know, but this is my hunch. The only Beatles tunes I like are those written and sung by Lennon.

Anyway, since this blog is about business-related topics, I thought that I would share how John Lennon’s pearls of wisdom inspire me in business.

Reality leaves a lot to the imagination. Living is easy with closed eyes. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

Find something you love and do it better than anyone else. Lennon was inspired by American rock legends like Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry. He took the music from these pioneers and put his own touch and Liverpudlian spin on it. The outcome? It was an entirely new take on a genre, which no one was expecting.

It’s hard to create a completely unique business concept in your market, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be unique. Consider what you do, what you’re good at, what you like and then create a new idea from it that’s utterly different and reflective of you.

Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. You don’t need anybody to tell you who you are or what you are. You are what you are! I just believe in me.

Have ambition that reaches way beyond your current horizon.I don’t think John would have been content playing his guitar at weddings and parties in Liverpool. With The Beatles, he branched out early to London and Hamburg, then worldwide while still in his early 20s. Later he travelled to India and integrated the country’s musical influences into many songs. He was amongst the earliest adopters of a global perspective, embracing new ideas and culture.

Are you focused only on your local community as your market? Why not reach out to other regions? Perhaps, you’ll be just as popular, or more so when you increase your exposure. The influences of others who are not in your immediate circle may change your perspective and challenge your thought processes enough to enable you to grow as a business owner.

There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known. Nothing you can see that isn’t shown. Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.

Constantly evolve and grow, create your own space.It’s striking to hear the evolution of Lennon the musician from She Loves You to The Long and Winding Road – even more so to realise that all of these songs were created in a mere six years time span. Lennon never stuck to one recipe for making music, he grew and continued to be relevant for over 20 years.

When you dismiss or say that you’re not interested in learning the latest technology that everyone is raving about, ask yourself if you’re evolving to keep up with the times. If you’re not, just remember how Lennon adapted to change and achieved success by creating his own space.

Happiness is just how you feel when you don’t feel miserable. There’s nothing that you can do that can’t be done.

Keep working, it makes you happy. The Beatles were incredible workaholics while together, they knew they were on a roll and kept churning out incredible hits until they broke up in 1970. Even after they split, they all continued to make great individual music. Work ethic is the fundamental component of success. Whether you’re a musician or a software developer or own a retail store, you have to keep working no matter what.

Lennon’s risk-taking and creativity are clearly evident, but there was always a balance between random experimentation and safe implementation. He didn’t just throw caution to the wind. Lennon prototyped and tested many versions of his songs, he re-recorded constantly, always looking for some new and unique angle. For each familiar hit, there were about twenty alternate takes in different styles and genres. He practiced each version over and over until something clicked. If after a while, he couldn’t come up with something that met his standards, he dumped it.

If there’s such a thing as genius — I am one. And if there isn’t, I don’t care

Create the unexpected. I particularly enjoy listening to the Beatles White Album. The diversity in this album is absolutely incredible. From the beautiful melodies of Julia and Blackbird to the pounding beats of Helter Skelter and Revolution, it is truly unexpected.  The Beatles were the first artists to record in stereo. They were the first band to experiment in the studio. They were the first band to list lyrics on their album.

Your audience or customers are craving the unexpected – give it to them. They want to be wowed. Why not come up with some novel, out of the box ideas like Lennon did, and give them a little clue about the depth of your uniqueness.

I’m not going to change the way I look or the way I feel to conform to anything. I’ve always been a freak.

Focus on your strengths, and be different. Lennon found his calling and focused on his passion. This began as performing, then evolved to focus on writing his own songs, and ultimately recording in the studio. Discover what you don’t like doing and stop doing it. Perhaps this is what Albert Einstein meant when he said Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.

In today’s competitive environment, we have to be different to be seen. Lennon was a restless, curious individual, never satisfied with the status quo. He continuously sought self-growth, learning new philosophies, new chords and instruments, and anything else he could do to break new ground. This helped him grow as an artist and human being, and further distanced himself from others as being unique. Do the same for you, and your business.

What we’ve got to do is keep hope alive, because without it we’ll sink. I don’t believe in yesterday, by the way.

Risk magnificent failures by aiming for the sky. Lennon fits this description well. He didn’t conform to standard education, which greatly contributed to his unorthodox style. In fact, like many great musicians, he held his instrument the wrong way. He experimented with made-up chords, new concepts – and had some celebrated failures in the process.

But Lennon thought big. Even in the early days when starting out he used to say To the toppermost of the poppermost! and he believed it. This is not unlike Andrew Carnegie’s secret of having a lofty goal and continually reinforcing the belief that you will reach that goal. Lennon aimed high and got there, in no small part because he believed he would get there. He stated in an interview that they treated each deliverable (i.e. song) as the hit, which is why their B-sides are better songs than most people’s A-sides.

Part of me suspects that I’m a loser, and the other part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.

Be Authentic. It’s fine to emulate someone you admire. Lennon didn’t begin in a vacuum.  Lennon studied his idols, such as Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, and Fats Domino, but took them as inspiration – Lennon was never going to be in covers band.

If you want to succeed at something, a good place to begin is studying those who have succeeded before, but it’s equally important to recognise your strengths, limitations, and what makes you unique. It’s important to be true to who you are, not who you’d rather be – customers can sense whether or not you’re authentic.

John Lennon’s legacy and impact is eternal. Great ones like John Lennon never really die.  So much of them lasts forever.

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment. I told them they didn’t understand life.

John Lennon (9 October, 1940 to 8 December, 1980)

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