I remember hearing the lyrics to Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds as one of the first songs that made me stop and really listen, and from that day, John Lennon was one someone I followed. Lennon was dynamic, radical, and confrontational plus a whole lot more. There is so much more that he shared with the world apart from his music.
Therein lies a depth of his wisdom. His social conscience, attitude and acerbic verbal wit in his lyrics, and humane and distinct voice made him one of the most talented musicians ever seen. He epitomises disruptive innovation as much as Jobs or Musk, as described by Clayton Christensen.
John was always one to say what was on his mind and never shy away from controversy. Living in the US, the Nixon administration had Lennon under its watchful eye throughout the first half of the 1970s. Speaking out against the Vietnam War and mingling with anarchists made Lennon a target of Nixon. Already paranoid, Nixon thought the influence Lennon had on America’s youth was enough to damage him politically, and he sought to deport John back to England.
After four years, the case was finally thrown out and Lennon got his Green Card on July 27, 1976. Standing on the courthouse steps after receiving his permanent residency, Lennon was asked if he harboured a grudge against the Nixon Administration for tapping his phone, putting him under surveillance and a four-year campaign to deport him. Without missing a beat, John smiled and said, Time wounds all heels, as ever spontaneous, witty and reflective.
Back in the summer of 1956 John met Paul McCartney, and they began writing together. As The Beatles, they were C20th cultural icons. They created the unexpected. I always enjoy The Beatles White Album. The diversity of music in this album is 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. Lennon made his mark
But life moves on, and John’s relationship with Yoko Ono and his interest in global social and political issues saw him stand back from music. However fast forward to September 1980, John and Yoko signed a contract with Geffen Records, and on November 15 they released Double Fantasy. (Just Like) Starting Over hit number one, and there was talk of a possible world tour.
But on December 8, 1980, returning to their Dakota apartment on New York’s Upper West Side, John was shot seven times by Mark Chapman, a fan to whom he had given an autograph a few hours earlier. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Roosevelt Hospital.
Lennon’s brutally confessional solo work and his political activism were a huge influence on subsequent generations of singers, songwriters and social reformers. He made people think, he made me think. In the years since his murder, his image has become a staple of T-shirts and posters, used as a symbol of individuality.
I don’t think John would have been content playing his guitar at weddings and parties in Liverpool, he was amongst the earliest adopters of a global perspective, embracing new ideas and culture. He had interesting things to say, and was more interested in pushing boundaries than just making music. Lennon’s risk-taking and creativity are clearly evident, but there was always a balance between experimentation and 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. 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. Lennon aimed high and got there, in no small part because he believed he would get there.
John epitomised a disruptive innovator: he was a restless, curious individual, never satisfied with the status quo. He continuously sought self-growth, learning new philosophies 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. Here, in his own words, my reflections on how his mindset and thinking offers inspiration for startup entrepreneurs to be as innovative as he was.
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans Blink and an opportunity will pass you by. Startup life is never a direct route, it weaves, twists and turns. But if you have a goal, a dream or a plan in place, it acts as a compass that keeps you on track, no matter what detours need to be taken along the way.
Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted Lennon was a thinker, he had a thirst for knowledge, hungry for new experiences to stimulate his creativity. Socialising you own startup idea with other entrepreneurs will help shape, inform and improve your thinking, never miss the opportunity for gaining and sharing insight
Reality leaves a lot to the imagination Reality plus a sprinkle of imagination, turns that which seems impossible into something that is possible. If you can imagine it, and you can believe it, you can achieve it and imagine by asking yourself the question, ‘What if?’ Then go do.
You don’t need anybody to tell you who you are or what you are. You are what you are Stop listening to what others say you are. You are what you are. Ignore the naysayers, your startup is your road of self-discovery. Listen to your inner voice and stand up tall knowing who you are. I just believe in me Lennon once said, and he meant it. Have ambition that reaches way beyond your current horizon.
There’s nothing that you can do that can’t be done John seemed to live in chaos, he was constantly searching for scraps of paper that he’d hurriedly scribbled ideas on, and often he couldn’t articulate his ideas well. But John was an agitator, he was impatient, always ready to move on to the next thing. Keep working, it makes you happy.
Whether you’re a musician or a software developer or own a local bakery or a freelance landscape gardener, you have to keep working no matter what. Your audience, your 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 an insight into the depth of your uniqueness?
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 failure by aiming for the sky. Lennon fits this description well, he didn’t conform to an orthodox 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.
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. 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.
John is the man who encouraged us all to Imagine, and that’s key for any startup entrepreneur, to imagine your future product, your future business, your future self. Everything you can imagine is real, said Picasso, painting is just another way of keeping a diary – the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.
In an era of ‘add-water-and-stir’ solutions to problems, John was asked what he’d like to be remembered for. Not surprisingly, it’s not how many records he’s sold, how much money he’d made, or how many times he was named the world’s most influential musician. He wanted to be remembered for his deep faith and belief that all of mankind can be successful.
He measured his own life by the impact he’s had on others. I stand in a long, long line of people who will say John helped me to become a better person not because he provided me with all the answers to my own problems, but because he offered me a new set of lenses to see how to begin to solve them for myself. He helped me understand the importance of doing work that I care about, be an original, do it collaboratively, and to balance that with building a personal life of meaning as well.
Finally, reflect on this, one of my favourite Lennon quotes, which captures the attitude, mindset and self-belief needed by any entrepreneur, to fit alongside their imagination:
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)