My Sweet George

Why are we sometimes moved to tears when famous artists die? I thought of this question while pondering the anniversary of George Harrison’s death today. I did not know George Harrison. I never met him. Yet when I learned of his passing on November 29, 2001, I wept.

Artists wield a ferocious power. Sometimes they shape your identity with their work. Sometimes they penetrate your soul. George Harrison created music that reflected an important part of my identity, especially the songs from his masterpiece All Things Must Pass. “My Sweet Lord,” perhaps Harrison’s best known work as a solo artist, expresses my own spiritual longing over the years. As a boy I sought spiritual comfort amid a traumatic childhood. As an adult I turn to God for wisdom and comfort, always seeking answers and guidance, but finding those things to be elusive more times than I’d like. As Harrison sang:

I really want to see you
Really want to be with you
Really want to see you, Lord
But it takes so long, my Lord

In the song “Hear Me Lord,” Harrison articulates the reasons why I often find spiritual fulfillment to be elusive: because I’m not listening to God. I become lost in the stress and worries of everyday life or my mind becomes cluttered by material things and worldly distractions:

Forgive me lord

Please, those years when I ignored you

Help me lord, please

To rise a little higher

Help me lord, please

To burn out this desire.

And in “All Things Must Pass,” I see myself on my best days, drawing upon my spiritual well to accept change and counseling others to do the same:

Sunrise doesn’t last all morning,
A cloudburst doesn’t last all day.
All things must pass,
All things must pass away.

These songs matter to me because I identify with the spiritual journey Harrison shares in them. But why did George Harrison himself become important to me? Because when someone creates music that moves you so deeply, you want to believe that the artist is worthy of the songs they create. I want to believe that the man who wrote “My Sweet Lord” was a profound spiritual seeker. And if you have never meet the artist personally, it becomes that much easier to create your own narrative about them.

In George Harrison’s case, I can certainly glean some clues about his life from his biographers. I cannot deny he often failed to live up to the noble sentiments expressed in his songs. History tells us he was an unfaithful husband and capable of childish, judgmental behavior. But he never claimed to be perfect. By his own statements and actions he was indeed a flawed seeker. He once said, “Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot.” His search famously resulted in the Beatles traveling to India to seek enlightenment in 1968, which unlocked a creative lode of songs that made their way on to The White Album. George Harrison attempted to improve himself and the world around him. The fact that he stumbled makes him more relatable and personal.

When I look at George Harrison’s sober face on the cover of All Things Must Pass, I see myself — the part of me that broods, worries, and ponders matters of the spirit. Because I was not present when he was photographed for the album cover decades ago, I am free to construct my own narrative and identify with him, or at least the image of George Harrison as portrayed to me. And here is why the death of an artist you don’t know personally can move you to tears: because you do know them. They’ve opened themselves up to you with their art. You’ve bonded with their words and their music. And you’ve allowed yourself to internalize their art, to identify with it. When an artist you love passes away, they take part of you with them.


“Revolver”: Great Art Endures 50 Years Later


I cannot let Friday end without commenting on Revolver, which was released 50 years ago today.

I didn’t get into the album until after I’d freed myself from the Beatles’ mythology, broadened my own musical tastes, and learned to appreciate the album for its musical merits alone. In context of the Beatle’s maturation as musicians, Revolver endures as a masterpiece – the moment when their personal visions, increasingly sophisticated song writing, and spirit of adventure in the studio coalesced to create an artistic statement that surpassed every other album they would create, including Sgt. Pepper’s. The album also stands as a testament to the production genius of George Martin and sound engineer Geoff Emerick, whose book, Here, There, and Everywhere, is highly recommended for an inside look at how the band created its best moments in the studio.

Sgt. Peppers was the album that transformed rock from a musical genre to a cultural phenomenon. But it’s far from my favorite album. The production and very idea behind the Sgt. Peppers make it stand head and shoulders above most anything anyone had created at that time. But the songs are not all uniformly great like they are on Revolver, and Revolver has just as many moments of musical genius. There is the biting satire of George Harrison’s “Taxman” alongside Harrison’s spiritual meditation in “Love You To”; the dark loneliness of Paul McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby” followed by John Lennon’s hazy, trippy “I’m Only Sleeping”; the romantic heartache in Macca’s “Here, There, and Everywhere,” and Lennon’s psychedelic tour de force, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” in which he famously instructed the other Beatles that he wanted his voice to sound like “the Dali Lama chanting from a mountaintop, miles away.”

Sgt. Peppers is like Moby-Dick – influential literature you’re supposed to read. Revolver is great music that stands the test of time. But I didn’t know that when I was growing up and discovering music in context of the Beatles’ legacy. When I was a senior in high school, John Lennon was gunned down by Mark David Chapman. Like many of my contemporaries, I learned about Lennon’s death while watching Monday Night Football, when Howard Cosell, the controversial broadcaster, announced the news in his unmistakably nasal and self-important sounding voice.

The adjective “shocking” gets overused when describing dramatic word events, but Lennon’s death truly was shocking. The idea that some crazed person could just gun down a living legend shattered our illusions that godlike rock stars lived a cloistered existence – vulnerable to their own excesses, to be sure, but not to the same kind of maladies that befall everyday mortals. Lennon’s death would lionize him, to Paul McCartney’s chagrin. The loss of John Lennon also made it impossible for me to view him as an artist properly. Instead, he was a saint. You dont think of saints as songwriters.

It took the passage of time for me to explore enough music on my own and to gain the perspective I needed to critically analyze his vast contributions to the Beatles, which is to say, popular music. And Revolver is his personal triumph. “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “I’m Only Sleeping,” “Doctor Robert,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “She Said She Said” are the acidic complement to Paul’s sweetness, the powerful voice that gave Revolver an unmistakable edge. He would never again command an album with the Beatles as he did on Revolver. The Beatles became Paul’s band afterward.

Each time I listen to Revolver, I take comfort that I can continue to discover art with the wonder that I felt when I was a child. Listening to the album is like revisiting Nighthawks at the Art Institute of Chicago. I appreciate something different each time – a little nuance, like the striking jangle in the multi-tracked guitars on “And Your Bird Can Sing” or the unfettered joy on Macca’s voice when he utters the word “Good” in “Good Day Sunshine.”

Revolver takes me on a journey with each listening. The twists, turns, and destination never feel the same.

Paul Wrote “Hey Jude” for Me

You don’t listen to great songs. You experience them personally. They feel like they were written just for you. They take on different meaning each time you experience them because as your life changes and the context of the song changes.

Sometimes even a song you’ve heard a million times can sock you in the gut. This morning I had a few spare moments and watched the famous video of “Hey Jude” from The David Frost Show, in which the Beatles share a moment of joyous communion with fans on a stage. Even though I had seen the video many times, I thought, why not? About three minutes into the song, I felt myself getting choked up.

Who can say why? Maybe the power of the words and music renewed my spirit. Maybe seeing the faces of John and George reminded me of mortality and loss — and brother, I’ve lost some important people over the past few years. Maybe I wished I could have been in the room with the lucky fans singing along with the Beatles.

Perhaps all those explanations are true or none of them is. But I’m grateful a song can move me even if I can’t put my finger on the reason why. In fact, I’m glad I cannot explain my reaction. When a song becomes personal, it burrows its way into your soul to the point where you cannot properly elucidate the power of its connection, just as you cannot rationalize the power of religious faith. An emotional bond does not require explanation.

Try experiencing a beloved song you’ve not heard for a while. Does the moment still move you?

My George Martin Memories


Sir George Martin crossed paths with me twice during my career in marketing, and both times he left his mark. I remember those two moments clearly as I reflect on the passing of the Fifth Beatle:

A Personal Encounter

I first met him in 2000 when I worked on the Accenture global marketing team. Someone had the presence of mind to book him to speak at one of those team-building meetings that features a blizzard of PowerPoint presentations and character-building exercises. He was a welcome sight. Drawing upon his career with the Beatles, he spoke about the collaborative nature of creativity and the give-and-take that must occur with any productive partnership. Certainly he was one who could speak with authority on those topics.

Afterward, he hung around and chatted with anyone who cared to linger. Of course, I took advantage of the opportunity. He patiently listened to me blather on about the Beatles (why is it that when you meet someone as famous as Sir George Martin, you can’t think of anything meaningful to say?). When I was done reciting my favorite Beatles songs, he did something I did not expect: he asked me about me. What did I do for a living? What inspired me? He noticed I was wearing a wedding ring, and so he asked me about my family. I mentioned how I wished my wife, Jan, could have joined me for the occasion. He replied, “I’m sorry you have to travel alone for work and that your wife cannot be here with you. Why don’t I sign something for both you and Jan?”


I still have that autograph.

Hosting Sir George

Years later, when I ran marketing for Razorfish, it was my job to plan the annual Client Summit, which was conceive to inspire clients and employees to celebrate the state of the art in digital marketing. I thought it would be a great idea for Sir George to speak at the 2008 Client Summit, held in New York — not just because of his musical legacy, which was patently obvious, but because of that gentle warmth and charisma he’d displayed years before. After negotiating with the agency that represented him, I landed him as our closing keynote.

At this point in his life, he was in his early 80s, and it was public knowledge that he was hard of hearing and a bit more fragile. More than once, I was asked by colleagues, “Do you think everyone will know who he is?” and “Has he been in the public eye recently?” which were polite ways of asking whether he was too old for our event.

Fortunately, my boss, Darin Brown, and our CEO, Clark Kokich, were not among those asking those questions. With their support, the moment happened.

His handlers were very protective of him. They gave me strict instructions on details such as where to position him onstage so that he could listen to the audience properly with his good ear. His team inspected every element of the room including the event A/V system. Their attention to detail was understandable because his presentation relied on audio and video, including the use of different versions of “Strawberry Fields” to demonstrate the evolution of the song.

When he took the stage, all of his elegance and warmth were immediately evident. He spoke fondly not only of his experiences as the world’s most famous producer but also of his love for his wife and children. He discussed his career producing classical music and comedy records long before the Beatles came along; later in his presentation, he demonstrated how he applied that background in shaping the sound of the Beatles.

For instance, he applied his classical music background often. He played the baroque piano solo on “In My Life,” and it was his idea to use strings in “Yesterday.” And, of course, he also famously corralled the orchestra that plays on “A Day in the Life.” He drew upon his work producing comedy albums in some unexpected ways, such as digging into his catalog of ambient crowd noises to create the audience laughter that occurs in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

I learned a lesson that day: there is no such thing as a wasted moment when you do the things you love, and if you have vision and patience, you can apply your skills and passions in unexpected ways throughout your life. Little did Sir George Martin know it when he was making comedy and classical albums in the 1950s and early 1960s, but those experiences helped prepare him for the most fruitful musical collaboration in modern music history. (Similarly, little did I know it, but getting a journalism degree in college prepared me to become a blogger years later.)

But most of all, I remember that personal warmth and grace shining through. He spoke with obvious pride when he described the work of his son Giles on the Beatles Love remix for Cirque du Soleil. He ended his presentation by sharing a memory about learning of the death of a good friend and realizing how happy he was to be a husband and father during a time of loss.

Ironically, I could not enjoy his company personally as I had done at the Accenture meeting. I had an event to run, and a million demands to address seemingly every minute. As he was speaking, I was in the producer’s booth, making sure the sound and video elements went off without a hitch. For instance, before Martin came onstage, I had instructed the sound engineer at the Client Summit to program “Revolution” to play when Martin left the stage. But as Sir George closed with a tender, personal memory, I turned to the engineer and said, “We can’t play ‘Revolution.’ It’s too harsh. We need to change the song to “All You Need Is Love.”

The engineer gave me an “Are you freaking crazy?” look. “I can’t do that,” he said. “We don’t have the song programmed in the playlist, and I can’t start searching for a digital file while I’m managing the sound for his talk.”

“Here,” I said, waving a CD of Magical Mystery Tour in the air. “The song we need is Track 11 on this disc. Let me do it.” So I opened a compact disc tray, inserted the CD, and queued up “All You Need Is Love.”

“But I can’t test the volume while he’s speaking,” the poor engineer replied. “How do you know the song won’t skip?”

“It will work,” I replied. “Just turn the volume up high. Trust me.”

And so we swapped “All You Need Is Love.” Everyone in the control panel breathed a sigh of relief when the opening chords of the song played while Sir George left the stage. And by the way, no one ever asked me why I had chosen Sir George after he enchanted the audience with his journey.

I cannot add anything to his musical legacy beyond what you’ve probably read already. My lasting impression of George is of warmth and love — warmth to strangers in a conference room, and love for both his family and his music.




Why the Beatles Are Streaming: Legacy, Baby


At a time when news headlines are dominated by disturbing stories about terrorism, social strife, and ugly politics, the world just found reason to rejoice: the Beatles are finally streaming their music.

Everyone is reporting the announcement about the Beatles making their beloved catalog available to Apple Music, Deezer, Google Play, Microsoft Groove, Amazon Prime, Rhapsody, Spotify, Slacker and Tidal starting December 24 at 12:01 a.m. local time. The New York Times, TechCrunch, The Wall Street Journal, and Venture Beat are among the many news media jumping all over the news.

But why are the Beatles streaming?

After all, the Beatles don’t need streaming to continue succeeding commercially. People buy Beatles albums even as albums continue to suffer a drastic sales decline in the digital era. The Beatles anthology 1, released in November 2000, still sells 1,000 copies a week (amounting to 12 million copies sold in the United States to date), even though “there’s really no reason for anyone who owns all the records to get this too,” as Allmusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote. (1 was also just re-released as a special edition featuring a Blu-ray surround-sound format in November 2015.) And through a relationship with Apple formed in 2010, the music of the Fab Four has continued to sell in digital format even as downloading gives way to streaming.

I believe the answer comes down to legacy. Especially Paul McCartney’s.

Continue reading

Designing the Unseen Details


Superior design means getting little details right — even the parts that no one can see. In his landmark biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson tells the story of Jobs’s obsession to detail in the design of the breakthrough Apple II personal computer, down to the engineering of the power supply inside the computer. Jobs wanted the Apple II to provide power without needing to use a fan inside the unit because he believed fans were distracting. So he hired an engineer named Rod Holt, who created a new power system that was more efficient and superior to a fan-based supply. Isaacson writes:

Jobs’s father had once taught him that a drive for perfection meant caring about the craftsmanship even of the parts unseen. Jobs applied that to the layout of the circuit board inside the Apple II. He rejected the initial design because the lines were not straight enough.

One of my favorite examples of designing the unseen details comes from Outpost Trading Company, which created this Beatles T shirt that depicts A Hard Day’s Night:


The design really gets interesting on the inside, which no one but the owner can see. Beneath the Outpost Trading Company label is an awesome silhouette of the iconic Abbey Road album cover:


The discerning eye might note that the Beatles look like they are walking the wrong way, going from the right side to the left, instead of the left-right sequence depicted on the album cover. But when you wear the T-shirt, the Beatles are walking left to right as they did on the cover — unseen to anyone, like a private joke shared with the shirt wearer.

The unseen details make the difference between an ordinary product and a special experience that rewards the buyer with a more personalized feel. Unseen details also create curiosity: I definitely want to learn more about Outpost Trading Company in addition to admiring the T shirt. Unseen details also send a message to customers: our brand trusts you. We trust you to take the time to notice something subtle about our product, and we trust that you’ll appreciate the effort we have taken to go the extra mile and do something other brands might not do.

These little details are often associated with premium products and services such as gourmet dining. But any kind of brand can embed unseen details in its products and services to achieve surprise and delight, as fast-food chain In-n-Out Burger has done with its “Secret Menu.” The Secret Menu originally consisted of custom-made food orders off the menu, available only if you knew to ask for them. The Secret Menu eventually became not very secret, but the concept still helps In-n-Out Burger position itself as a hip, even cult brand.

What are your favorite examples of unseen design?

What Can You Learn From Beatlemania If You’re Not the Beatles?

“Beatles Bomb on TV.”

Those were the words the New York Herald Tribune used in dismissing the historic appearance of the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show February 9, 1964. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but the Herald Tribune completely scoffed at one of the most famous moments in television history, which is widely regarded as ground zero for the launch of Beatlemania in the United States. Fifty years later, news media ranging from Rolling Stone to Late Night with David Letterman are celebrating that fabled night when 40 percent of the entire United States was glued to their television sets and willingly acquiesced to the music, charisma, and energy of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. But as I noted in a new presentation I’ve uploaded to SlideShare, Five Lessons Musicians Can Learn from Beatlemania, the Beatles had to endure their share of rejection and scorn from the mainstream news media even as the American record-buying public was embracing them. The band’s ability to rise above the critics and win over the influencers is one of the lessons I believe today’s artists can learn from Beatlemania.


To be sure, by early 1964, the Beatles were already the most popular act in their native United Kingdom and were rapidly ascending in the United States, thanks to the power of their single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” But  mainstream influencers simply did not understand them — neither their music (which was too different and too loud), their appearance (their hair was just too long), nor their adoring fans (who were too emotional and devoted). After all, only one month before the Beatles arrived, the Number One song in the United States was “Dominique” by the Singing Nun. And then along came the Beatles, brimming with sex appeal, to sing “All My Loving” on Ed Sullivan. The Herald Tribune was not the only doubter. “Visually, they are a nightmare . . . musically, they are a near disaster,” scoffed Newsweek.  “America had better take thought as to how it will deal with the invasion . . . Indeed a restrained ‘Beatles go home’ might be just the thing,” reacted the Baltimore Sun to Beatlemania.


The Beatles didn’t simply endure critics: they won them over. From the start, they always understood how to charm and wow the influencers who were so critical to building their fan base. In their home country, they famously Continue reading

Cirque du Soleil: too much LOVE

While I was shopping for blue jeans at Target this weekend, I came across a surprising find: official T shirts from the Beatles Cirque du Soleil LOVE show on sale for $12.99, and wedged like excess stock on a rack of music merchandise.

Although making official LOVE merchandise available at Target might provide a short-term dividend for Cirque du Soleil, I believe the approach is a long-term mistake. Cirque du Soleil packages LOVE as a high-end experience. Part of the appeal of seeing the show — and a big reason why people are willing to pay $70-to-$150 for a ticket — is the chance to enjoy the legacy of the Beatles in a way you cannot elsewhere.

The show occurs in a theater-in-the-round custom-made for the act in the Las Vegas Mirage. Just outside the theater, you can find exclusive (and expensive) merchandise at the LOVE boutique (an irresistible destination) and grab a drink at the Revolution lounge.

There is no other way you an experience LOVE unless you are in Las Vegas. And LOVE is an experience well rendered.

Selling LOVE T shirts at Target cheapens the Cirque du Soleil LOVE brand. You don’t think “upscale” when you find LOVE merchandise carelessly tossed on a rack as you stroll the aisles of Target looking for mayonnaise, shampoo, and $20 blue jeans. And the Cirque du Soleil LOVE brand loses its aura of exclusivity, too.

I am reminded of what happened to Krispy Kreme. Once upon a time, going to a Krispy Kreme store was really cool. The only outlet in the western suburbs of Chicago was located miles from our home, and we went out of our way to go there. The service was great. Watching the donuts made was a hoot. And the donuts themselves were delicious. But seemingly overnight, Krispy Kreme saturated the market. A store opened closer to our home. You could find Krispy Kremes stocked in grocery stores. The brand was no longer special. And the brand failed.

Krispy Kreme was by no means an upscale brand like LOVE, but it was just as special in its own way. It will be interesting to see if Cirque du Soleil LOVE remains special.

Old bands, great brands shine in 2010

There seems to be no end to the merchandising of so-called legacy rock stars, and 2010 was no exception:

  • Elder rockers ranging from Robert Plant to Roger Waters made headlines with new music (in Plant’s case) and an updating of a rock classic via a stunning tour (Waters).

As I’ve blogged before, legacy rockers (sometimes from the grave) provide a relatively young art form (rock) the gift of perspective as they come to terms with their past and chart a course for the future. What did they say about themselves in 2010? Here’s my take:

  • “The king is dead. Long live the king.” God bless Robert Plant. After re-uniting with three quarters of Led Zeppelin to perform at London’s O2 arena in 2007, Plant endured tremendous pressure to tour again with his old band mates under the Led Zeppelin banner. But Plant would have none of that. Instead in 2008 he toured with Alison Krauss to promote their celebrated Raising Sand. In 2010, Plant continued to firmly keep Led Zeppelin in his rear-view mirror by releasing his latest solo album, Band of Joy (the name is a reference to one of his bands prior to Zeppelin). Anyone hoping for a Zeppelin reincarnation was disappointed. He chose a quirky mix of Americana covers spanning folk and rock (recorded with lesser known musicians) and embarked on a modest tour in places like the Robinson Center Music Hall in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was rewarded with some of the best reviews of his career.

  • “Remember us.” The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Elvis, and the Rolling Stones kept their names in the public eye without releasing any new music. Amid much hoopla, including a weeklong celebration on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, the Rolling Stones unveiled the remastered Exile on Main St. Months later, Keith Richards, surprising fans with a still-intact and lucid memory, published his 565-page autobiography, Life. In August, Elvis Presley’s entire catalog was released via a massive 30-CD box set retailing for more than $700 — and in an era in which CDs are supposed to be dead, the first-edition limited release sold out. In October, Sony released mono CD editions of Bob Dylan’s seminal recordings from the 1960s (the box set included a thoughtful essay by noted rock historian Greil Marcus). I think that Dylan, the Stones, and the caretakers of Elvis’s brand essentially were re-establishing their places in history for newer generations of rock critics (and it sounds like John Jurgensen at The Wall Street Journal wasn’t convinced). None of them technically released new material (the previously unreleased Exile tracks date back to the making of the original album). Instead, they continued to keep their past achievements relevant (even to the point of the Stones successfully licensing “Gimme Shelter” for use in a video game). I think it’s also significant that the Beatles finally made their music available digitally through iTunes. I don’t think the move was about generating sales (although sales did result) but rather passing the band’s legacy down to digital generations both today and tomorrow.

  • “I am an artist!” It’s no secret that Roger Waters and his ex-Pink Floyd band mates have fought bitterly over who is the rightful owner of the Pink Floyd legacy. In 2010, Waters made a statement in the best way possible: performing the 1979 Pink Floyd classic The Wall as a high-concept solo tour, replete with the construction of a giant wall in the elaborate stage act (as Pink Floyd with Waters did via a limited series of concerts decades ago). So how was The Wall tour different from the re-release of Exile on Main St.? Because Waters re-interpreted and updated the music he wrote in the 1970s as a modern-day statement against corporate greed and bellicose governments (the U.S. war in Iraq among the topics he explored with the modern-day performance of his songs). And having attended one of The Wall concerts, I think he suceeded.

In 2010, we also heard from many other legacy rockers, including Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, and later, in the year, the king of pop, Michael Jackson. I expect 2011 to bring more of the same. And I have mixed feelings about what’s happening here. I think we should give the giants of rock history their due just as newer generations of readers should continue to buy books by Hemingway or pay admission to see the works of Picasso. But for every dollar we spend honoring the gods, rock fans need to be supporting new music financially. How many new and emerging artists have you supported lately by actually paying money to enjoy their music (whether recorded or in concert)?

I hope you’ll make a commitment in 2011 to both the old guard and the vanguard.

To get creative, get “Lost”


How do creative ideas flourish? The May 14 issue of Entertainment Weekly provides one perspective through an oral history of the development of the pilot episode of Lost, as told by many of the principal players, including J.J. Abrams. Two lessons emerge for me, and I think these are relevant to anyone who creates a major deliverable, whether an event or a viral marketing campaign:

1. The right spark can ignite a creative fire. The most astonishing part of the EW article occurs when J.J. Abrams describes a seemingly minor detail that emerged from co-developer Damon Lindelof as the two brainstormed on the pilot episode: “[Lendelof] had this detail of a guy waking up and having a vodka bottle in his pocket. He was not looking at it from the point of view of the horrors of the crash. He was looking at this crazy detail as a way in, which was the greatest way ever. All of a sudden, we started riffing on characters and ideas we loved — Twlight Zone, Star Wars. And we very quickly realized that this could actually be something very cool . . .”

Notice what Abrams and Lindelof did not do. They did not ask themselves, “How can we make Lost different?” and then sketch out a plot treatment full of off-the-wall ideas. They did not second guess why a tiny detail like the image of a vodka bottle was unlocking such a powerful tidal wave of ideas. They just went with the brainwave. Similarly, one of the best cop movies ever made, Bullitt, grew from a seemingly prosaic passion for cars shared by Steve McQueen and Director Peter Yates. The “way in” — the creative spark that became a movie — was the automobile. And practically the entire song catalog of the Beatles emerged from odd, random moments in the lives of Lennon and McCartney; moments most of us would ignore — but they chased.

2. Then-ABC Entertainment Chairman Lloyd Braun originally conceived of Lost while on vacation in Hawaii. But the show was nothing more than a rough idea until J.J. Abrams was assigned the job of developing a script. Abrams came onboard with the caveat that he needed a creative partner — which turned out to be crucial, for the collaboration between Abrams and Damon Lindelof added the supernatural touches of mystery and narrative flashback that made Lost a success. And the collaboration between the two and the ABC brass was not a predictable story of creative hot shots versus corporate suits. In fact, Braun loved the eccentric ideas that Abrams and Lindelof produced, like the emergence of the mysterious hatch, even though (or perhaps because) they had nothing to do with his original vision for Lost. On the other hand, ABC executives resisted a proposal to have character Dr. Jack Shephard killed off halfway into the original script. And the suits were right. It’s almost impossible to conceive of Lost without him.

I have blogged about collaboration and creativity before, most recently in a post about the Eagles. Lost once again shows that with the right chemistry, a team can inspire greatness, not produce mediocre groupthink.

I am also struck by the iterative nature of creative collaboration as described in the story of Lost: develop an idea, test, improve, and keep developing. By contrast, the creative process as depicted Mad Men is like baking a delicious cake: all the ingredients are carefully nurtured in an oven leading up to the big reveal.

In the real world of advertising, the days of big reveals and prima donnas working in isolation are rapidly fading away, one of the ideas explored in the forthcoming 10th Annual Razorfish Outlook Report (from my employer Razorfish). In the essay “The Power of Small Thinking,” Razorfish Chief Strategy Officer Brandon Geary argues that CMOs and their ad agency partners need to let go of their obsession with big ideas that produce one-shot campaigns.  Especially because CMOs are under pressure to prove their value over and over in a constantly changing marketplace, a more suitable approach to creative development is a test-and-learn mindset that produces a daily infusion of ideas.

In its own way, Lost is a testament to the power of small thinking — seemingly little ideas that blossom when embraced, tested (against the demands of internal collaborators and TV audiences), and then improved upon.

Stay tuned for more about the Razorfish Outlook Report May 24.