Commitment to Excellence
The Beatles are frustrated.
After several takes of their new song, “The Long and Winding Road,” they remain unsatisfied with the sound, the feel, the coherence of the takes they’ve put down. George Martin, their legendary producer, can’t convince them an earlier take was spot on. Glyn Johns, who is supervising the recording and will become a legend in his own right, can’t persuade them either.
This scene at the beginning of the third episode of “Get Back,” the outstanding documentary that explores a month in the life of the Beatles in early 1969, really caught my attention.
The Beatles plow on. In the end, they never could quite get what they were looking for. Music critics can debate whether the take that eventually lands on the “Let it Be” album was vinyl-worthy, but the band couldn’t shake their disappointment. Their dogged pursuit of excellence fell short, at least in their eyes.
Those are two themes of the entire documentary: intense effort aimed squarely at excellence – an effort that had almost always paid off before – and mounting frustration at their inability to reach it. In the end, the band abandons the entire project at the heart of the month-long effort, writing all-new songs and performing them live to make a complete album without overdubs or other studio tricks.
Too ambitious? Perhaps. But that’s not my only take. It is that dedication to excellence that makes the effort worth remembering.
Excellence is on my mind for other reasons. The passing of John Madden – legendary coach, broadcaster and pitchman – reminded me of my childhood in northern California when my father adopted the Oakland Raiders as his team. Their “Commitment to Excellence” motto colored everything about the franchise.
During Madden’s tenure as head coach, the Raiders had the best winning percentage in sports and rose from AFL cellar dwellers to Super Bowl champions (the Raiders of today bear little resemblance). Excellence was their north star, and Madden was the captain at the helm.
Over the course of my career, I have had the privilege to work with organizations, teams and leaders who embodied that same commitment to excellence. They are not the rule, but they are the ones I lean on for inspiration and motivation when the going gets tough. Excellence was a goal they reached for every time, even knowing they would often fall short and have to regroup and try again.
Make it as good as it can be. Deliver on time. Learn from your own and others’ mistakes. Hold your team to the same standard. And do it all with humility, discipline and no fanfare. The audience will give us all the feedback we need when we hit (or miss) the mark.
The Beatles may have been frustrated, but they did not stand still. After walking away from the live album concept, they found their way back into the studio and made an album that is in my mind the definition of excellence. “Abbey Road” is well constructed, expertly played and brilliantly produced. They hit the mark.
And while there may be many reasons why the band ultimately broke up, they seemed to know deep down that the excellence of “Abbey Road” was their last stand as a group. They had to pursue excellence along other paths.
What is left for me is a reminder that the pursuit of excellence is at the core of professionalism, and that it is always a gift to work with others who display that commitment. What is left is to find our own inspiration to do all we can to deliver excellence for our clients, our audiences and ourselves.