I played Abbey Road until the stylus on my child's cheap record player destroyed each groove from Come Together to Her Majesty. I've never stopped loving The Beatles' music and still consider them my favorite musicians.

George Martin, the band's producer, died yesterday at 90. It's hard to imagine that every British record label rejected them before him.

It's hard to imagine music today without "The most popular and influential rock act of all time, a band that blazed several new trails for popular music," but if not for Martin succeeding where every other label failed to see opportunity, we might never had heard their music.

Decca Records, bigger than Martin's label, Parlophone, rejected them with

"We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out."

What Can We Learn From George Martin

You want to learn from others' successes and avoid their failures. I suggest that more important than what he saw in The Beatles is what he didn't let blind him.

We all have beliefs and mental models that influence what and how we see. If you believed guitar music was on the way out, could you imagine liking the sound of any guitar band?

While we all have to simplify our worlds into beliefs and mental models to understand it, not knowing what models we're using constrains what we can see and think. Imagine if Decca had at least said "We believe guitar music is on the way out."

They might have checked their assumptions.

What Every Other Label Did Happens A Lot

We're all liable to believe ourselves, all the more when we consider ourselves experts. Who among us doesn't consider him- or herself an expert.

Look at what these other experts of their fields said:

  • "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible."--Lord Kelvin, President, Royal Society, 1895.
  • "Everything that can be invented has been invented."--C. H. Duell Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.
  • "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"--H.M. Warner, Warner Bros., 1927.
  • "Stocks have reached what look to be a permanently high plateau."--I. Fisher, Prof. of Economics, Yale, 1929.
  • "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."--Thomas Watson, Chair, IBM, 1943.
  • "So we went to Atari and said, ...'We'll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we'll come work for you.' And they said no. So then we went to HP, and they said 'We don't need you, you haven't got through college yet.'"--Steve Jobs, co-founder, Apple Computers.
  • "640K of RAM ought to be enough for anybody."--Bill Gates, Microsoft, 1981.

It's hard to say which is more remarkable--how inaccurate the mental models or how prominent the people acting on them.

You, Here, Now

As entrepreneurs, leaders, and hustlers, the more useful question is what beliefs are blinding experts today. What opportunities are sitting their, like The Beatles?

Two questions you can always ask yourself:

What beliefs are blinding others from seeing what I can?

What beliefs are blinding me from seeing what others can?

You don't want to miss your Beatles opportunity.

Incidentally, Decca learned from its mistake, as can we all. They kept in touch with George Harrison, who recommended another band they did sign, The Rolling Stones.