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Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) and Some Mind Grinding on Collaboration

Yesterday I was watching Jeopardy! and one of the categories was The Beatles – yep, I was hooked. And you can blame this post on “Answer: the first Beatles hit that featured the sitar” “What is Norwegian Wood?”

A quick search on Grooveshark will show that Norwegian Wood has been covered by a diverse collection of musicians including Waylon Jennings, Herbie Hancock, U2, Tangerine Dream, Alanis Morissette, and Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 to name just a few.

But nothing really compares to the original, a sparse arrangement featuring George on sitar, Ringo on tambourine, Paul singing harmony and John on lead vocals and guitar. Norwegian Wood appears on the Rubber Soul album which is a schizophrenic collection (Drive My Car, Norwegian Wood, Michelle, Nowhere Man, If I Needed Someone, etc.) that somehow, nevertheless, works.

I don’t know if The Beatles were already in the throes of splintering when they produced Rubber Soul but the collaboration on Norwegian Wood seems to bring the best of all them together.

Collaboration is hard and can be extremely frustrating. Part of the reason I tuned in to Jeopardy! was due to the fact that I was becoming increasingly frustrated with a group project I was working on and with each email was getting angrier and angrier. From my perspective, if the team members had given it 15 minutes of focus (no multi-tasking) at the outset, there wouldn’t have been dozens of emails over a couple of hours and an unfinished project at the end of the day. And so there I was fuming over the waste of time.

When I calmed down and gave the benefit of the doubt, I realized that I didn’t know what the root of the problem was. At the peak of my anger I was attributing laziness – but it could have been ignorance (just not understanding), it could have been the distraction and proneness to error that occurs when people are asked to do too much. It could also be that my priorities didn’t match the priorities of the team members.

What I’m still wrestling with philosophically is – is there inherent benefit in collaboration? Is the natural impulse of a creator or producer or a publisher to seek to do it alone? Whether this is in music or fundraising or business – is collaboration always the higher ground? What do you think?

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