Paul McCartney Discusses Hard Work and Success

Paul McCartney Discusses Hard Work and Success

The Interview

In October 2014, Sir Paul McCartney visited Rollins College for an interview with Billy Collins, poet and Senior Distinguished Fellow at Rollins Winter Park Institute.

Billy Collins raises a discussion about the Malcolm Gladwell book “The Outliers.”  In the book, Gladwell writes that an IQ of 120 is a point where the role of intelligence becomes less important to success.  At that point, effort (time spent on practice, work, repetition–10,000 hours) determines the level of success.  Gladwell uses as one example the experience in which the Beatles worked 8-hour long music sessions in Hamburg, Germany.  Billy Collins asks Paul McCartney about his thoughts on the 10,000-hour theory based on his experience with the Beatles in Hamburg.

The Computer Metaphor

Paul McCartney explains that he sees the experience similar to loading more and more data into a computer.  He said that he wrote the song “Yesterday” a dream.  When he awoke, he had the melody in his mind.  He could not understand where he had heard the notes or how they came together in the song.  He awoke up one morning and the melody was in his head.  He said that he went around asking friends and colleagues if they recognized the melody.  None of them did.  He then concluded that, even though the song sounded so familiar, his mind created the song intuitively after years of performing and writing music.

The Objection

In a New York Times opinion piece titled , “Sorry Strivers: Talent Matters,” David Z. Hambrick and Elizabeth J. Meinz, associate professors of psychology, take exception with Gladwell’s conclusion that the importance of IQ decreases through repetition.

The two psychologists reference a study at Vanderbilt University.  The study uses SAT tests scores of 13-year-old students dating back thirty-five years.  This study indicates that the students who tested in the top 99.9 percentile were far more likely to achieve high academic and professional levels than students who tested at just at the 99-percentile level.  Unfortunately, the study does not include any information on the study habits, advanced study opportunities, amount of study, or other factors that lead to high achievement.  In other words, the study disregards the essential elements of mastering any skill.

McCartney on Repetition

The writers of the NY Times article conclude that Malcolm Gladwell was simply wrong.  However, McCartney’s first-hand experience seems to show that Gladwell was completely on track.  Through repetition, performance becomes intuitive not intellectual.

The image of the blackbirds sitting on the wires and appearing like music notes is reminiscent of the 1968 Beatles song “Blackbirds,” which appeared in “The White Album.”  Credited to John Lennon on the album, Paul McCartney actually wrote the song in response to the racial struggles occurring in the United States in the mid- to late-sixties.  The song shows the depth of  development in McCartney’s music resulting from eight years of working with Harrison, Starr, and Lennon.