Songwriting Brothers Show What a ‘Small World’ Can Do
One day in the early 1960’s, Walt Disney called brothers Robert and Richard Sherman into his office “and gave them a book by P. L. Travers about a magical nanny named Mary Poppins. ‘He said, Do you know what a nanny is?’ Robert Sherman recalled. ‘And we said, ‘Yeah, a goat.’” According to a New York Times obituary for Robert Sherman yesterday, the two songwriters returned with ideas for the film’s story and what would become several classic songs: “Chim Chim Cher-ee” (the Academy Award winner), “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “A Spoonful of Sugar.” Another song of theirs, “It’s a Small World (After All),” inspired a ride in all Disney theme parks.
What I found most interesting about the Sherman brothers is that they accomplished all this by working together—in spite of not getting along. After serving in WWII, they were sharing an apartment in Los Angeles plying different artistic trades when their father challenged them to pool their talents “and come up with a song that some kid would give up his lunch money to buy.”
I love that last bit. The idea behind SIPA is really to bring people together to do things that they may not be able to do on their own—to create products that customers just might give up their lunch money to buy, be it investment advice, regulatory guidance, health tips, mortgage news, etc. The give-and-take that goes on at, say, our Winters Publishers Conference next Thursaday in New York, or the International Annual Conference here in Washington, D.C., on May 20-22 cannot be replicated on the phone or on LinkedIn. It needs to face-to-face, not Facebook. To be among 10 or 15 publishers in a room for a full day may just bring out your own “Small World” (after all).
I guess the Sherman brothers not getting along shouldn’t be such a shock given what we know about families. In a 2009 documentary called “The Boys” about the brothers made by Robert’s son Jeffrey and Richard’s son Gregg, Jeffrey summed up the relationship: “In life, not everything turns out like a Sherman brothers musical.” But that didn’t stop their partnership. Their song, “You’re 16,” was recorded by Johnny Burnette in 1960 and then became a No. 1 hit for Ringo Starr in 1974. (Was it really that long ago? Yikes.) They wrote songs for “The Jungle Book,” “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” “The Sword in the Stone” and “The Aristocats.”
I also liked Jeffrey’s quote about the roles each brother played: “Their standard line was ‘I write the words and music and he writes the music and words.’” Collaboration can take on so many forms. What works about the Winter Publishers Conference—or even the numerous roundtables at SIPA 2012—is that the participants all bring their talents and issues to the forefront. So we’re not talking brainstorming where one or two strong personalities may shout the loudest. The agenda is for each person in the room to be given a chance to solve his or her problems by sharing with the group. One may have the words and another may have the music—or let’s say the marketing know-how. Or one may have the idea and the other the experience of implementing something similar. The value you get from being in a room of your peers cannot be measured in these competitive times. It’s like you’re getting 15 free employees for the day.
So to quote Robert and Richard Sherman:
It’s a world of laughter, a world or tears.
It’s a world of hopes, it’s a world of fear.
There’s so much that we share
that it’s time we’re aware.
It’s a small world after all.
Take advantage of the “so much that we share” by attending a SIPA event. And I apologize if you’ll now be humming all day.
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