So, I have a few pet “theories” that I keep running in the background of my mind and pull out during those times when I need to let out a gigantic sigh and mutter, “All right, let’s be reasonable here,” or “All right, let’s put this in perspective.” The goal is always to keep things in context, avoid scapegoating anyone, refrain from getting overly emotional when you need to make good decisions, and avoid taking what you have for granted.
Also, I want to say “theories” is in quotes because most of these aren’t actually theories at all. They’re more like axioms or principles or something. But if millions of people want to use “theory” interchangeably (or even dominantly, which is sometimes how it sounds) with or related to those other terms, that’s fine by me. Let’s err on the side of comprehensibility.
One of those theories I think about a lot is something I call Ringo Theory. Here’s how Ringo Theory goes:
In every organization, one person will be always perceived as the “weak link,” even if they are not a weak link, but only appear weaker relative to others in the organization.
I know this principle is nothing new, and I imagine it probably goes under multiple names elsewhere in the world. But here’s the thing: I don’t really care. “Ringo Theory” is easy to remember and easy to understand. We all know Ringo Starr frequently gets treated like the one Beatle who couldn’t hold a candle to the other three, in terms of talent. And that’s a bad assessment. John, Paul and George all could do things Ringo couldn’t. Ringo did things the other three couldn’t. All of those things mattered and lifted up the entire Beatles org. (Fwiw am actually laughing while typing “Beatles org,” because that sounds like I’ve been working too much lately.)
People sometimes act as though Ringo was some kind of local yokel who got lucky and rode his bandmates’ talents to fame and fortune. That’s totally ahistorical and easy to disprove. Ringo was one of the most sought-after rock’n’roll drummers in Liverpool. He’d been in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes at a time when the Hurricanes were more popular in both the Liverpool and Hamburg gigging circuits than The Beatles were. The Beatles came to Ringo purposefully and intentionally (there was mutual interest and enthusiasm all around), and getting him in the band was a crucial step in the process of presenting the band as a professional, ready-for-prime-time outfit.
Personally, I suspect Ringo’s reputation as a drummer has suffered, particularly at the hands of rockists, because he came on the scene just a few years before the rise of the “show drummer” in rock’n’roll. I’m talking about these very flashy drummers who specialized in crazy fills — commonly, while supporting powerhouse bands that specialized in being loud. The show drummer became even more prominent as rock’n’roll eased into the ‘70s and the arena rock phenomenon picked up speed. Imagine how anyone in a band might feel compelled to play to create a sound that could fill an arena. You’ve got your Keith Moons and your Ginger Bakers and your John Bonhams, and then you have 30,000 other drummers you can hear anytime you turn on classic rock radio and get an earful of ‘70s hard rock. When you hear Ringo playing on one of the later Beatles albums, you hear a drummer playing in the classic rock era, in a style that preceded that era.
Of course, the other major reason Ringo’s reputation as a musician has suffered is because The Beatles were a band where songwriting and vocal harmony were the main focus — those were their greatest skills, and that’s what the records were produced to highlight — and Ringo was the one guy in the band who was not a fantastic singer or songwriter. He was/is a solid singer who sang on key but had/has a limited vocal range. (A limited vocal range has never been a requirement for being the lead singer in a major rock band anyway.) And while he may not have great songwriting chops, he didn’t labor under the illusion he did, either. If you look at how these four guys presented themselves over the years — John, Paul, and George all wanted to be taken seriously as artists. They all deserve to be taken seriously as artists. Ringo wanted to be an entertainer. I see Ringo’s solo career as part of a long tradition of the “song-and-dance” performer, a crowd-pleaser who goes out with a revue full of big names with the goal of giving people a good time. Let’s not hold Ringo up to a standard he’s not even aiming for.
And let’s be real. The idea of a show drummer being in The Beatles is a pretty laughable one. They needed a drummer who played to the song. Seriously, how the hell would you imagine a show drummer would make The Beatles more enjoyable to listen to? Why would you want to hear a bunch of crazy fills on top of Revolver? Even Ringo’s drum solo on “The End” sounds silly to me for how unnecessary it is. It’s technically on point, and tastefully phrased, but come on. Why are The Beatles jamming on this track? I don’t come to The Beatles to listen to them jam; I come for the songs. If I want to hear Ringo play solo, I’ll listen to something like the isolated drum track from “Something,” where he’s doing what sounds alternately like nothing and everything, doing all of it to lift the song up. That’s what Ringo was there for.
The crux here is that Ringo Theory isn’t just about Ringo; it’s about every business, organization, team (work or play), band, collective, what have you. Someone is always going to appear, from a certain perspective, to be lagging behind the others. That doesn’t always mean they’re the weak link. You always have to ask: What are the strongest attributes of this person? Where do they carry weight the others cannot? What do they contribute toward getting to the end goal? And how are they performing relative to the actual role they should be playing in the org?
That last two questions are complicated sometimes, for a few reasons, including a) goals evolve, goalposts move, that motion affects our perspective, and we have to have the vision to understand when we should stop thinking in terms of the old goals; and b) there may be no precedent in the org for this person’s role therein, or alternately, the previous person in the role might have lowered standards by simply sucking too much. (I mean, Ringo was an improvement over Pete Best simply by virtue of the fact that he showed up to the gigs every time, but he deserves the most credit not for that, but by lifting up the songs.)
Tbh I came upon Ringo Theory as a counterbalance to an older principle I lived by: If everything in your life seems to be going all right except for one thing that consistently causes problems, that thing should be removed from your life. I think my perspective changed a bit when I moved a couple notches up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. At a certain point, I was casting things out of my life that weren’t really that bad. Some of them maybe even played a valuable role. (I’ve probably quit at least one job prematurely not because I stopped needing the money, but because it was causing me more trouble than anything else I had going on at the time.) You have to be especially careful about this stuff when you’re dealing with actual people.
The self-awareness bit, and the compassion bit, are important for a lot of reasons, including the tricky likelihood that every single one of us will be perceived as the Ringo of our group at some point in life. I certainly have been. I remember one job where I’d been needled often because my work on the team was not as loud and obvious and public as other people’s work — but that wasn’t what I was there for. I was supposed to be a journeyman in the background, and I was that. After I quit that job, they approached me to contribute as a freelancer because the person they hired to fill my old role didn’t have the niche knowledge necessary to do the volume of quiet behind-the-scenes work I was doing; oh well.
You don’t want to be an Amazon with this stuff. Amazon has fired God knows how many warehouse workers for failing to meet productivity standards, per the measurements of the automated systems the company uses to track productivity. That is a shit way of being — discarding people not for being bad, but for being less good than the best. It’s a sociopathic management strategy, and a fine way to entice people to avoid working on your team unless they’re desperate.
I also Ringo-fy people all the time, because I’m an impatient and kind of judgmental person. That’s part of why Ringo Theory has been helpful to me. It’s helped me be less of a jerk.
And I hope it helps you remember to step back and think holistically about how and what your teammates contribute, too. Sometimes the weak link is real, and it needs to go. Sometimes the shortest flower has the deepest roots, and even though that just popped into my head and I’m not sure yet what it means, that’s how I’m gonna end.
Let me preempt a comment someone is bound to make: Don’t tell me that when John Lennon was asked whether Ringo Starr was the best drummer in the world, he responded, “Ringo isn’t even the best drummer in The Beatles.” John did not say that; that line comes from a BBC comedy show broadcast after John Lennon was dead. It is extremely easy to debunk the prospect that this was a John Lennon quote, or even something he believed personally. So knock it off.