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Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Those of us in the marketing world (if nothing else, we're each marketing ourselves) know that a consumer's perception of quality is often based solely on packaging. Surveys have found that people will often designate one of two identical items as being distinctly better than the other simply based on the attractiveness of the packaging.

How does this concept apply outside the field of consumer products?

My old friend Angie forwarded this story that illustrates a lesson that all Knights should remember:

A man sat at a Metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most famous musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth $3.5 million.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100 each.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: if we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing some of the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

Sir Bowie "off to take a quit walk in first snow of a new year" of Greenbriar


  1. Best blog yet..Bowster... I'm almost lost for words, as the Blog is actually a comment on itself.

    What a cool experiment..

    I need to think about this... lol... but at the end of it all there is no doubt most people don't know a great violinist, a great piece, or a stradivarias if they trod on one.

    I won't deny I might have walked passed, but you are right about the perception, of a busker and and someone on stage.

    Funnily i was giving advice to a singer songwriter who was doing his first gig at a Pub venue and he was dead nerveous about going on, on the low stage.. and i said...well you've done busking outside in Oxford...this is just the same, except you have four walls around you, which seemed to make sense to him.

  2. Excellent Blog! Interesting Experiment! I true lesson in stopping to smell the roses, hear the music, see the beauty that surrounds us!

    I always stop to hear street musicians. I wouldn't have known who he was (first time I've heard of him), but I'm sure that I would have appreciated his musical talent.

    Most people have to be told what is good. Very few are brave enough to discover this on their own.

    About real street have to go to Nashville and walk the sidewalks or Broad Street at night. You'll hear some of the best and some of the worst music by street musicians you'll ever hear...but each one gets a tip from me for being brave enough to bare their soul for strangers!

    I once tapped danced outside a jazz club on Bourbon Street in New Orleans back in my college days for beer money. I danced for an hour and made $45! Not bad for a Yankee White Boy!

    Sir Hook the Minstrel in Any Gallery of Warrick

  3. Interesting, but there is another way to interpret the same "data"...

    Perhaps the music one hears in a concert hall sitting in a $100 seat isn't any "better" than the music one can hear every day from talented amateurs, and all the $100 concert seat does is buy prestige and bragging rights.