First read this short story:

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 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.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurriedly, 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 top musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written,with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

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

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito at 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 experiment could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?


TRUE STORY !!!

This is the Video:

And now, this is my personal "Rodinhood" take.

- A lot of people are 'sighing' and feeling bad that 'we' as a human race have forgotten to 'stop', look back, appreciate things, etc.

I say NONSENSE. The Human Race is far more evolved emotionally and sensitively than a few hundred years back when we were killing and looting and raping each other. (This point was brilliantly brought out by some French Author at the recent Jaipur festival. If someone finds a link, please post the same).

- Now the point about spotting hidden musicians like Joshua Bell in the Metro:

That's not what we are at the Metro Station to do! I can imagine spotting George Clooney or Harry Belle because of their popularity (even they are tough to recognize in plain clothes), but not Joshua Bell!

Commuters are busy. They have a schedule! I say even if Joshua Bell wore a Tuxedo and had a stage and announcing who he was, he would have got scant attention!

As an evolved race, we PLAN our days. We have a quality of life to live which includes GOING TO a concert of Joshua Bell at 7 pm at the Opera House and paying 100$ for that performance. That's part of my schedule! I earn in the day and spend in my leisure!

We are not cows grazing in the fields who suddenly spot a greener pasture and casually walk towards it and then spend the rest of the week there!

I believe that all these social scientists in an attempt to PROVE themselves are expecting unnatural behavior from the human species. How many of them go and swim in the Ocean at 11 am on a Monday? I mean the dolphins there are also 'waiting' to be swum with!

- Hearing and recognizing talent

Let me assure you, that it's NOT NORMALLY human to recognize genius so with a Naked ear. In the movie Mozart, only Salieri could recognize who Mozart really was - till he became a full blown celebrity.

I've heard Mstislav Rostropovich playing his Stradivarius and Itzhak Perlman play live at the NCPA & Jamshed Bhabha Auditoriums. They were playing really complex pieces, and let me assure you that as someone going to concerts for the past 26 years, it was not easy to understand the beauty of their music easily. It took silence, contemplation, dedication and a brochure to slowly appreciate what they were unravelling.

That's NOT POSSIBLE at a Metro Station!

[A Mini Story: Rostropovich plays a legendary Stradivarius that rumor says has Emperor Napolean's spur marks on it. When Rostropovich landed in Mumbai to play with this Stradivarius (this was circa 1988), the customs duty fellow asked him, "How much does this instrument cost?" Rostropovich replied, "A few millon dollars!" The moron Customs officer wanted to impose CRORES of import duty on the instrument! The rumor mill again goes that Ratan Tata himself rushed to the Airport to save Rostropovich and the Stradivarius from going back. Read about the Stradivarius here ]

Coming back to Joshua Bell - when I am at the metro station, I can't be expected to listen to complicated musical compositions and recognize them! Play me drums, percussion, etc and at least I will sway as I pass by. Complex pieces require time and attention - not the business of a station and the rattling of trains!

In short, the lesson I believe of this much hyped story is, that as we Humans feel guilty of life's fast pace and keep inventing nice, powerful plots to expose the same. Social Scientists deliver on these plots and execute them for a living.

Each morning, I don't wake up in a cave. I don't kill a boar to eat. I don't wear a loin cloth. I don't make fire with sticks. I don't see the moon and go crazy.

So what if I can't spot Joshua Bell??

I can always go and hear him when I want to and enjoy him at my own pace and time!!!!

******

Note added on 8th Feb 2012:

After posting this article, I received some feedback on my wall about 'the real intent' of the experiment - if indeed the Washington Post Journalist's intent was what was hinted to in the story floating around.

So, I asked him ! And this is what he wrote back:

---------- Forwarded message ---------

From: Gene Weingarten <weingarten@washpost.com>

Date: Wed, Feb 8, 2012 at 7:29 AM
Subject: Re: The Joshua Bell article
To: Alok Kejriwal <alok@games2win.com>


Alok, my main point was pretty much as described in the piece:  I wanted to conduct an experiment that would shed some light on whether the speed of our lives had made us so focused, and so rushed, that we might not notice something of rare beauty in our midst?  And if this is so, how much of a problem is it?


To: weingarten@washpost.com
From: Alok Kejriwal a href="mailto:alok@games2win.com" target="_blank">alok@games2win.com>
Date: 02/07/2012 04:25AM
Subject: The Joshua Bell article


Dear Gene,
It's an honor to be writing to you.
I am an online entrepreneur from Mumbai - India.
Sir, the Joshua Bell story surfaced all over again on my wall a couple of days back. That's when I first read about the experiment.
My reaction was quite different, and I blogged about it (basically not feeling bad at all that so many people missed great music being played by a great man).
After I posted the link, lots more people commented on my wall stating varying interpretations of your experiment!
Sir, can you just in a couple of lines tell me (and hence my audience and friends), what was the real intent of the experiment?

Wishing you the best,

Alok Kejriwal

Tags: Joshua bell, Social Sciences, Washington DC

Views: 995

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Replies to This Discussion

Fact in very apt words >> "In short, the lesson I believe of this much hyped story is, that as we Humans feel guilty of life's fast pace and keep inventing nice, powerful plots to expose the same."

Added to my favorite quotes :)

Agree 100%, you must be relevant to the context to be noticed - or so incongruent that you stand out for the wrong reason. Had Joshua Bell - or for that matter you or I - walked backwards on his hands, sure he would've been noticed.

As in life, so with businesses, I'm thinking of your post on alleged "e-com" sites that look so much like one another .... or like HTC hoping to "differentiate" itself on Android with just a screen UI ....

"Common" sense is, alas, such an oxymoron! 

I think the experiment proves that :

1) People who can spend $100 tickets for a concert do not travel the subway.

2) Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

3) If you have something to show, you need to advertise it. 

Pasting the content of the email that I had sent you.

Dear Alok,

I read your blog post, "So what if I can't spot Joshua Bell" with great interest. I empathize with your concern that social psychologists (damn them) use these tricks to make us feel guilty about not observing the beauties of life. But I think the issue these folks point out in this case (and hence you, via your blog post) points to more crucial issue, with a larger over arching theme and that is one of Perception and Focus.

I think what the Joshua Bell example says to me is that, when we're focused on something, everything else gets sidelined. Wouldn't it be better if we could take this research in a manner to make us more aware of the world around us (and of course it's hard to do). Because today it's Joshua Bell, tomorrow it might be a key feature in one of your customers or a feature in a product (which a 3 year old might discover). I am sure you would have heard of this famous experiment. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo). This could be extrapolated to teaching one's sales staff about body language (which many acquire over a career), because in trying to make a sale, we so often don't take into account the non-verbal reaction of the other person, because we're more focused on the words.

Again, not nit picking, and hope it didn't sound preachy, just read your post, and thought of communicating what went through my head upon reading it. I enjoy your posts and look forward to reading more of them.

Regards,

Rishabh

Alok:

Firstly, I cannot help but make this personal comment - you come across as a classic Type A personality. Pardon me for that.

I went thru the original article on WP. The experiment is defined in two different places. In one place they say, it is an experiment in context, perception and priorities. In the other place, they describe in more laymen terms as "...... a test of whether, in an incongruous context, ordinary people would recognize genius."

In the article, they quote Kant "...the 18th-century German philosopher felt that to properly appreciate beauty, the viewing conditions must be optimal."

As per the article, the inference one can make about people who could not recognise great music in front of them. "He would have inferred about them," Guyer said, "absolutely nothing." 

So you do not need to feel bad that you would not recognize Joshua Bell. 

This is where it gets interesting.

But then a few people did recognize the great music and the talent of the musician. One was a project manager who is not familiar with classical music, another was a 3 year old, a waiter in the cafe opposite to where Joshua Bell was playing, a postal supervisor who had learnt the violin and recognized the music but not the musician and so on, till the end when one person actually recognized the musician.

The point they make is that the fast paced life has robbed us of the capacity to be spontaneous. They cite the example of a guy who did not notice the music because he was on his IPOD listening to a song which laments the failure to see the beauty in front of our eyes.

From a business perspective, it can be thought of as about recognizing opportunities even if the context and priorities are not conducive. From a more personal perspective, it is about being more spontaneous and autonomous in our relationships.

I am sure a CEO who tells his board that he missed an opportunity in the marketplace because he planned to look for new opportunities on Tuesday evenings and this particular opportunity came on a Monday morning will not be appreciated.

About your comment on planning - "As an evolved race, we PLAN our days", I leave you with this pithy quote from one of the Star Wars Movies

Obi-Wan: But Master Yoda says I should be mindful of the future. 
Qui-Gon Jinn: But not at the expense of the moment. 

:)

After posting this article, I received some feedback on my wall about 'the real intent' of the experiment - if indeed the Washington Post Journalist's intent was what was hinted to in the story floating around.

So, I asked him ! And this is what he wrote back:

---------- Forwarded message ---------

From: Gene Weingarten <weingarten@washpost.com>

Date: Wed, Feb 8, 2012 at 7:29 AM
Subject: Re: The Joshua Bell article
To: Alok Kejriwal <alok@games2win.com>


Alok, my main point was pretty much as described in the piece:  I wanted to conduct an experiment that would shed some light on whether the speed of our lives had made us so focused, and so rushed, that we might not notice something of rare beauty in our midst?  And if this is so, how much of a problem is it?


To: weingarten@washpost.com
From: Alok Kejriwal 
Date: 02/07/2012 04:25AM
Subject: The Joshua Bell article


Dear Gene,
It's an honor to be writing to you.
I am an online entrepreneur from Mumbai - India.
Sir, the Joshua Bell story surfaced all over again on my wall a couple of days back. That's when I first read about the experiment.
My reaction was quite different, and I blogged about it (basically not feeling bad at all that so many people missed great music being played by a great man).
After I posted the link, lots more people commented on my wall stating varying interpretations of your experiment!
Sir, can you just in a couple of lines tell me (and hence my audience and friends), what was the real intent of the experiment?

Wishing you the best,

Alok Kejriwal

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