Edited from The Washington Post article by Gene Weingarten
He emerged from the metro station at the L’Enfant Plaza Station and positioned himself against a wall beside a trash basket. By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play.
It was 7:51 a.m. on a Friday in the middle of rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by. Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape.
Three minutes went by before something happened. A middle-aged man altered his gait for a split second, turning his head to notice that there seemed to be some guy playing music. Yes, the man kept walking, but it was something. A half-minute later, Bell got his first donation. A woman threw in a buck and scooted off. It was not until six minutes into the performance that someone actually stood against a wall, and listened.
After 10 minutes, a 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.
No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His name was Joshua Bell and his performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities.
Just days before he appeared at the Metro station, Bell had filled the house at Boston’s stately Symphony Hall, where merely pretty good seats went for $100. The Stradivari violin he played at the metro station has been estimated to be worth $3.5 million.
The questions raised: in an ordinary place at an unbefitting hour, do we recognize beauty? Do we pause to appreciate it? Do we appreciate talent in an unexpected context?
In the fields of marketing and advertising, many studies have been conducted to analyze how context affects overall perception of quality. Weingarten’s findings are a great example of what PeakBiety is all about: the power of perception®.
The results of the Joshua Bell experiment aren’t too surprising to us. The nature of a presentation is closely linked with how it will be perceived. A client’s product or service could be the best available, but without relevant strategy, a strong branding platform and appropriate marketing—the product or service could be easily overlooked.