Last year, internationally celebrated violinist Joshua Bell tried an experiment. He took his violin (a Stradivarius built in 1713, worth about $3.5 million) into the Washington, D.C. Metro and played for about 45 minutes.
If you want to get cheap seats to hear Joshua Bell perform, expect to pay at least $100.
So who stopped to listen to him play Bach and Schubert? Nearly no one. Thousands of people marched past, avoiding Bell’s eye so they wouldn’t feel guilty about failing to throw a quarter or two into his case. (He made a little over $32 for the day.)
Music did not soothe the savage breast. Music failed to even register in the savage breast.
(I was fascinated to read about exceptions, like a three-year-old named Evan. Evan knew there was something special going on, and tried to dawdle so he could check it out. But Evan’s mom was in a hurry to get him to daycare and herself on to work and hustled his curious little butt right on past. I don’t blame her, we’ve all been there. As the Washington Post story reported, “The behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.”)
Evidence, if we needed it, that kids are smarter than grown-ups about some things.
Context matters more than ability
So what can we learn from this slightly depressing little story?
For one thing, it’s a stark illustration that talent and ability are not enough. The moral of the story is probably not that Joshua Bell is a mediocre violinist.
Remember the famous coffee commercial, where they substituted crummy supermarket instant coffee for the coffee in great restaurants? Of course people loved the crummy coffee. When they ordered it, they expected to pay $5 a cup for it. It was delivered in a delicate china cup. It came after a great meal. It was brought by a snooty waiter.
It’s not that talent and ability don’t matter. They do. But no one can begin to see talent or ability until they’re put into the right frame.
Some people never see past any frame. Not much we can do for them. But for you, we can make sure you’re choosing the frame that sets you off.
Success is a brand
You don’t need mass appeal or millions of customers to be a success. But your definition of success needs to be a keystone of your brand.
You decide what success is, then show the world how magnificently successful you are by that light.
No one is going to notice your amazing talent and elevate you to fame and fortune. You’ve got to create the fame and fortune in your own outlook first. Claim your position.
This stuff takes time to gel. You might have to be patient. But keep your vision of yourself as a success clearly in your mind. Pretend you’re deposed royalty from some forgotten (but elegant) country. Don’t let your crummy apartment or 20-year-old car make you think of yourself in small terms.
Be your own fan club. Other fans will catch up to you eventually.
You can make your own context
Joshua Bell’s story is also a great lesson in the art of finding what you look for. If you expect to hear not-very-good musicians in the subway, even the world’s greatest violinist will sound like nothing special.
Could anything like that be happening in your life now?
We could try to be a little more aware as we move through our days–leave a little room open for the possibility that something extraordinary could happen. Let’s face it, when human beings are involved, there’s always room for the extraordinary.
But beyond that, we could try to expect better out of our lives. We could expect greatness from our work. We could expect passionate fanaticism from our customers. We could expect personal lives and professional lives that nourished and enriched one another, and brought us joy.
Hell, we could start by expecting to get paid what we’re worth. Baby steps.
Choosing a new frame for Remarkable Communication
I’ve decided that, comfortable though this cozy little joint has been for the past year, it’s time for me to move my voice to a frame that’s better suited to it.
Remarkable Communication is going to change some things–to a new domain name and a spiffy new theme. (My profound thanks to Men with Pens for helping me out with this.)
I am very happy and grateful to have found so many readers on this little homegrown blog. I did everything you’re not supposed to do–I used an uncustomized template, didn’t use my own domain name, was too cheap even to spring for the Typepad plan that would have let me use custom style sheets.
It’s always been about the words for me. But I think it’s time for me to get those words into the right frame. Not every reader is as perceptive as you are. I’d like more people to be able to see this blog clearly.
There might be a few bumps and lumps as we get moving, so I hope you’ll bear with me. I’ll keep this Web address going for a few months so my occasional visitors will know where to find me.
And I’ll let you know what I learn along the way, so you can benefit from the boneheaded mistakes I am sure to make.
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