This morning I received one of those motivational e-mails from a friend of mine in Hong Kong. It was entitled Violinist in the Metro and told the story of a musician playing the violin in a Washington DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. Apparently he played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approximately two thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
After three minutes 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. After four minutes the violinist received his first dollar tip – a woman threw the money in to the hat and without stopping continued to walk.
At the six-minute mark a young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, but then looked at his watch and started to walk again. After ten minutes a three-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged 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.
During the 45 minute performance only six people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The musician collected a grand total of $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 best musicians in the world. He had played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.
Two days prior, Joshua Bell had sold out at a concert hall in Boston where tickets had averaged $100 per seat.
This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organised by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people.
The questions raised included:
- In a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour do we perceive beauty?
- Do we stop to appreciate it?
- Do we recognise the talent in an unexpected context?
One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be that 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, with one of the most beautiful instruments, how many other things are we missing?
So my question to anyone interviewing talent for their business is whether you can ever really detect a candidate’s true potential during interview? Look beyond the 45 minute time slot you have allocated to make your decision. Look beyond the résumé that sums up their career history and appreciate and recognise what the person in front of you may be able to bring to your business in the long run.