I love this story – it almost reduced me to tears first time I read it. Whilst it is was an experiment to explore peoples’ taste, perceptions and priorities in a social context, for me there is a strong leadership parallel here. As leaders do we recognise our environment around us – do we understand, appreciate and value it? Do we look at people and make rapid assumptions? How much more is out there, in our teams that we just don’t realise…what are we not grasping?
The story appeared in the Washington Post sometime in 2007. I have summarised it.
A busker on a cold winter’s morning sets up his spot in a Metro Station in Washington DC. He plays six Bach sonatas for 60 minutes. 2,000 people walk through, probably commuting to work. 3 minutes into the performance, a middle aged man notices a musician playing. He pauses a few seconds, then hurries on.
7 minutes into the performance the busker receives his first dollar – thrown into his hat, by a woman who doesn’t stop.
Then a young guy stops and listens. Realises the time and moves on.
A while later, a young child stops, but his mother is in a hurry and drags him on. He stops again, but the mother really is in a rush and pulls the child along – the child keeps looking back. This happens several times with other children and parents – without fail the parents walk on even though the kids are clearly captivated.
The busker played for 3/4 hour without stopping. Six people specifically stopped and listened, and 20 people gave some cash, but they continued walking. He earned $32.
He completed his performance after an hour. The normal hustle and bustle of the metro took over. There was no recognition, no thank you, no applause.
The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the finest violin players on the planet.
The pieces he played were incredibly ornate and he played them masterfully. His instrument was worth about $3m. He had performed a concert just days before selling out the venue at an average of $100 per seat.
What are we missing? What are we not seeing or hearing because we are wrapped up in our processes, routines, and our own worlds? Try walking past a busker now?!
Click here to hear the performance: Joshua plays Bach in the DC Metro