An acquaintance passed this story along a while back, and I thought it was appropriate for the first few days of a new year. The setting is the Washington, D.C., metro station just about three years ago, and the result was a Pulitzer Prize for the Washington Post.
The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 60 minutes. During that time, nearly 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
After three minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.
Four minutes later: The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.
Six minutes: A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.
Ten 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.
45 minutes: The musician played continuously. Only six people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.
No notice. No applause. Barely any recognition for the violinist — Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played some of the most challenging pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million. Two days before, he had sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.
Joshua Bell’s unannounced concert in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a experiment that basically asked whether people will see beauty if it’s in an unexpected place at an unexpected time. The resulting story won the Post a Pulitzer Prize for the way it addressed these questions. It also raises a quesiton for each of us: How many opportunities do we miss each day because we’re just not paying enough attention?
In the midst of what is becoming a frustrating job search for many of us…or tense times in the office for those who have jobs, it’s good advice to take a moment and look around. Who knows? Perhaps what you see will provide the lead to your next job, client, or business idea.
Where have you found opportunities in unexpected places?