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pearls before breakfast

A while ago I read an article in the Washington Post called Pearls Before Breakfast. This article was about an experiment.

A professional violinist would stand in the Washington DC metro posing as a street musician and serenade DC commuters on there way to work. But it wouldn’t be just any violinist. It would be Joshua Bell “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”. The purpose would be to see how differently people would respond to him as opposed to the average street musician.

What they found was pretty striking: Of the thousands of people traveling to work that day, ALMOST NO ONE PAID HIM ANY ATTENTION. In fact only one woman stopped to listen and that was because she recognized his face from a concert three weeks before. “Here he was, the international virtuoso, sawing away, begging for money. She had no idea what the heck was going on, but whatever it was, she wasn’t about to miss it.”

“It was the most astonishing thing I’ve ever seen in Washington,” The woman says. “Joshua Bell was standing there playing at rush hour, and people were not stopping, and not even looking, and some were flipping quarters at him! Quarters! I wouldn’t do that to anybody. I was thinking, Omigosh, what kind of a city do I live in that this could happen?”

My point is this: Sometimes it doesn’t matter how good you are, how correct you are, how smart you are, how creative you are or how passionate you are. If you are in the wrong place, at the wrong time, or doing it the wrong way, then you could very well be wasting your time. The key word here is “context”.