Lost in the Mist
On a cold, misty morning in 2007, a man started playing the violin at Washington DC Metro Station. It had been three minutes, when a middle-aged man noticed the violinist. He slowed his pace, 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 later, a young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again. After ten more 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.
Several passers-by repeated similar actions as the violinist continued playing for 45 minutes. Out of the two thousand people who travelled through the station, only six stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their regular pace. The man collected a total of $32. When he finished playing, the silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million. Two days earlier, Joshua’s show in a Boston theatre where the seats averaged $100 was sold out. Joshua Bell playing incognito at the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perceptions and priorities.
The experiment raises disturbing questions, one of them relevant to the business world. If one of the best musicians on the planet, playing some of the finest music, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made, can go unnoticed – then how many worthy professionals must be stranded in the corporate maze of large organizations?
Often, in a work environment, we are star-struck by the shine of the leaders at the helm of profitable accounts. Unfortunately, the rising talent is lost in the mist in the process.
A mature organization designs an evaluation environment that is fair to both – proven leaders and rising talent. It is only possible when we kick out the luck factor (such as org tenure, project growth/profitability, etc.) and instead measure professionals only on their core capabilities and approach. The outcome is a well-synergized institution that never fails to deliver starry feats!