On a cold January morning in 2007 at L’Enfant Plaza subway station at exactly 7:51 am - the height of rush hour - an ordinary looking man wearing a pair of jeans and a baseball cap nonchalantly took out his $3.5 million Stradivarius violin and started to play. The man was Joshua Bell – one of the world’s finest violin players - a man who regularly performs to sold out crowds at the world’s most prestigious venues. Unbeknownst to any of the commuters, Bell was taking part in an undercover study conducted by The Washington Post.
Bell started his subway concert performance with Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin – one of the most challenging musical pieces ever composed for violin. Over the next 43 minutes his concert continued – but this time not to the thunderous applause he was so accustomed to receiving. In fact, of the 1097 who scurried past him that morning, hardly anyone stopped. One man listened for a couple of minutes, a few kids stared, and one woman who recognized him gaped in utter disbelief.
Now the commuters may have been in too much of a hurry to listen to Bell, but clearly if there’d been news cameras there, or if a few more people had known this man was a virtuoso and huddled around him as an attentive mini-crowd, then at least a few more would have stopped to listen.
But think about how Joshua Bell appeared on the subway. He was wearing jeans and a baseball cap. No black tie and no stage for him to stand on. To everyone passing by, Bell looked like an ordinary, run-of-the-mill street performer. Even though Bell didn’t sound like a mediocre violinist, he sure looked like one.
Without realizing it – the DC commuters had made the assumption that because he looked like an ordinary street performer, and because he was playing in a subway station, his talent as a violinist was nothing to write home about.
You see, as much as many of us would like to believe differently, image really does matter. Especially when it comes to business. The way we dress, the car we drive, the companies we do business with, the places we vacation to, even the pen that we write with – can have an enormous impact about how our customers perceive us, which will ultimately dictate how much money we can charge and how big our paychecks are. These so-called “little things” aren’t little at all. They’re actually ginormous. Remember, when it comes to business – it’s not how you perceive yourself that counts – it’s how your customers perceive you.
Have a great weekend!